Keeping a Promise: One woman’s personal commitment to God and Armenia

Taguhi Chilyan, 74, weeps when the children from Zatik orphanage begin singing their favorite song to her as a sign of acknowledgement.

Let’s start this day in a good way,
Let’s say good words to each other,
Let us not hurt each other,
Let us be kind to each other.
Let always be peace,
And let laugh be present everywhere,
Let us be happy and joyous,
Let us become kind, kind people.

This year Taguhi has come to Armenia from the United States to be present at the baptism party of the orphanage children, to organize a feast and distribute presents later.

For 15 years Taguhi has lived with her family lives in the USA, but she was born and grew up in Armenia. And for 30 years, she has been doing charity work, turning her attention back to Armenia even after leaving.

Taghui, of course, is not unique among Diaspora who feel the need to do good work in the homeland. Her passion for benevolence, however, was born of tragedy, and follows a path set before her in a dream.

In 1974, her 15-year old nephew, Avetis, died of an intestinal disease.

“Avetis was ill. On the day of his death I was among those by his side,” recalls Taghui, who returns to Armenia every two or three years. “The child was delirious, saying they are torturing him, hammering nails into his body. I took the Bible, prayed and put it under his pillow; he calmed down at once and began counting. He counted up to 72, went silent and said, that was the number of the apprentices of Jesus (who, some believe, became apostles after the death of Christ).

“Then he asked his mother to go and pray. He told his brother to write down on a paper that there is no unselfish love on earth. He said that and died. From that moment on I promised myself that I will serve God unselfishly, love people, pray for them and do charity.”

Before the 40 days of the child’s death passed Taguhi saw a church hanging in the sky in her dream. Then, while in the village of Martiros, she suddenly recognized a poorly-kept church there as the one in her dream. She cleaned it, and lit a candle.

“That night a came to me in a dream, put his hand on my head and ordered me to make a sacrifice, and then reconstruct the church. So I followed him. I reconstructed the church of my dream. I founded a seminary for 72 apprentices, exactly the same number of apprentices Jesus had and the number dying Avetis counted. So I began doing charity,” tells Taguhi. (Taghui will not say how much she spent, but associates say the reconstruction cost several thousand dollars.)

For more than three decades Taguhi has helped the poor, has distributed clothing and food to them. She has sent more than 1,000 packages from the USA to Armenia, finding sponsorship for the expenses from friends, who were ready to give money for the case. Her children have been her permanent supporters, who have always allotted money from their wages for their mother’s charity.

Taguhi’s nephew Hakob Hakobyan has assisted her in organizing all that outside the country and bringing the donations to their destination. He lives in Yerevan and tries to realize his aunt’s wishes.

“I always wonder at my aunt’s philanthropy. She is not wealthy, neither are her children. But she always talks with gladness about her living conditions and is frankly concerned with the life of the Armenians. I would sometimes see her sitting sad: when I asked what was the matter, she would answer: how could things be this way, these people live in very hard conditions, and whatever I do is not much to make anything change,” tells Hakobyan.

For the last several months Taguhi wished to baptize children from several orphanages in Armenia and to make donations. With the help of Hakob they chose Zatik and Kharberd specialized orphanages.

Today 133 children live in Zatik orphanage. They are both from Yerevan and from provinces. The 233 children in the Kharberd orphanage suffer mental or physical deficiencies.

On her latest trip Taguhi got to Zatik, where she distributed candies and fruits for children again.

Each time, when Taguhi brings candies, Susanna a little girl at Zatik separates part of her candies for her sister Mary. During the last visit of Taguhi, Mary was also there. Susanna ran to her sister, took the candies and chewing gums from her pocket secretly and put in the sister’s palm. She hadn’t seen her sister for several days. And her elder sister, smilingly, took the candies with care and secretly put them into the sister’s wardrobe.

Touched by the interaction of the sisters, Taguhi said goodbye to the children with a trembling voice:

“Lord keep you. I am old, I do not know if I will be able to come to Armenia again or not. But even if I do not come, I will always care for you. I want to hear later that you have become honest, educated people, and have taken our country out of the mire. Love each other, help each other: God will compensate you. Stay well.”