Surviving ethnic cleansing & Black January: Mehriban Aliyeva’s story

By | Rachel Brooks

Interview by Irina Tsukerman 

January 31, 2021

Above and throughout, photos presented by special guest. 

Republic Underground’s media vice president Irina Tsukerman sat down with a survivor of the Azerbaijani ethnic cleansing from Armenia, Mehriban Aliyeva. Aliyeva’s life story begins with a beautiful childhood, and continues through a survived exodus, witnessing the events of Black January 1990, and finally coming to Canada and beginning life anew as a member of the Azerbaijani diaspora.  

“I was born November 27, 1975, in a place called Krasnoselsky, in the village called Jil. (Armenia) It’s a small village_I believe maybe the population is between 2,000 or 3,000 people. It’s not a big village. So, I was born there, and we had a big family. I have nine siblings, seven sisters and two brothers. 

My family was huge and happy. Sometimes we said our family looked exactly like an Italian family because we were so noisy_like we were talking and screaming basically. We never talked in a normal way. We couldn’t just talk in a normal way, because my Grandma or my Grandpa would come and be like ‘Are you okay? Because you’re talking so quiet.” Because the expectation was that we’d always be talking like-you know, laughing, screaming. It was such a happy childhood!”

In military uniform, not Germans, but Armenians … this is not 1941 … these are 90 years … and civilians of Azerbaijan are sitting in the snow … women, old people, children … who are cynically photographed and then simply killed …..

🇦🇿🇦🇲 1993. Armenian gangs in the Azerbaijani language convey to the civilians of Kelbejar that they have 10 hours to get ready to leave their native lands. Pro-Armenian “journalists and bloggers” are silent about this because these people have no conscience and honor. The well-known terrorist Monte Melkonian is in the footage.

On November 15, the Armenian troops and the Armenian civilians brought to Kelbejar in the 90s must leave the Azerbaijani region. Justice has triumphed.

@MaidenTower

#KarabakhWar2020

She then described how her family structure worked, and her father’s occupation. 

“My Dad was a farming guy, and he worked at a farm all the time. The farm was far away from my house, so my Dad would come home every two or three days. He just came home once, and then he’d spend the night and go away…Even though we weren’t a rich family, the amount of love we were getting from Dad and my Mom, it was absolutely….you just can’t equate the cost. There’s no way to compare to cost, it was a huge love. That’s why we didn’t even care that ‘oh, we don’t have this..’ or ‘we don’t have that,’ but the thing was that there was so much love and care that it was enough for us.” 

She said that it remained like this until the time she was 11 years old. In 1987, that’s when her family started to learn from the news and various sources that there were problems. She said that there was talk about meetings at the Kremlin between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as these nations were still part of the U.S.S.R at the time. The trouble of war was already brewing, but she didn’t understand fully what was happening at that time. She said the elders in her family, such as her Grandma and Grandpa, never spoke much of politics or alluded to the problems that existed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This was even though her maternal grandfather was a police chief.

“This was the last thing that I would ever think would happen…” she said, expressing deep amazement in hindsight at the escalation. 

“My mom’s dad, he was a police chief. And he knew everything but never spoke…because this is another example of the great attitude of the Azerbaijani people. They never groom or teach their kids to know who their enemy is. Because they don’t want to build this thing, they don’t want to build this hate. Never!”

First of three even the graves were destroyed. Families were not able to bury the dead they left on the mountains of Armenia, in their flight to save the living.

She stated also that, while her family was living in what is part of Armenia proper, they never truly intermingled with ethnic Armenian people in her region. The majority of the people living in her region were ethnic Azerbaijani because the place was historically associated with ethnic Azerbaijanis from a long time back. There was a great number of the historical background of Turkic influences in this region of Armenia’s easternmost districts. 

She recalled with fondness the size of her family, with many cousins and extended relations. Their lives revolved around one another, and even while the news of the increasing tensions became more frequent, the family was comfortably oblivious to all that was going on. Because they were such a happy family that spent so much time together, the farthest thing from their minds was the idea that one day they would be forced to go their separate ways. 

“I left the country…it’s been almost 30 years. I’m still missing those family dinners. Those family breakfasts. Random family popups…We didn’t even have a rich life, maybe just some bread and cheese…but we were so happy. I still miss that happiness, and I miss my friends.” 

Turning her thoughts to said friends, our guest then recalled the children she left behind in her girlhood Armenia.  

