An Armenian Personal View

My relatives have lost hope of returning to the land where their ancestors are buried.

An Armenian Personal View

My relatives have lost hope of returning to the land where their ancestors are buried.

Friday, 31 July, 2009

In my passport, my place of birth is listed as the Republic of Azerbaijan. Of course, it was not the Azerbaijan of today, because I am an Armenian, but the Soviet Socialist Republic, back in 1983, before the conflict between our two peoples over Nagorny Karabakh.

In 1988, the troubles started and my family fled our home in an area of Azerbaijan close to Karabakh. We have never been back.

I have many other relatives who are refugees. Although my grandparents fled the village of Khanlar in the Dashkesan region – which was inhabited by both Azeris and Armenians – most of my other relatives came from Zaglik, which was for centuries purely Armenian.

In the 15 years since the ceasefire, they have lost hope that they will ever return to the land where their ancestors are buried. They cannot get used to the politicians’ talk of a “return of territory”. If they cannot go back, why should Azeris be able to?

“Our Zaglik was heaven on earth, but we understand we will never get it back. Both sides now have what they have and you cannot turn back the clock. I had many Azeri friends, and I am sure that they think the same. Politicians are a long way from the common people,” said my uncle, Ashot Khojaian.

In Armenia, almost everyone is connected to the Karabakh conflict. Although few men actually fought, everyone knows someone who did. Take Mher Davoian, the editor of the magazine where I used to work. He and a friend were the only survivors from their division, and hid in the forests for a week, having been given up for dead.

And now, when almost every week politicians discuss the return of territory, my former editor refuses to believe it.

“I organised an opinion poll across all of Armenia and I know that it’s not just me, it’s 80 per cent of Armenians who are ready to take up arms to defend what belongs to us. This is even though I know that there won’t be a second war,” he said.

And he’s right. Ordinary Armenians cannot countenance giving up Nagorny Karabakh. Levon Manvelian, my future father-in-law, took three years to get over the psychological damage he suffered in the war, when he had to gather up the pieces of his best friend. When he hears talk of the interim status that the international mediators want to assign to Karabakh under the Madrid Principles, he just laughs.

“Nagorny Karabakh already has a status. I don’t understand why our authorities don’t stand by this. I do understand, however, what a dirty business politics is, and maybe they don’t have the power to do more than they are. But we the people are strong enough, just like we were 20 years ago,” he told me.

Ordinary people are a long way from diplomacy, and maybe do not understand the niceties of the principles laid out for regulating the conflict. A week ago, all the commentators in Armenia started talking about resolving the Karabakh conflict along the lines of the Madrid Principles. People at bus stops and coffee shops across the whole of Yerevan could be heard saying things like, “Apparently, they are going to return the territory. This cannot be allowed to happen.”

I was born on Azeri territory but I have never thought of it as my homeland. However, I have also never doubted that the village of Zaglik, in which generations of my ancestors were born and died, is Armenian land. It is land controlled by Azerbaijan, but it is where my mother dreams of going, so she can visit the graves of my family.

But this does not trouble me. We are talking here about the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. It troubles me that no one in the world seems to understand that Nagorny Karabakh is not a part of Azerbaijan, and this is not a question of diplomacy. It is a question of memory, and this is something we all have.

Many people do not know this, just as they do not know about Zaglik, my home, which I will probably never see again.

Sara Khojoyan is the acting director of IWPR’s Armenian office.

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