Emin Aslan – Child of War

by Narmin Noqte

This is from a series of interviews with refugees I have conducted. Today you are going to read war memories of a young man who differs with his original and cosmopolitan thoughts on war. His name is Emin Aslan. He is one of the intelligent activists and lawyers in Azerbaijan. He is the sacrifice of war and has only two wishes: feeling the winter again in Lachin and seeing his lovely childhood tree – lemon tree.

How did the war begin?

Essentially, I don`t remember much about war because I was very small. I understood the beginning of the war when a helicopter flew over our lime tree. Then my father went into the military. And I felt that something was wrong. I was uncommunicative as a child. My world was limited by fences around our house. Oh, and my mother took me to my grandmother. That’s all I could remember.

We lived in “Ashagi” (Downtown) Lachin behind the post office. But my grandma was in “Yukhari” (Uptown) Lachin. It was very cool there. During my 6 years I was growing on these roads between two different parts of Lachin. I loved my Lachin for its winter. Believe me, up until today I still can’t find something else of importance that made me love Lachin. And as I answer your questions, Lachin is associated only with white snow in my head.

When I say Lachin, I remember little ducks in our yard, my naughty cousins playing and running not getting tired. I also remember my grandma herding the turkeys. I remember me driving my father`s Volga. Oh, sorry I`ve just imitated this driving “process”. I remember each detail – my lovely armchair, our new bathroom, different trees planted by my father and grandpa. Especially, I remember my lovely lime tree. It was so sublime. When I climbed on this tree (maybe it seems to you unconvincing) I felt myself in safety. Ok, now it feels like I drifted away from the conversation. Next question, please.

I remember how my parents often discussed the subject of war. My father and grandmother were certain that Armenians wouldn`t be able to do anything. But mother always disagreed, saying that these lands were already “sold” and “wise” people had already moved to Baku. And so, this kind of small “conflicts” happened in our home every day. And how painful it’s going to be, my mother was right. We understood it at the end.

Once my father came with Russian officers. I remember only their tanks in our yard. I asked who they were after these officers left. My father said they were Russian soldiers wanting to make peace between us (Azerbaijanis) and Armenians. Generally, I didn`t understand anything. But I still remember their smiles, emotions while talking to my dad. Yes, I would like to talk about my father in more detail because he was the most fearless man I have ever met in my life

Once dad (he was a captain) took me to the military forces. If I am not mistaken it was the Lachin battalion. The most interesting things in his cabinet were projectiles all standing neatly in a row.

I remember that once dad brought 4 soldiers home. Mother was very stubborn about sending the rest of our things (bed, sofa, and etc) to Terter, Yevlakh where my aunt lived. Father on the other hand was very calm in response to my mother’s complaints. He was so certain that Armenians would do anything.

It was an evening. We turned off all of our lights at home so that Armenians don’t see us and shoot. We were looking at yellow bullets flying in the sky far-away from our house, but it seemed to me that if I held my hands I could catch them. Suddenly my father entered home with a gun in his hand. He said that he came to sleep a little, but that he would leave us soon. I was proud of him. He was so brave. But I always thought that if you are a soldier or an officer you had to be inside the war, not come home and sleep, no matter if it was for 15 minutes or an hour. My mother said that he was doing this only for us. He wanted us to believe him and to be sure that we were in safety and he was alive. I had never seen my father fighting. That was one of my dreams.

Once my father`s friend – another officer came to us and it was a chance for me to ask about my dad. He told us about the siege in the forest. He said that while the other soldiers were hiding behind the trees, my father was trying to wash and shave in the river. He wanted to show the other soldiers that they were safe with him. It was then I understood that it wasn’t just me but all those soldiers were also his children.

Our house was in the open area. Armenians could easily shoot us. My uncle took us away from our house. First we went to Uptown Lachin where my grandma lived. We heard shortly afterwards that a shell was dropped an hour later after we left on our house. And my sweet home was ruined. But even after all of that, I don’t even know why, we were still certain that all these Armenians couldn`t do anything to us. We thought they were confused.

My uncle took us from Lachin. We left Lachin immediately after Shusha was occupied on May 9 in the evening. Occupation of Shusha was a signal to all of the Lachin. Everything was lost. I still remember how my mother and sister were kissing corners of our house – the walls, floors and etc. Each person from Lachin believed that one-day they would return to their homes.