“I was a girl, but you know I wasn’t a ‘girly’-girl. I would always play with the boys. We would play like you know army guys, so I was always an army guy. To me, even as a kid in those games, even though I would ‘kill’ someone, my gun would never ‘kill’ them. I would always take them alive. I would say ‘I’ve killed you, just pretend I did. I don’t wanna kill you, but just between you and me pretend I did, okay?’ 

 It’s not really in our biology (Azerbaijani) to kill somebody, to hurt somebody. To us, a human is human. If someone made a historical mistake, we would say ‘to us this is a political issue, it has nothing to do with the human being,’ but unfortunately now how much I see hate, I see nonhuman acts from Armenian people…this is unbelievable. I feel so bad for those people. I pray to God for those people, because it’s not good for them either. How could you live with hate?” 

She then stated that, because her childhood was so happy, she has tried to hold onto that instead, passing on the attitude of her early days to her children, noting that how children are treated when they are little by their parents is the bridge to their future. She said that she believes the maltreatment of children is what influences the violence in adults. 

“In my family, my parents never taught us to hate or to kill. Even with my Grandpa, I asked ‘how come you never told us that Armenians are our enemies, how come?’” 

A question that was unfortunately understood one fateful day in October of 1987. 

Other historic photos capture the atrocities committed against children…

And this is how Azerbaijani children left their homes: wounded, exhausted, barefoot in the cold followed by their parents.

The original version of this story can be found on Facebook. 

“It was in October…October 18, I remember. The place that I lived in was a very cold country. The snowing actually starts in September and lasts until the end of March. We’d have snow like 10 times, and it’s very windy, maybe -15, -20 degrees. Maybe now I’ve changed, but back then I was used to this cold. Two days or so before this date, my Mom told me that I was going to go have a picnic with my Dad. I was like ‘ooh, fun’ because I loved spending time with him. But I said, ‘Mom, we never go have picnics?’ and especially since it was wintertime. Then my Mom says, ‘Do not ask me questions, I told you to be ready, you’re going.’”

She said at this point she no longer questioned it because once she was with her Dad she never really wanted to do anything else. Going to visit her father was an event for the whole family, because her father, the youngest of his family, would meet with all of his siblings and their families in his father’s house. The guest remembered her paternal grandfather’s home as a “meeting house.” 

On October 18, she stated that, as was usual for their family, all of the aunts and uncles were also at the house, discussing something. They ordered the children to go play at a distance so they could talk. 

“I can see at this point that there’s something happening, and it’s scary. And I can see this ongoing stress. But I hadn’t figured out what happened. My Mom then said to the children, ‘Guys, we have to tell you, you’re not going to be the only ones going away.’ “

That’s when she explained that exclusively the female relatives would all be leaving. They would all be going to Azerbaijan. When the children expressed their confusion, the parents explained the conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. 

“If we didn’t leave the house, they (the Armenians) were going to kill us. Because our neighbor village… maybe even from as early as August there were problems and continued through August, September, and October, but it got worse in October and November. So, what happened was the neighbor village had tried to leave the country by car, by bus and stuff like that. You know, the people would like to leave, but the Armenian people cut off the roads, pulled the people out of the vehicles, and they killed them. There were a few pregnant women…They did such an inhuman thing…”

She then went on to explain the crimes against the women, and how for Muslims these crimes were pronounced by their religious beliefs. 

“I think it’s not only my country but for everybody, our dignity is very valuable. But for Muslims, it’s not negotiable. If you touch the girl’s virginity, they have to kill you, that’s it. Even if the girl didn’t want to, but you did and you assaulted her, they have to kill you. It’s not only with people, even with animals, if you were to touch the animal’s partner they would retaliate. I believe it belongs to everybody, you know, who’s going to tell you ‘oh, you touched my woman, but I don’t care.’ Nobody’s going to respond like that.” 

She then went on to explain what the hijackers did to one of the pregnant women. 

“There was like a light pole and the bus. They spread the woman’s legs out to each. It was a pregnant woman. They separated her apart, and delivered the baby, while the woman was still alive. Can you imagine that? How could you do that?” 

She also described what had happened to some of the children in these incidents. 

“Then they took another couple and cut their son’s throat in front of them. The mom had to see that.”

She stated that the hijackers also took around 18-20 children between the ages of 5 to 12 and brutally executed them. 

