WORCESTER, Mass.—Heghine Minasian considers her life miraculous on two accounts.
First, that she survived a horrific genocide in her village of Kharpet. And second, that she’s still alive and kicking at the ripe age of 103.
Heghine doesn’t look upon herself as a poster child of her generation. Nor any great geriatric wonder as the city’s oldest genocide survivor. Instead, she prefers a more subtle role, away from unnecessary fanfare.
She’s content living an independent lifestyle in the comfort of her own home, watching “Jeopardy” every night, doing her knitting and crocheting, and enjoying the love of her family.
Three daughters tend to dote after her, including one next door, along with 8 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
But make no mistake about it. When it comes time to speak her piece about the massacre, Heghine is most opinionated. If President Obama is in the area, this is one person he may want to avoid.
“Obama promised us recognition and delivered us empty words,” she says. “It bothers me and all other Armenians, too. He failed to live up to his promises.”
In the background is daughter Alice Kanaley, who is not surprised by her mother’s actions. She’s heard this before, including publicly two years ago when Heghine was given the keys to the city by the Worcester mayor. A TV station was on hand to document the event and interviewed the woman.
“She handled it like a charm,” the daughter said.
In accepting the honor, Heghine used the moment to remind everyone about her feelings and how Armenians should band together in the name of unity for greater impact.
“Mom’s really feisty when it comes to matters like this,” Alice reminds you. “She’s a true ambassador for our cause.”
Heghine was old enough to remember the Turks invading her city. She doesn’t go into details only to say it was a sad experience. Her mother died when she was eight. Heghine never met her father. He had come to America and was never seen again.Her husband Garabed was more exposed to the brutality of conflict.
The two enjoyed a happy and rewarding life together in France, Canada, and in Worcester for 49 years before his death in 1976. They ran a hair dressing salon in the city and enjoyed giving their clientele a bright new look after they entered.
“Worcester has always been home to the immigrant population,” says Alice. “It’s been a wonderful city to live and work, to practice your heritage, too. Mom’s enjoyed it here.”
Word around town is that nobody made a better choreg than Heghine. Cooking was always a passion and you got to sample her fare at church dinners and other public gatherings.
Twice a week, elder care drops by to check on her. A visit to her apartment unveils a meticulous setting. Except for a blood pressure pill, there’s no other medication.
“Jeopardy” is not the only daily ritual she cultivates. Her Bible also gets a workout. Heghine is a woman steeped in faith.
“God must be keeping me for a reason,” she notes. “I’m blessed in many ways and wish the same for others like myself.”
On occasion, Alice will take her mother to Avak lunches at the church. She’ll play cards, relish the hospitality of others, and pass along her wisdom regally.
“My mother is my pillar of strength,” notes Alice. “Mentally, she’s 90 percent with it. Except for her knees, she’s the perfect picture of health. When I’m with her, it keeps me going. She’s an inspiration.”
Much of it has to do with her lifestyle. She never drove and refrained from tobacco. Except for a sociable glass of wine, alcohol was never consumed. Another hobby hasn’t lost its zest: She still reads books and periodicals.
The fact both mother and daughter communicate in Armenian and not English keeps the language alive in their home. It’s been an Armenian family that hasn’t lost its spirit.
“She wanted us to live the dream,” says the daughter.
To what does Heghine attribute her longevity? She doesn’t give it a second thought.
“You must have faith in God,” she answers. “Miracles are keeping me alive. You have to believe in miracles.”
As the 100th anniversary rolls around in three years, Heghine may not live to see 106. But she offers this message to those who will.
“Stick together,” she says with conviction. “Remain strong and fight for recognition. Above all, keep our culture and history alive by practicing it every day.”