Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

An Azeri Perspective

Former Shusha resident recalls the destruction of his home at the outbreak of war.
By Samira Ahmedbeyli

Nazim Sabiroglu’s childhood home in the town of Shusha was full of paintings, and children came from the school where his father taught to see them. The children were both Armenian and Azeri, because he grew up in Nagorny Karabakh, but he never sees Armenians any more.

Shusha, which was an Azeri majority town, overlooked Stepanakert, the main city in Karabakh, and its Azeri inhabitants – Sabiroglu included – fled when it was seized by Armenian forces keen to control what was a strategic location.

“Many of our neighbours cried when we left Shusha, when they were saying goodbye to their Azeri neighbours. They said God should punish these Stepanakert people for causing such a commotion. And we were sad to lose such neighbours,” Sabiroglu said.

He was in the 10th year at school when the stand-off between Armenians and Azeris started, and at first did not understand what was happening.

“It was in 1988 when I first heard about the demands of the Armenians. Armenians flew many white flags from the mountains. I suggested that they were demanding that we surrender but when I mentioned this at home, they told me off, and said it was probably mountain climbers. But mountain climbers never came, and sadly I was right,” he said.

Those Armenians seized his home town in 1992, but he was not there to see it. A rocket had destroyed the house with the paintings, along with all of Sabiroglu’s childhood mementoes.

“Within an hour nothing remained of our house. Everything was burned. And my childhood burned together with the house. I had hidden letters in the attic, describing my childhood loves, my first written works. And in the courtyard was a very old pear tree, with very tasty fruit. People came from the whole town to take fruit from our tree. Everything burned in a moment. That was the moment I grew up,” he said.

His father did not survive the shock, and died of a heart attack. His body is buried in Shusha with those of his forebears. Sabiroglu has not seen his grave in the 17 years since he left, and doubts he ever will.

“As a journalist I understand that regaining Karabakh through war is just not realistic at the moment. There is no longer war in Europe, and we as a part of Europe cannot start a war. Starting and ending wars is the privilege of big countries. And I understand that in the current circumstances we need to get closer to our enemy. But I, as a normal person from Shusha, only want one thing and that’s to return to my homeland, to my town and to the grave of my father, or to what’s left of it,” he said.

He has closely watched the peace talks between the leaders of his country and those of Armenia, but is not optimistic that they will lead to anything. Fifteen years of stalemate have all but killed his hope that he might one day go home, even though the return of refugees is a key condition insisted on by mediators at the peace talks.

“Despite what the presidents say, that supposedly there is movement in the process of regulating the conflict, this does not look like the truth. The fact that talks have been halted until October also suggests this,” he said.

Samira Ahmedbeyli is an IWPR staff writer.

Note: all geographic terms are those used by IWPR’s editors in London.

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