“They had like a huge metal hose? They put the children inside the hose, and then they closed both ends. They poured in gasoline and lit them on fire. Those kids were just burned there, and you could hear them scream. The parents were there, forced to watch and wait until they were to die.”

Even decades later, our guest described how this has deeply impacted her life. 

“They did such a thing…I don’t know how to explain. Even now it’s not easy for me…I went to my doctor_you know, I have depression. He asked me, ‘you’re not doing good, what happened to you?’ I told him I was fine, but he insisted, that even though everyone was struggling with the pandemic, I had something extra. I told him, ‘well, maybe I’m just remembering.”

She then recalled how she struggles with the need to remember and to relay the true events and full details of all that took place. Even though she faces a struggle with the vivid reconstruction of all that took place, she feels that it is her responsibility, because the events of the Azerbaijani exile from Armenia was “inhuman.” 

“If I forget this thing, I am not a human,” she said. 

“That’s why I tell myself ‘you have to remember, and you have to talk ’ because this thing is a shame of humanity, which nobody knows.” 

She relayed how her mother explained that she would have to go with her father because he knew “everywhere” and he knew the shortest, safest way. An exodus was the only way to save their lives. Yet, an exodus would mean a painful parting with the life that they had known. 

“I remember back then we had this baby doll, that if you put her down she’d be crying and if you tilted her up she would not. There were five girls, plus I have other cousins, and we only had this one baby doll that my Dad bought. We did everything with this baby doll, we made dresses, hair cut, so when we went to leave, I asked my Mom ‘can I take this?’ Mom answered ‘no, you have enough stuff, we don’t need this, so you can’t bring it. We’ll buy you a new one.’ It was just…to leave this baby doll there, it’s like I left my childhood there. When I played with this babydoll, I had so many dreams, I believed I would be like my doll and the dreams I had for her, and not to live in the village.”

Her mother said that they would only be able to bring food, with many chickens. The family had a huge pot. They came together and cleaned these chickens, and cooked lots of eggs, and gathered bread. She recalled how they stuffed all of the food into her father’s huge army backpack. The backpack may have been heavier than the then 11-year-old Aliyeva’s body, but she was so eager to help her Dad with the evacuation that she somehow managed to tote the load. 

When it came down to the decision of what to take with them, the family realized they would not be able to take any personal belongings. Aliyeva’s father suggested to her mother that he may eventually return to the scene to collect what they would have to leave, but this never happened. 

“We left my house October 18, and I think it was like 11-12 o’clock. It was dark already. I remember thinking ‘why are we leaving in the nighttime, shouldn’t we leave during the day?’ I didn’t know it was because we were sneaking off. That we were trying to keep anybody from seeing us…” 

She then recalled that the evacuation consisted of females, around 60 total, with elderly women and the youngest ones as well. They were headed en route from Jil, Armenia to Gadabay, Azerbaijan. 

“We had a few girls that were just three years old. Their mommies were carrying them close. It was cold and there was icy rain. Then, the place that we were, it was on a huge mountain. It’s not a regular road there, there was no road. We were having to walk, and people were falling that we had to help. There was so, so much snow, up to my knees. My Dad tried to go in the front, he was basically making a path and we had to follow him. We also took a piece of hard plastic that we would sit on and used to sled fast down the path.” 

The little group walked for three nights from Armenia to the border of Azerbaijan. They walked after dark. 

“My Dad didn’t know this road very well. I asked ‘Dad, how long is it going to take.’ He said, ‘the third night we’ll be there,’ but because he didn’t know the road very well, we’d be walking and realize ‘oh my God, we’re going the wrong way.’ It wasn’t just like 100 meters either, it was three sometimes five kilometers. And finally, my Dad would realize that we were going the wrong way. We didn’t even have a compass, my Dad was just guessing. Sometimes we’d have to go back again.” 

She recalled how one night, an Armenian helicopter flew over. Information had passed around that the Azerbaijani people who were attempting to escape from Armenia were no longer taking transportation. The helicopter flew over at night, and from the helicopter, the Armenians fired on the small band of migrants. 

“They were flying over and they shot at people, and we couldn’t take them (the dead) with us. They shot an old lady. I was shocked. This was the first time in my life I didn’t like my Dad. I said ‘How could you leave those people there?’ He said, ‘We can’t. If we go back to take those people, they are going to kill us too. We have to leave. It’s okay.’ It was such a nightmare. I was thinking, ‘Wow, how could my Dad act like that?’ and it wasn’t just my Dad it was everybody, like how could everybody just try to go like that?” 

