In the memory of all the children who died during the war…

By İlhamiz Quliyev

It was 1987, summer holidays. I was five years old then. My brother who just finished the third grade and my sister who completed her fifth year in school, were getting ready to go to a summer camp in Susha-Zarisl for a month. When my dad came home that evening he told me that I could also join my siblings if I wanted to. Seeing how happy was my brother getting ready for the camp and probably never being at a camp myself, I accepted by father’s proposal. I dragged a suitcase as big as me into the middle of the room and started packing. Well, to be more honest, I didn’t pack, I just stood on one side and gave out orders to my mother, “Put that shirt, those shorts too, those pants are too old, I don’t want to take them with me, put my new shoes as well”. I was the youngest of the family, and in order for me not to get upset, all my wishes were carried out. I didn’t care much for how heavy the bag turned out to be either. My brother was going to carry my suitcase anyway. Once the packing was over, I went to bed. In the morning, after we finished our breakfast, we left for the center of the village where the bus was scheduled to take us to the camp. Before leaving the house, I gave my mother one last order, “There is a big watermelon under the bed, don’t touch it, when I am back I will cut it myself”. I think that watermelon weighted some fifteen kilograms.

Once in Shusha, we settled in at the camp. The youngest at the camp was 10 years old. I was an exception. There was a different kind of advantage being the youngest among some two hundred high school students – everyone played with you, talked and laughed, and all considered themselves grownups. But being near the mountains, next to a river, in a forest and everyone’s favorite only kept me away from my parents for some 12-15 days. I started crying and asking for home. At the end, the camp counselors had to call my parents. My parents came but no matter how much they tried talking me into staying I didn’t listen. In fact, when they came down to the camp, my parents even brought my favorite “glass” candies. But even that didn’t do the trick. We had to return home. Shortly after, I realized there was nothing left of the candies my father brought for me and that he gave all of them away except one. That took over my happiness of going back home and I started crying. I continued crying all along the way. At some point, my dad had to stop the car somewhere on the road to buy something for me to calm me down. Near where he stopped the car, some people were selling melons. Still whining I told my dad I wanted two melons. I too got out of the car and leaned against it as I watched my dad walk to buy the melons. The woman selling melons, smiled as soon as she saw me saying how sweet I was and asking me to come closer so she could kiss me. She had a daughter who was probably six or seven years older than me. That same girl came closer, gave me a pat on the head and then kissed me on my cheeks asking my name. In the meantime, my dad bought two melons and placed in the back seat where I sat.

Once back in the car I took one of the melons and placed it on my lap. It smelled really good. My dad got back behind the wheel and we continued our journey. Watching me smell the melon in his rare mirror, he assured me the melons are going to taste great because the Armenian woman picked the best ones. “She was Armenian?” I asked curiously. “Yes, my boy, you could tell immediately from her accent”, answered my father. For me this was the first time I saw an Armenian. Up to that point, I thought people of other nationalities are somehow different. But what this “somehow” was I didn’t know. I have forgotten that woman by now, all that is left in my memory of her is that she was a big woman and her daughter was tall and skinny.

Back then, I was a sweet and handsome boy. And being a bit of a spoiled kid because of being the youngest, somehow made me even more dear to my parents, relatives, friends. But never did I imagine that an Armenian woman would complement me and give me a kiss. And this is why I was surprised when my father told me the woman was Armenian.

There are many memories related to that particular day – like not eating anything until later that evening because my parents gave away my favorite candy at the camp, falling asleep in the car while still holding one of the melons and using the second one as my pillow, dreaming of “glass” candy in my sleep, but the worst of all – getting home and realizing that the big watermelon I asked to keep, was already gone. Much later when my father told this story, we would all laugh. But this story that I just shared with you was saved somewhere in the corner of my memory and mostly likely I would have not remembered it at another time.

Approximately 26 years later, the reason for remembering this story in November 2013 was me re-living this moment but in a different circumstance and situation. This time the event wasn’t real; it was virtual, and instead of the woman selling melons it was me. A photo I saw on the Facebook profile of an Armenian I met during the Fall School training took over me, and brought that distinct memory back.

It was a photo of a sweet and pretty baby girl, “What a pretty and sweet girl this is!” I said, and as I said it, my eyes smiled. For about a minute I kept looking at the photograph. When I remembered that this was a photo of an Armenian baby girl, I didn’t get concerned; my affection didn’t go away. But knowing this truth and remembering made me think…

I thought, and I thought…

I thought of any given Azerbaijani reacting to the photograph or the actual baby with affection, saying nice words, showing her kindness.

I thought that national identity isn’t a privilege, and that the concept of human thought stands above nationality.

I thought and I understood why an Armenian woman would smile at an Azerbaijani boy, and her daughter would come and pat me on the head and give me a kiss on my cheeks.

I thought and thought again.

I even placed myself in the picture instead of that little girl and got surprised, “Why would an Azerbaijani tell me such nice words?”

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