Armenian-Azerbaijani Coexistence: The Mirzoevka Phenomenon

by Sasun Khachatryan

Maharam Mamedov has a good command of the Armenian language and knows Armenian literature and history quite well. But he is not an Armenian. Mamedov, 64, belongs to one of the ethnic Azerbaijani families who, since the early 20th century, together with Armenians, Georgians, and Assyrians have been living peacefully in Mirzoevka which is a mainly Armenian-populated multi-national village in Marneuli – a predominantly Azerbaijani-populated region in Georgia’s south.

Mirzoevka is home to around 12 more ethnic Azerbaijani families most of whom attended the local Armenian school since the Soviet era as the Georgian one in the neighboring Tsereteli village is far to walk to. Today too they attend the Armenian school and get Armenian-language education.

Maharam Mamedov also attended the local Armenian school. He has a small library that includes several Armenian books and is even subscribed to the Armenian-language monthly called “Vrastan” and reads out every issue. “Till now I read, write [in Armenian]. I have read “Vardanank,” “The Armenian Fortress,” Mammadov enumerates the titles of some of the Armenian historical hovels he read.

Here in Mirzoevka, Azerbaijanis and Armenians have been living in peace and they rarely speak about the Karabakh conflict, if ever. Even during the days of the bloody Karabakh war they maintained good-neighborly relations. The ability to preserve normal relations with each other appears to have transformed into a tradition which is being passed from generation to generation.

“We live in a foreign country – [Azerbaijanis], Armenians, Greeks, Georgians…. But we live in peace. We have nothing to do the with the Karabakh conflict,” says Maharam Mamedov. “We are very united. It’s their business [the Karabakh conflict].”

“It’s better for us to live in solidarity here. We live a very quiet, very good life together. We live in solidarity, that’s the most important thing. There’s no national distinction among us,” he adds.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict sparked in the early 1990′s after sporadic clashes between the Azerbaijanis and Armenians over Nagorno Karabakh. The tensions later turned into a bloody war, leaving around 30,000 killed and more than a million displaced.

Vanik Harutyunyan, the Principal of the Mirzoevka Public School also says that ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis are enjoying “very friendly relations.” “We share each other’s joy and sorrow. We are together. Even among the children no one says this one is an Azerbaijani, and this one is an Armenian. There is no such thing in our village, in our school,” Harutyunyan explains.

A 15-year-old ethic Armenian school-girl and Mirzoevka resident, named Rima, says she has been in the same class with Naida Mamedova, an ethnic Azerbaijani, since the first day they attended school. Besides being classmates, they are also good friends, and their friendship is not limited to school only; they spend together also their leisure time. “We are close neighbors. How can we not communicate with each other?” she asks. “We, the girls, go to Marneuli to hang out together.”

These two grills, however, are not the only example of the good relations between Armenians and Azeris in Mirzoevka.

Rafael Mamedov, 19, who attended the local Armenian school, says all his friends are Armenians, and that there has never been any problem with them on ethnic grounds. “All my friends are Armenians,” says he, adding that now, even after the school, he still keeps in touch with them. Mamedov recollects having some difficulty in learning Armenian at the beginning. “But later… I was already doing well in my studies,” he recollects.

Elmira Tarzlyan, a teacher of the Armenian language and literature in Mirzoevka’s Public School says the Azerbaijanis are doing well in Armenian. “In the classes I teach, for example, the Azerbaijani children have perfect command of the Armenian language. They speak with no accent,” she says. During her 28-year work experience in Mirzoevka’s Public School, Tarzlyan has never seen the slightest notion of unwillingness among Azerbaijani children to learn the Armenian language. “No! Never! May be it comes from their families: their grandfathers too got an Armenian education,” she explains, adding she has not noticed any tension among Armenian and Azerbaijani children either. “I am working in this village for a long time, but I have not noticed any disagreement on ethnic grounds,” she says.

Mishik Asaturyan, a Mirzoevka resident, says since the foundation of the village, there were Azerbaijanis living there. Citing his father’s recollection, Asaturyan says Azerbaijanis used to live in Mirzoevka even before his father came there in 1920. Asked what kind of relations ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis hold, he said: “Very good! We have been together; visiting each other; attending weddings, sunnat [circumcision] ceremonies… We are having feasts together.” “We attend each others weddings, we visit them during their Bayram, and they visit us during the New Year, Easter. We maintain normal relations; we don’t differentiate between each other,” Asaturyan assured.

Maharam Mamedov, who is highly-spoken of among Armenians due to his knowledge of the Armenian language, literature, and history and his willingness to learn even more in his sixties, says he would not leave Mirzoevka for any other place on Earth. “I was born here, I was raised here and I went to school here… My father and mother were born here, they passed away here and they are buried here too,” he says.

“We will not go anywhere. We have been living here in unity so far. We live in unity now and we will continue living that way till our last days.”

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