She then recalled how they tried to find their way out of hiding. She recalled that their passage through the mountain, forests, and a river to the Gadabay region was an extremely difficult way to reach their destination. 

“There was something that I can’t exactly explain what happened, but we basically just had to rush to the forest to hide. Because there they couldn’t find us. We just had to hide there, it was already like 8 o’clock, so we had to wait there, we ate a little bit…I had to sit there, and it was so wet, and I couldn’t feel my feet or fingers or anything. There was this one kid that, I don’t know if she got sick, but she was crying so bad, and then her Mom would hold her mouth to make sure no one could hear her voice. The Mom told her ‘if you keep crying, I will kill you.’ She was just a baby, she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed to cry, but her Mom was acting like that because she was trying to save our lives.” 

Once the troop reached Azerbaijan, the place was unfamiliar. The only similarity was the fact that it was an Azerbaijani village, but no relatives were in this region. However, the community did assist.

“When they found out we were coming, everybody came, and everybody was trying to help us. Then, my feet were so swollen, and I didn’t feel anything. When we went to the forest, maybe something stuck under my finger, maybe like a small stone or something, but it was very sharp. Because we were trying to save our lives and reach the place we were going, we didn’t feel any pain or anything. The only thing we could think was ‘we have to go there.’ It was very hard for us, and a lot of the people were crying. 

I understood that my Dad was trying to save our lives, but other people were kinda blaming my Dad, saying things like ‘why are you taking this road’? Poor Dad, he didn’t even explain, he just said ‘I’m sorry, we have to go this way.’ It took us three days, and when we finally reached our destination everybody was devastated.” 

But reaching Gadabay was not the end of the trouble. One of the women that made the journey had left her husband behind. He was killed because he stayed to guard the house. Somehow she had learned this from the Azerbaijani at this destination. 

“When she heard this, she also passed away. I don’t know if maybe she had a heart attack or something like that, but she just passed away while we were there. It was for us such a dramatic and devastating thing. The poor woman, she had already reached this place, but she just couldn’t survive. Can you imagine that? I mean she had already walked for three nights. Now, her husband has died, and she’s dead.” 

This first death was followed by many. In the first six months of their departure from Armenia, the little family lost half of their relatives. Uncles, aunts, Grandma, Grandpa, cousins and so many more. 

“We lost so many people because they had been separated from where they belong. We had come to a different country, and the people had nothing, we had left everything behind. We only took one backpack, we couldn’t take anything. We just closed up our house, and we had a beautiful house. We had everything there, you know, my Dad worked all his life. On that one night, we left everything behind. They didn’t let us take anything. They had actually given us an ultimatum. ‘You want to live? You have to leave.’ You can’t take anything, there’s just no way.’

Now we’d come to this different country, and we didn’t have anything, like, how are you going to make your life? You lost everything, everything that belongs to you. You lost your everything, you lost your house, everything that belongs to you. Now you have your kids, your life. You don’t have anywhere to live, you don’t have anywhere to go, you don’t have money to buy, you won’t get help from the government, and you don’t know what’s going to happen, are you gonna go back? There’s no plan, everything is just a block. That’s why it gave a lot of stress for people.

 For me, I didn’t have that much responsibility, but it hurt me a lot because I left my baby doll there and all my classmates. In October, we used to go to school, but then in one night, they told us we had to leave. Where, where to go? I miss my books and I miss my homework, and I miss everything. We had a project, we had a beautiful school, it had five floors, a beautiful modern school! We loved school. When you went to school, you basically had to change your shoes. Even in Canada, we don’t have a school like that. When you go inside, you have to change your shoes, inside such a beautiful, modern building… I only went there for two years, and that place was the only place that I could enjoy and make a dream for my future. 

In one night, everything was gone, and you don’t know the answer, and you don’t know what is gonna happen. I don’t wish that situation on anybody. In that situation, you can get easily crazy. You can lose your mind easily. I don’t wish anybody to be in that situation where they’re wondering ‘where am I gonna go, what am I going to do?’ When I came to Azerbaijan at 11-years-old, I had already added another 11 years on my shoulders, on my mind and brain. When I left my house, it was like I was already 22-years-old, because I had grown up in two nights. Kids…11-year-old kids cannot think that much. I couldn’t observe those kinds of problems. 

