1 Jun 2020
Thirty years of war. Memories of displacement
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, dozens of violent conflicts emerged in the post-Soviet states. The small groups living in the South Caucasus, whose relations during the Soviet period were characterized by the official label “fraternity of nations,” descended into war with one another. Over 1.3 million people were displaced and more than 30 thousand died in a small region of 15 million.
The three territorial disputes over Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia have endured, unresolved for almost 30 years. And the voices of those who carry the wounds of those wars remain largely unheard.
Movsum Zeynalov’s family is one of thousands of Azerbaijani refugees from Armenia. When the Nagorno-Karabalh conflict began, Movsum, at the time 24 years old, moved to Azerbaijan with his family. It was November, 1988. They settled in Agstafa, a region located about 470 km outside of Baku, in a self-constructed cabin. Slowly over the years the cabin would become a house.
With Rahila Zeynalova, Movsum’s sister, the family recalls their memories about their home and their village Yuxari Korpulu, nestled within the Noyemberyan region in Armenia, and the day they left their homeland.
Rima Abrahamyan and her family left Baku in 1988 when attacks against Armenians started in the city. After staying nine months in a boarding house in Aghveran, Abrahamyan’s husband found a job in Yerevan, 30km south of Aghveran. After renting a house for several months they found another place to settle, an old university building where other refugees from Azerbaijan had already relocated.
In the first few months of 2020, the Armenian Government created a project to grant apartment purchase certificates to 112 refugee families that, over the last 30 years, had still not received permanent housing. In the early days of March that year, 40 out of the 112 received their certificates; Abrahamyan’s family was among them.
However, the tumultuous circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the lockdown in Armenia, complicated the process of finding an apartment. Abrahamyan now hopes that the certificate’s validity, originally set for one year, will be extended and that the currency exchange rate will become more favorable so they are able afford a place to live.
Makhmar, 64, was displaced from the Kalbajar district in April of 1993, when Armenian military forces took control of the region. After being displaced from her home town she had to persevere through many difficulties to provide for her children and mother. Currently living in a temporary camp for the displaced persons from Karabakh, Makhmar has not lost her hope for peace.
Lado Shonia, 28, is from Abkhazia’s Gal/i District. Life after the war was not safe and easy for him or his fellows. Even games were not safe for children. His story of displacement starts with the Georgian-Abkhazian war in 1992-93, which resulted in the placement of tens of thousands of landmines across Abkhazia. One day when Lado and his classmates were returning home from school they accidentally stepped on a mine, which exploded.
After the explosion much of Lado’s life, full of tears and pain, has been spent in hospitals. Despite these difficulties he was able to finish his general schooling and graduate from university.
Today, Lado feels himself to be an accomplished individual, who shares his view of peace and his perspective about the Georgian-Abkhazian future.
Ethnic conflict arises when there is not enough communication, contact, also when the society is not open, when there are envy and hate too. I think that speaking openly about the problems between divided society would be a solution. We [Georgians and Abkhazians] have to start the relationship from the new sheet,’ he said.
Inga Argunashvili became displaced after the war in August of 2008. After the heavy bombing on August 7th Inga and her family left her native village of Achabeti, 6 kilometers north of Tskhinval/I, once the Georgian government opened a passage for local residents.
Of course, Inga left behind not only her house in the village of Achabeti; her memories remained there as well. She managed to bring a few things with her: part of the family photo archive; a book, “The Knight in the Tiger Skin,” a present from her father; a videotape from her relative’s wedding; and an old Soviet blanket in which she was able to take it all away.
Now Inga and her family live in Saguramo, in a village ironically named “Hope,” one of dozens of such settlements for displaced people in Georgia. Inga works as a school teacher and tries to keep up a good spirit. Together with her husband, Inga planted a new garden with fruits, vegetables, and flowers. For her, war is the worst thing that can happen to the word. And peace is of the greatest value.
*This article was funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinion, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.