I didn’t know what people thought of the war. But there was a sentence I heard often about Russians fighting on Armenian side or that someone’s husband was Armenian and she didn`t know what to do and etc.

How were the relations between Azerbaijani and Armenians before the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

We didn’t have Armenian neighbours. They mostly lived at the villages. But I remember my father`s hunting friends. Their father was Polish and the mother was Armenian. One of them was my “kirve” [a man holding a boy while being circumcised].

When war memories hurt…

I know a family that was taken as prisoners. Some of the members of this family were living in Baku. Their daughters and sons were taken hostage. Father lost his mind. After this, his wife too had serious mental issues. They saw how Armenian soldiers killed one of their sons in front of their eyes. I saw that man in the city a few times. His clothes were dirty and he had a long beard. I think they had some financial difficulties. That family always brought bad feelings in me.

After leaving Lachin, at first we came to my aunt. They lived in Yevlakh. Yevlakh was the city of my childhood and I lived the most interesting moments of my childhood there. Just imagine, 17 children in the same place. It was a real entertainment. We couldn`t stay there for too long though, it was too hot so we had to find another place. Most of my relatives settled in Pirshagi in Baku. And we decided to do the same and move there. Pirshagi was (and still is to this day) on the shore of the Caspian Sea. For children it was a perfect spot for fun. But for my family… I don`t know… When I say Pirshagi I remember: sea, sea and sea. And there were so many snakes there. We were children and thought that it was just a game to find and kill them. We didn`t even imagine how dangerous they were.

One day my father came home and said that he bought a house for officers in Baku. But a week after we moved in, a man showed up claiming that the house belonged to him and that we had to leave immediately. Only my Armenian “kirve”, my father`s close friend helped us. He came and took us to a hostel. He fought against Armenians during the war. Now I understand that the war is the most dishonorable and stupid thing a man could do.

The war didn`t influence me much. But there were some serious changes in my life. When we went to school in Baku we were called “refugees”, which was more of a title than anything else. They were enjoying calling us “refugee”. For some reason, they all thought that the main evildoers of the war and occupiers of the territories were us. That`s why I didn’t have any friends until I was 18 or 19. They always accused us for not fighting back, for giving our lands to Armenians and coming to Baku. I couldn`t even explain to them that it didn’t matter as Baku and Lachin were the same – they were both part of Azerbaijan. Naturally, only I understood this.

During my student years I was Nazi (nasist) and turkist. It continued till about I was in the 4th grade. My father played a big role in this. He always thought that we must fight and kill all Armenians ourselves. He used to say that no politics could help us. He even said Aliyevs were not interested in solving this conflict due to the rules of politics.

Emin Aslan`s cosmopolitan thoughts

I am a cosmopolitan. The books I`ve read changed me. I support expression of nationalist in football for instance. Football is the best alternative against war. Or the song contest Eurovision. Let them “fight” in music or in football not on the front or at war.

I don`t hate Armenians even though I had to leave my home with my family. Why must I hate? It is so stupid. When I read the story of “1905” by Jafar Jabbarli I realized how stupid both Armenians and Azerbaijanis are. In addition my studies of international relations allowed me to read books about politics and conflicts. I understood as I read that small nations are toys in the hands of big states. States like us, were always sacrifices to political interests. When the Bolsheviks established the SSSR they counted on such disintegration. For keeping all of the nations under their power they created all these boundary disputes and conflicts among them. Russia began this war and now the game continues. The main players of this game are Armenians and us. And we have our fans: England, America, France and etc.

It will be great if the war is resolved by peaceful means. But we don’t have suitable conditions for this. Authoritarian leaders of both countries are not interested in the peaceful resolution of this conflict as the conflict keeps their political grips on power. Let us think just for a second, that both countries want to end this war. What would happen to Russia in this case? They can`t just lose the whole of the Caucasus.

We could destroy Armenians tomorrow but one day they will come back and destroy us. It`s the rule of war. War is senseless slaughter. I only want Armenians to change their behavior towards Azerbaijanis and Turks. I don’t want their children growing up with hatred in their hearts against Azerbaijanis. We share so much, our culture, opinions. There is just no meaning in fighting.

At the end of the interview, Emin told me how much he missed winter in Lachin together with his lime tree. “Narmin, you know, I didn`t love Baku. And I don`t think to love this city anymore. It is not my place. Do you understand me?”

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