Footage of children during the Azerbaijani exodus from Armenia 

The problems didn’t belong to my age. I was just a little girl, I would have liked to have just played. But I’m telling you when I got to Azerbaijan I was already 22-years-old. If you were to scan my brain, you’d say, ‘ah you’re at least 56’. I got so old. So, that’s why when I was 16 even, I couldn’t concentrate in school. Because I thought of myself as old enough, and I didn’t want to learn, I had already learned a huge lesson from life. I didn’t know what kind of person I was going to be, but I knew I would definitely not forget what I had learned, and I would definitely seek justice for my feelings, from those who stole my childhood and my happiness. 

I’ve never reached this happiness, it’s gone, it’s never gonna be here. That happiness that I had back in the place that I was born, it’s impossible. Even if they gave me the whole world, it’s not going to be, it’s an absolutely different thing. I miss those things a lot, and it hurts me a lot. 

Okay, I’m 46, and even now I haven’t seen one dot, one thing that could maybe heal my pain. Like maybe those people have had to pay for what they have done, or they have apologized, or whatever they do, but they never have and the pain is still the same. I’m old. I’ve changed my country, I look different, but my brain, my heart, my feelings are worse. It’s worse, and I wondered where would I find a doctor that would help me to get this pain? But this pain, there is no medicine to heal. It’s very hard. 

I’ve even wondered if it was the same in 1941 or 1945, but no, I bet it’s nothing even close to what they did to us. What they did to Azerbaijani people, you can’t find a famous person to write about it, and nothing comes close.” 

She then recalled how at the time when she first learned that the Armenian people were killing the Azerbaijani people in Armenia, that there were televised demonstrations. She did not speak Armenian or Russian at the time, but was rather learning French and spoke Azerbaijani, so she didn’t understand then. In the demonstrations, the Armenian citizens were chanting, ‘Turks are disgusting!’  

“Until then, I was fighting myself, I wondered ‘why are they killing us, we aren’t Turks, we are Azerbaijani? Maybe our backgrounds are Turkic, but we are Azerbaijani. Just because of this, they are going to kill us? It’s because they hate Turks, that’s the problem. They can’t fight with the Turks, so they just kill us. It’s not fair. I mean, it’s not fair at all, can you imagine? Who can do this thing? Okay, so you have a political problem, deal with the Turks, why are you killing us? They are killing us because they think we are the same as the Turkish. Yes, I am Turkish, that’s my, that’s my background, there’s nothing wrong with that.” 

She then called on the Armenians who were commemorating the anniversary of the Ottoman pogroms against them, which they refer to as a genocide, to prove the genocide. She noted that they committed a genocide against her own ethnicity and that she was a witness. She has gathered information regarding the genocide against the Azerbaijani. She noted how Azerbaijanis were killed every day, killing the people both physically and mentally. 

“They’ve been killing me for 30 years.” 

She also noted that her generation was still alive, that no one needs to reach back 150 years ago. She lives in Canada today. When she visits Baku, she speaks with her family about nothing but the events of 30 years ago, remembering how they used to live in their childhood, and remembering all the pain of how they were displaced. She noted how the family still mourns and misses the way they were long ago before the conflict. They miss not just the place of their birth, but the time they cannot return to. 

“I can’t forget, and I don’t even have an answer why. You know how sometimes, after many years, you have a bit of peace of mind? I just want to heal a little bit, to understand why this happened to me.” 

She called on the world to recall the things that had happened to mind and to stop repeating these cycles. This is when she remembered how her late father, who passed away two years ago, carried the weight of those evil days for the rest of his life. The family had moved to Baku in 1989, but for the entire time, he continued to live in a home in Baku, until his death, he would make no renovations. 

When pressed by his daughter, the father said, “This is not my house. My house is there (Jil, Armenia). I don’t have the energy or the wish to do anything here, because one day I will go back there.”

His daughter responded, “Inshallah, Dad, you will go there. Inshallah.” While they waited for the war to be over, and the animosity to end. 

Her father, a bashful person by nature, became an author in his life, pouring all of his pain from his displacement into his writing. He noted the extreme sorrow of how every day he wished to go home, he prayed that he would live just long enough to return to Jil and die there. He did not, unfortunately, live long enough to fulfill his homegoing dream, but he begged his family that, should they ever return to Armenia, please bring some of the earth to sprinkle on his grave. She noticed that he would never cry for anything unless he remembered his home to which he could not return. 

