Pure human relations overcoming political knots- interview with Armenian refugee from Baku

By Veronika Agajanyan

“We could not even imagine that would never have a chance to return to Baku”, – says Elina, a 25-year-old PhD student and senior researcher at Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University. She was 2 years old when her family decided to move to Armenia in 1988. Although the Sumgait pogroms had already taken place by that time, no one in the family thought that shortly after Azerbaijan and Armenia would get involved into a full-scale military confrontation and the border would get closed for years. In 1988 Elina’s father was offered a good position in the field of oil and gas industry and an apartment for the whole family in Armenia. The new page in their life started and prolonged up to now in the town located in the west of Armenia with the population of around 34,000 named Hoktemberyan (now Armavir). Elina recalls her toys and bicycle “at home” and says that they left their apartment in the downtown not even making an attempt to sell it or exchange, having no idea that the clashes will grow into the war soon. The situation did not seem to get any better. Moreover by 1990, Elina’s grandparents and other relatives moved to Armenia, while people around were already talking about the possibility of the war with Azerbaijan.

Facing a number of obstacles in the early 1990′s, many relatives started leaving Armenia for Russia, USA and other parts of the world. Elina’s father was also several times invited to work in Russia, however they decided to stay in Armenia. Elina says it was too risky for her parents to move again and get plunged into uncertainty with the three kids, Elina and her two elder sisters. So, the family chose to share the hard times that Armenian people were living through in the early 1990′s. Besides, unlike the locals they faced a number of additional difficulties. First of all, after spending the entire life in a big international city, namely Baku, it was rather stressful to move to the small town located 50 km far from the Armenian capital, Yerevan. This issue became more substantial when the girls entered universities and using public transport had to get to Yerevan and back to Hoktemberyan every single day. The biggest issue though was the language since Armenians from Baku barely spoke Armenian. While the anti-Russian mood in the post-Soviet states right after the collapse of the Soviet Union was raising, it turned to be a huge challenge for the family to live under the pressure of a different mentality. Elina started attending an Armenian school and thus happened to be the only one in the family with Armenian education. She says that the Armenian language teacher at school kept on gifting her with the highest grade in order not to spoil the picture of Elina’s excellent grades for other subjects, while it actually took more than 5 years for her to start studying in Armenian easily. Elina is smiling while recalling how her mother was learning Armenian letters together with her and reading Armenian books for kids.

Time was passing quickly. Elina’s parents put all the possible efforts to give a solid education to their daughters. All of them graduated from state universities and became good specialists. In a word, the family accepted the new reality and started acting correspondingly.

But it does not mean that they forgot their life before moving to Armenia. Elina says that both of her parents’ recollections of life in Baku are always warm and peaceful. Sometimes drinking tea in the circle of family or close relatives they recall Azerbaijani pakhlava. And although Elina was only 2 years old, she clearly remembers some random fragments of her life in Baku such as the fig tree right in front of the window of the balcony, the sofa in the room, her toys and bicycle. Elina’s parents frequently recall their friends, colleagues, neighbors whom they lost any connection with. At the same time, peaceful memories of peaceful times get immediately darkened when they read or watch anything related to Sumgait or Baku pogroms, war and massive destructions.

Being actively involved in different youth projects, Elina happened to meet researchers and political activists from Azerbaijan several times. She says, misunderstandings, hostilities and promotion of “own truth” are obviously existing between the two societies and she could often feel a negative attitude to herself from Azerbaijani delegations only because she is from Armenia. However, she believes that conflicts cannot last forever. At some point the two societies will realize that both are being heavily brainwashed. And then we will restore good relations, simply because it is natural, and hate will no way win over common sense.

By the end of our talk, Elina remembered her participation in a summer school in Crimea 3 years ago. One of the assignments implied a photo shot on the beach of the Black Sea. The idea was to collect pictures of representatives from each delegation with the flag of their country painted on their faces. Elina was helping participants to get prepared for the photo shot and turned to paint an Azerbaijani flag on the face of the girl from Baku. In the beginning it was rather tense, but when they both saw each other’s positive attitude, the atmosphere slowly changed. They all together held an extremely joyful photo shot. On the last day of the summer school some of the participants from Armenia and Azerbaijan were even crying before their departure. “This only proves again,” says Elina, “that pure human relations do not recognize any borders and complex political knots. My parents lived peacefully in Baku and I know that at some point Armenians will again easily go to Azerbaijan and will be happy to host Azerbaijanis in Armenia”.

This article is made possible by the support of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as a part of Eurasia Partnership Foundation’s Community Youth Peacebuilding Through New Media project. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of its authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Eurasia Partnership Foundation, FCO or the British Government.

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