13 Sep 2023
Memories Like Hanging Stones
Do you know what it means to be a child among people who constantly grieve and long for a homeland, for a home that was hardly built before it was lost?
As a child, for me, it was an environment where having fun, reading, playing, talking, and laughing were considered sins. My uncle’s daughter loved to sing and dance when she was happy.
“I will be a singer,” she would say. But as soon as she started singing and playing, my grandmother would say, “What does this girl celebrate?”, the meaning in her question – why is she so happy? She would throw her slippers just to silence her voice.
On one of those days, she cried out, “I will go and live at Aunt Simara’s home. I will be their child because they are more cheerful and happier,” she said. Aunt Simara was our next-door neighbor, and their family of five would sing, dance, and clap their hands as soon as a song came on the TV.
The sounds of their footsteps, songs, and laughter would reach us, and of course, my grandmother was dissatisfied with this also.
Time froze for my family
Here referring to 1993 – when time froze for my family – and the period that followed. After 1993, it was a mere existence.
I was born in Fuzuli in 1988. When I was four, the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia began, and by the age of six, we had to leave our home…
Since the start of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, both Armenians and Azerbaijanis have talked only about their lost loved ones, homes, cities, and belongings. They forgot one crucial thing – they also lost memories.
During the war, some families did not lose anyone. Homes and belongings can be replaced, acquired, and earned again. However, people’s memories are never restored.
When we left Fuzuli, the adults were more focused on taking all of the children’s belongings. So everything from our toys to the Christmas tree we decorated for the New Year, even the clothes we didn’t wear, was taken.
After leaving our home, we lived for several months in the village of Fuzuli, in the house a relative. After some time, the war came close to that village. We had to go to the house of my father’s groupmate, a friend from Masalli, a city in the south of Azerbaijan, closer to the border with Iran. He lived in Russia, and gave us his house key with the words “stay as long as you want.” Eleven people lived in this 3-room house for a whole year.
After some time, his relatives began to worry because in many places the displaced did not leave the house they had entered. Finally, they said, “We can’t afford it; we want to rent out the house.” My father didn’t hesitate, and we left there…
This time, we moved to the empty house of the mother of my uncle’s army friend in Alat settlement near Baku. The house had two rooms, and we were again eleven people with a lot of things…
Later, I found out that at the time, my family had the opportunity to buy a house but they had hopes that Fuzuli would return with it, so they didn’t take any steps.
I went to the first grade in Alat settlement. Sometimes I think that I should go and visit that neighborhood and school once, but every time I postpone it. I avoid facing those days.
Unlike in Masalli, the people in Alat did not like us. According to them, we Karabaghs were the cause of the war and the deaths of people.
One day at school, my classmate said to me, “It’s your land, you fought for it, why did they take my uncle away?” I didn’t understand. When I came home and shared it with my grandmother, she cried. After that, I avoided bringing up similar conversations at home.
One night, they threw stones at the window of the house where we were staying and shattered the glass. I was sleeping on the floor under the window with my aunt, and shards of glass fell on us, scratching my aunt’s arm. Of course, I only found out about the stones later. At the time they said, “the wind blew.” Fortunately, there were no major complications.
Only the men were allowed to take out the garbage, go to the market, and visit the store. We weren’t even allowed to play in the yard.
In 1995, after two years of realizing that the city would not return, our elders decided to move to a big house. It couldn’t be far away, so they chose the city of Imishli, which was 100 kilometers from Fuzuli.
While searching for a new home, we stayed another summer at the house of another friend of my father in the village of Sarikhanli, Imishli.
We then rented a five-room apartment on the first floor of a two-story building here. When all our hopes of returning faded away, we finally bought the house, the same house we had been renting.
On the eve of moving from one house to another, we left things at the village house that were considered unimportant, such as my aunt’s piano, my bicycle, a swing, a telephone, a radio, and a sewing machine.
My father told us that they had empty rooms, so I stored these things there. When we came back, we saw that our things were packed in the barn where the animals were kept. Chickens were sleeping on my aunt’s piano, my bike, and my brother’s toy car were used by the children of the house and were completely broken.
Our family consisted of my grandmother, grandfather, our family of four, and my uncle’s family of five. Later, my uncle would have another son.
When this son grew up, he would tell us, “You are displaced people, you don’t have a city, but I was born in Imishli, I have a city,” he would say as a joke.
Somehow everyone had a room in the house we moved to, which was a luxury after a long time. We brought and arranged our TV and other things. We were happy, but the adults were as pessimistic as usual. What I had experienced had caused me to lose some of my senses. I had unpleasant memories of a few objects I liked. I couldn’t forget them later, no matter how much I wanted to…
When I stayed in the village of Imishli, every time I approached the bicycle my father had bought me for my birthday, the eldest daughter of the house where we stayed (I don’t remember her full name; her family called her Masy) would fall to the ground and say,
“My bicycle, don’t touch my bicycle.”
I couldn’t explain that the item belonged to me. In general, my family did not allow me to open my mouth. Now I understand that they did that because we were staying at their house.
My beloved blue bicycle with a white seat, , which I used carefully and kept in good condition, was unrecognizable. It had rusted and squeaked when ridden.
Even today, I have a bicycle, but I don’t share it with anyone. Or rather, I can’t bring myself to share it. Generally, when I give something to someone, I spend days and hours thinking about it until I get it back.
A Christmas tree
When we bought our first house, we had a lot of expenses. We tried to purchase the most important items initially, and planned to address the remaining needs over time, piece by piece.
We moved into the house at the end of October; the rooms lacked doors. We had intended to buy them the following months, but as soon as I received my salary at the beginning of November, I promptly bought a christmas tree for our home. I decorated it during the first week of November.
Twelve years later, I still decorate my 1.80-meter Christmas tree in early November. Every time I share a photo of it on social networks, I receive reactions from my friends: “How early?” “Already?” “Wow.”
When we were in Fuzuli, we had a Christmas tree with a big red five-star on top. Every year, we decorated it between the 10th and 15th of December. My aunt taught us poems and songs about the New Year. My brother and I would stand in front of it and recite poems, afraid to touch it.
After 1993, we didn’t decorate a single Christmas tree. We mentioned it a couple of times, but we would always hear “yes, it is only a Christmas tree that is missing in our life.”
Nonetheless, my brother and I always reminisced about it. When I saw one in other houses, I would say, “Our Christmas tree was bigger, right?” He would ask, or we would console ourselves with, “We used to have a tree.”
My brother also bought one for his kids. However, after setting it up for one year, the desire for a second year waned. It’s as if he wasn’t the same one who gazed at the decorated tree as a child, sighed deeply, and joyfully exclaimed,
“A Christmas tree, a Christmas tree, a beautiful Christmas tree.’’
I knew that my aunt was a piano teacher. I vaguely remembered that there was a piano in our house, but I had forgotten how my aunt played.
My grandmother used to talk about music performances and fun on holidays and birthdays, but I couldn’t remember.
In general, I do not remember how to play the piano or how the hands move across it.
In between, I would make movements with my fingers on the table and ask, “Is it played like this?” “No,” came the reply, which was always a bit harsh.
Later, I realized how much she missed playing the piano. Her piano was soaking wet in a stable in some village.
This memory flashed back on World Pianists’ Day in 2022.
Wars prevent us from having joyful memories of significant days. And no matter how good a life you live later, the first recorded memories are not forgotten…
What do wars take from people? Sometimes there is no loss of life, and a small problem passes, but it spurs feelings that make a person feel heartbroken, like a stone hangs somewhere inside there…