She noticed that her pain over her home she was wishing for, as she gets older, the pain of displacement increases because the desire to return home is never resolved. 

At this stage, Tsukerman returned the interview to a discussion of the injury to Aliyeva’s feet sustained during the long walk. 

“So, basically, I had never walked that long of a time in my life before. Also, I had offered to help my Dad too. Because we were walking in the snow, and back then I had boots called Tarts, they looked like Timberlands, but they were not as comfy. Because we were not rich, my Dad would buy our shoes too big, so we could wear them the next year too. 

So, the shoes were too big. There was already a lot of snow inside my boots, and sometimes we’d be crossing rivers. My feet were getting hit with so much snow and water, and because I was walking a lot, and pushing through the snow, my feet were just so swollen, like huge swollen. My shoes were already one size too big, so can you imagine. I mean, when we reached our destination, they couldn’t get my feet out of the boots. So, they decided to just rip me out of my shoes. So, two people held me and two people just pulled me out. My feet were like blue-red, and there was something stuck in the flesh part between my toes. They had a neighbor at our destination who was a veterinarian, and he came, (it was a small village so they didn’t have a regular doctor). The woman asked if he could just see what he could do.”

The veterinarian examined her puffy feet and determined that the blueness was coming from infection. He wasn’t sure what medicine he could give her but told her she’d have to hold her feet in cold water, or they’d have to be cut off, and she couldn’t walk. 

“He said to me, ‘You won’t be able to walk. You’re such a beautiful girl. Can you imagine this? You’d be in a wheelchair…’ I said,’ what do you mean?’ He said, ‘yeah, you have to keep your feet in the water (in the big metal jar of cold water).’ Every 15 minutes a woman would put new snow in the water, as it began to warm up. 

I was crying so much, and saying that it was hurting me. She said, ‘Okay, it’s your choice. You don’t want to put your foot in there? They’re going to cut your feet off. Are you okay with being crippled?’. My response was, ‘I already lost everything, I don’t want to lose my feet too. ’So, after two days, my big toe, the infection just started to draw out. There was a lot of irritation, blood came out, it was kind of dark blood. Even now, you can see on my toes that there is a huge scratch scar on my toes. The veterinarian said, ‘I’m not sure, because I’m not a human doctor, but the top of your toes may not even come back.’ So, I think that God loved me and that’s how my toes came back. But even now, when I go to get a pedicure, they will ask me, “what happened?” And I will say, “I don’t want to remember.” 

She recalled the ordeal of bringing her feet back from an infection, and how she had to do this for three days, remembering how this caused her great additional stress. She was in intense discomfort, but she was also terrified of losing her feet, so she knew she had to do this. For an 11-year-old, this was a huge ordeal, and she was not yet strong enough mentally to deal with it, but she had no choice. 

At this point, Tsukerman directed the conversation to an uncle and a cousin who had come to Azerbaijan later than the others had. These two relatives came two weeks after the others came. Aliyeva stated that her father said that they must save the women from inevitable violation first. All of the male relatives stayed behind a while in Armenia, while Aliyeva’s father snuck the female relatives out of the country. She remembered how the family had a large number of farm animals, such as sheep, ducks, cows, and whatnot. She showed a photo taken of the family home after the Armenian occupation. Shortly after they left the place, Armenia’s took over the property, destroying even the family cemetery. 

The hope in the family was that after enough time had transpired that they could go back and reclaim their things. The locals who had occupied, however, had taken to burning properties to prevent repatriation. They were even known to kill elderly women and children, as the ethnic cleansing intensified. 

“They did so many bad things that after a while even the men said, ‘okay, we have to run too.’ Like whatever has happened has happened. So, when we left the country, we left behind our dirty dishes and food that was ready to eat, but no one had time to eat it. Can you imagine, you make a world for yourself, and then you have to leave your world? And there’s no explanation, and you don’t know what anymore.” 

She then noted the immense impact this had on her male relatives. Her brother, who had previously had typical, developed a stuttering speech from his stress about two to three months after going to Azerbaijan. She notes that even to this day he speaks with this stutter. He also has a severe struggle with depression, and his vision was impaired by stress. The psychiatrist stated that he had a huge attack of stress. 

She noted that the adults in the family were not as heavily affected by the departure as the children who were damaged by the departure. Her younger brother would have been a small child when they left the country, and the stress shaped his formative years. 

