Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lives Still Affected by Azeri-Armenian War

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to oped@imedia.ru, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

I met Ashot in a village just outside the Armenian capital, Yerevan, at the house of his father, Vladimir, a writer who fled the Azeri capital, Baku, with his family in the early 1990s, amid the upsurge of violence between Azeris and Armenians.

Vladimir was leafing through an album of old photographs decorated with mementos of a lost life in cosmopolitan Baku, where his mother sang show tunes during the lazy, lovingly remembered Brezhnev era.

All that is gone now. These days, Vladimir's family members are "internally displaced persons," although probably never to be replaced. And Baku is no longer the city Vladimir remembers. Ethnic Armenians haven't been welcome for years. His family now lives in a one-room cottage near a rusty automobile dump. They're lucky. Some of the war escapees in this village live in a disused prison.

Then Ashot walked in -- 16 years old, hair meticulously gelled, bright but bashful. He's a singer too, he said, although it took a bit of bullying by his father to coax a tune out of him. When it came, it was unexpectedly in Azeri, a language he doesn't even speak. It turned out he had learned it by heart from his grandmother without knowing what the words meant. So an Armenian boy whose family was driven out by the Azeris was singing an old Azeri song in a refugee hovel in Armenia.

A few weeks later, I was in the oil boomtown of Baku, listening to a very different tune: the call to prayer from a city-center mosque. Standing next to me was Vahid, 20, who comes here every week for Friday prayers. He said he was studying business and wanted to work for BP, the key player in the Azeri black gold rush. But he feared he wouldn't have enough money to bribe his way through what he said was a corrupt education system and to afford the private English lessons he would need to get a job with an international company.

While I waited to speak to the imam, Vahid kept talking. His father runs a plastics factory, which he managed to build up from nothing in the few years since the family arrived in Baku. "Arrived from where?" I asked. From Armenia in the 1990s, he said.

Although they traveled in opposite directions, both Vahid and Ashot -- along with nearly a million others -- were displaced by the same war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the continued absence of a final peace agreement between the two countries, it's a conflict that continues to affect the lives and futures of both young men more than a decade later -- and the lives of many others too young to remember it.

Matthew Collin is a journalist based in Tbilisi.