She recalled how others who were leaving the country were forced to leave their elderly fathers behind in the mountains, where they dropped dead from the stress of the forced migration. She stated that the laws of engagement in conflicts elsewhere have policies regarding the killing of old people, women, and children, but Armenians would kill everyone. 

“As I told you, they cut a pregnant woman open and held the baby up by its feet, and took a picture. They would cut the hearts out of living people, and took a picture of the beating heart to see how long it would ‘live’. This is absolutely disgusting…the more I talk about it the more I remember. Whatever I remember in Armenia, is my own experience, but I know lots of tragic things that happened to Azerbaijani people by Armenian people. So many tragic things that happened to the Azerbaijani people by Armenians. Like my husband, he is from Karabakh. He can’t really talk about it because he is drawn in, but I can feel what he left and what he went through. This is absolutely not normal.” 

She remembered then how they came to the village in Azerbaijan. They stayed there for about two months, and then the authorities there in Azerbaijan said that they would send the displaced to their respective places. The family asked to be sent to one place, but they were separated. 

She laid out how they were all scattered around the country because the villages only had so much room. It was surprising to her how everything was so far apart, the houses were below the ground, and they had to walk so far to go anywhere. Her Dad noted that the Azerbaijani never seemed to live comfortably, and decided to live underground as if they were always afraid they would be attacked. Many Azerbaijani people and other demographics of Turks were being scattered around, and with the influx of people, and with the long walk she would have to take, she did not want to go to school anymore. She did not want to walk in the mountain, forest cold, with the animals that could attack, such as snakes in the summer. 

“It didn’t feel normal, it wasn’t like civilian life. I wondered “why Armenians didn’t live like that?” During that time, there was no work. My poor Dad didn’t know what to do, or who to ask for help.” 

Remembering how 800,000 Azerbaijani refugees came from Armenia, at a time when Azerbaijan was still a small country, the toll on the economy was severe. Likewise, there was a rash of Armenian terrorism throughout the country. She noted specifically terrorism in Sumgayit and Baku. There was no “filter” to the influx of issues, and the family moved from place to place, unable to stay in certain areas for long. 

“We were the only family assigned to the village near Baku. We had a huge family, and my Mom was missing them.” 

They were the only family moved to the village near Baku because they were a large family, with seven children. They did not have the luxury to refuse housing. 

“It was another huge stress for us because we didn’t know where our family was. We wondered ‘are we going to see our family or not?’ We didn’t know Azerbaijan. It was a really scary moment.” 

The family was contacted by one of the grandmothers who became ill. They moved to her village, for the fear that she may be soon to pass away. 

Aliyeva noted that before being displaced to Azerbaijan, she had a dream to become a lawyer, and her teacher had supported this belief. When she was displaced, this dream was lost. 

She recalled how she challenged her family for keeping the truth of the conflict between Azerbaijanis and Armenians a secret from them. 

The family did not want to repeat the cycle of prejudice, but Aliyeva felt that the younger members of the family deserved some background on the subject, as they ultimately became victims of it. She thanked Tsukerman for her humanity as the interviewer for listening and noted that God loves humans equally. 

Aliyeva wonders sometimes if the events of her life as a refugee were a bad dream, and it was not real. She was amazed that it happened in the 20th century, and that she had experienced everything, war, life as a refugee, poverty, hunger. She was amazed by the fact that she was still alive. 

Tsukerman then directed the conversation to how Aliyeva attended a technical college in Baku because she diverted from a more traditional education path. She was presented in Baku for the events of Black January. 

“So, basically, I think it was 1989 we came to Baku because we couldn’t live in the villages anymore. This was like my uncles and my aunties.” 

She then recalled how she had an older sister who had lived in Yerevan, leaving behind a beautiful home. While Azerbaijani left empty houses behind in Armenia, Armenians in Baku would return to Armenia and take up residency in the former Azerbaijani houses, exchanging their houses in Azerbaijan with the displaced Azerbaijani. When they would leave the houses behind in Baku, they took all of their belongings so that they could take up a beautiful residency in Armenia. 

“My older sister’s family came to a house without anything, because they couldn’t take anything, and they gave them just a key. But the Armenians from Baku, they took everything that belonged to them, and went to their house, and lived a beautiful life. That’s why there were a lot of empty houses in Baku, and that’s why the government said ‘you can come to live in Baku.’ Back then, there were many Armenians that lived in Baku. So, in ‘89 we came to Baku. You know, I couldn’t concentrate on school.” 

She stated that her father was alright with her not attending regular school, but he wanted her to receive some form of technical training so she could develop a profession. Since she was studying accounting, she worked in the Union in Azerbaijan. 

“Then in 1990, in January…Back then we had a lot of demonstrations. A lot of people came from Armenia, and a lot of people were killed in Armenia, so there was a lot of demonstration. So, a lot of stuff was happening in Baku. I believe Russia ‘tried to help us.’ In January 1990, it was at night time, I believe it was 6 or 7 in the night time…” 

She then took a moment to describe her housing, where she lived with her father near the huge hospital Semashko. There was a huge militarized area near this location. 

“There were a lot of soldiers, they came in tanks, like maybe hundreds. There were a lot of people in the streets, like 10,000 maybe 20,000. It was like the whole republic was just standing by for this (the demonstration.) They killed all the civil people. They just started shooting. People were sitting at home drinking tea. They got shot. They got killed. My Dad’s cousin, he was a university student. University students were very active in this demonstration, and they killed them. They were holding each other like (linked arms) and the tanks just went over those people.” 

The government only returned the arm of this cousin for remains to bury. 

“That night officially they said 845 people died, which was a lie. I believe that more than 5,000 people actually got lost. Lost. What they did, they took all those people like whatever dead body, and they took everything and they just threw it into the Caspian Sea. This is what the Russian army did.”

Aliyeva’s cousin.

The day before that terrible night, Yusif said in a conversation with his sister Sayali Khanum that those who died for freedom do not die, they are martyred, and freedom is not without victims. Yes, Joseph died for freedom, for sovereignty. The day he turned 26 years old. His father, Sadigov Allahverdi, found Yusif’s hat on January 20 near the Salyan barracks. From that day on, Joseph disappeared. On February 4, his father returned to Semashko Hospital. In the morgue, they show him the clothes that came out of his right arm. The father recognizes his son’s clothes. The clothes that come out of the cut arm are a coat, jacket, shirt, vest, undershirt. So his parents think that Joseph is dead. There is no body. His right arm was buried in the Alley of Martyrs.

She then noted how the remains that were left behind for many of the people were in pieces because of the tank’s running over them. Like patchwork, the people collected their dead from the pieces left behind.  

“ Most probably, tanks cut a body, but somehow the arms were left somewhere else. They couldn’t find the whole body. So say someone’s mom…If somebody had a hat, somebody had an arm, somebody had the throat, and somebody like found a ring, and somebody even had ears, and they could tell by the golden earring, that they had found their mom, for example. It was a disaster, it was disgusting, it was an inhuman thing that happened in Azerbaijan as well.” 

She stated that, in the case of her cousin, because his mother had purchased a watch for his birthday, and the watch was attached still to the arm, this was how they were able to identify the arm as his remains. The remains were discovered in Semashko, on February 4, 1990. The father helped to identify his son’s remains by the clothes the arm was wearing. There were no other remains. His arm was buried in the Alley of the Martyrs. He was 26-years-old at the time of his passing.

“So, can you imagine those people had run away from Armenia, tried to live their life, but they came to Baku and still got killed? And killed tragically? The guy…how old was he? He was 27-years-old, he was a young university student. His Dad was my teacher, his Dad was my cousin. His Mom knew him because of the watch, but they buried only the one. In Baku, we have this place called Martyr’s Park or something like that? He’s there, and then I have another cousin. He was 18, and he got killed too! His family used to live in Russia, and somehow they came, and he got killed too, and his grave is also there. 

It was such a tragic thing, that everything was happening at the same time, and you were trying to digest the one. Everything was happening all at once, so fast and you couldn’t even concentrate. Okay, what should I heal from first? Which one? Till today, so many tragic things are still happening. I said, “what kind of destiny do we have?”

She noted that, if she’d had the chance to live in this world again, she’d have wanted something different, a life where she had not been raised as a neighbor with Armenia. 

“Except my family, how I’ve lived in this life, what I’ve seen in this life…It’s absolutely_I don’t wish on my enemy. This is too much. Too much. It’s not that this thing happened to someone else, where someone else had the experience and can help you. Whoever I asked, they say “how? How?” There are so many uniquely tragic things that happened to my people, we don’t know how to help each other. There is no way to help. Too much…”

Aliyeva described herself, however, as a survivor. Since these events, she has moved to Canada, and started her life again.