Our Analytics 29 december — 14:15

Alone among Armenians: But there are peacekeepers nearby (Winter evening in Shusha, Part Three)

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BY EYNULLA FATULLAYEV, SHUSHA-BAKU

Part I, Armenian passengers under Azerbaijani and Turkish flags (Winter evening in Shusha series)

Part II, Shusha buried alive (Winter evening in Shusha series)

'What are the pennies in your hands?' I ask a soldier of the Azerbaijani Army near the luxurious mansion of a former Armenian official in Shusha.

'These are Armenian money,' replies 20-year-old private Ali Kazimov, for whom the Karabakh war, as well as for many millions of Azerbaijanis, is a matter of personal dignity and desecrated family honour. At the end of the first war, the future soldier was born in a refugee camp to a family expelled from the Fuzuli district. And the Armenian nationality for him has become synonymous with atrocity. No, his parents did not inspire him with dislike for the Armenian nation. No, his parents did not raise him in the spirit of xenophobia. Far from it! From childhood he simply asked his parents the main question of his life: 'Why do my peers live in apartments, and we huddle in a humiliating tent?' Mom answered him: 'Son, the Armenians drove us out.' And since then, the word 'Armenian' for Ali has become a fiend of evil, which deprived him of his childhood, toys, and happiness. There are already millions of people like Ali in Azerbaijan. And now Ali has returned to Karabakh with a gun to avenge his childhood.

'Why do you need Armenian money?' in perplexity I ask the talkative interlocutor.

'Earlier, in the first days, when we arrived in Shusha, we didn't understand its importance. We were throwing it away. It's Armenian after all! But recently we all began to shop at Armenian shops. In Lachin or Khankendi,' the soldier tells embarrassedly, not hiding his deepest sense of guilt. He shows with all his looks that he is committing some kind of betrayal.

'There is nothing wrong here. But I wonder, do you buy yourself?' I try to calm the worried young man.

'No. What if they poison me? Anything can be expected from the Armenians. I ask the Russian soldiers. I wait for them near the store, I ask them to buy for me. There is a lot of Armenian money here in Shusha,' laughs private Kazimov.

'Do you trust Russians?' I ask the soldier with a probing look.

'Yes. They are good guys,' the private answers shortly.

The prevailing life of Azerbaijani soldiers among the ruins of Shusha

Colonel Elshad Abilov, Shusha's commandant, is also pleased with the cooperation with the command of the Russian peacekeeping forces in the mountainous part of Karabakh. Finally, I managed to shake hands with the inspirer of my Shusha notes. Pleasant in communication, educated, well-versed in Russian, a person with great experience and knowledge of the matter. 'Of course, there are occasional incidents at posts. But we resolve all issues in working order with Rustam Muradov (commander of the peacekeeping forces of Russia in the mountainous part of Karabakh - E.F.). He has established himself as an objective and fair peacemaker,' E. Abilov smiles and invites me to his residence, the former luxurious mansion of an Armenian oligarch.

After the occupation of Shusha, the Armenians, having abandoned the central quarters and the southern side of the city, began to actively populate its mountainous part. The first clashes between Armenians and Turks, long before the infamous pan-Armenian revolt in the Ottoman Empire, began in the main Azerbaijani city of the Tsarist Russia period - Shusha. The underground Dashnaktsutyun tried to expel the Azerbaijanis from the central and southern parts. Although Azerbaijanis constituted, judging by the census of the population of the tsarist times, the majority of the inhabitants. The work of the genius Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin has become a vivid embodiment of the Azerbaijani spirit of Shusha.

Vereshchagin told a lot about Azerbaijani Shusha in his paintings

Drawings and pictures of the young artist who visited Shusha are the only and best evidence of the cultural and historical originality of the Azerbaijani city in the middle of the 19th century. But the first manifestation of Armenian political nationalism was expressed precisely in Shusha. The Armenians have struggled to change the demographic picture. And they did not abandon attempts to expel Azerbaijanis from their hometown in 1920. However, for Azerbaijan the historic battle ended in the defeat of Armenian nationalism. And it was reflected in the fate of ordinary Armenians forced to flee from the city to the stables of the Karabakh khans - the small village of Khankendi in the underbelly of Shusha. In 1923, the Karabakh Azerbaijanis and Armenians finally separated. The Armenians transferred their subculture to Khankendi, renaming the village, which began to grow into a city, in honour of the instigator and main culprit of the March massacre in Baku, Stepan Shaumyan. Shusha rose to the spiritual capital of Azerbaijan. Before the start of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, Azerbaijanis made up 97 per cent of the city's population.

And after the occupation, the ideologists of Armenian nationalism decided to create a second Armenian city in Karabakh. But due to a whole set of reasons, including the limited material resources and low demographic growth of the population, they settled on the idea of ​​reviving the so-called mountainous, 'historical Armenian' part of the city. Having ruined and burnt the historical Azerbaijani part of the city, Shusha began to be populated mainly by Armenian refugees who had come from Azerbaijani cities. They destroyed the unique architectural houses that Vereshchagin wrote about in his memoirs. But they left intact and even restored (!!!) the terrifying 'denture' of Shusha - alien 'Khrushchyovkas' which they were going to populate with Syrian Armenians.

Tinted by Armenians 'denture' of Shusha

Armenian officials and Karabakh oligarchs began to erect summer residences in the mountainous part of Shusha. One of the luxurious houses has been now assigned for the headquarters of the Azerbaijani command. In the same part, the occupation authorities tried to recreate the Armenian theatre, or rather took the building for it, naming it in honour of the founder of the Armenian theatre Mkrtch Khandamiryan. Although they plundered and burned down the house of the outstanding Azerbaijani educator, one of the founders of the Azerbaijani theatre, Najaf bey Vezirov. Armenian politicians in Karabakh have devoted 28 years of their lives not to creation, innovation and creativity, but to the destruction and annihilation of the entire Azerbaijani heritage.

The house of Najaf bey Vezirov destroyed by the Armenians

Armenians have erased the centuries-old Azerbaijani cemeteries. Not a single grave remains! Although the old Armenian tombstones remained during the period when the city was in the hands of the Azerbaijani authorities. At the foot of Shusha, two burial grounds survived - Armenian and Orthodox Christian. All Armenian tombstones have been preserved under the fortress walls...

'We must revive the historical and civilisational phenomenon of Shusha in the shortest possible time. Time is running out! Otherwise, history will not forgive us,' assures the head of the Shusha Culture Department Zahid Abbasov. Meanwhile, a group of officials is walking in a crowd next to a cart filled with particles of ancient Shusha. Among them is an employee of the Presidential Administration.

Officials find and collect the rarest historical values ​​of Shusha

'We are collecting everything that is of cultural value among the ruins,' says an official named Musa. Today, all Azerbaijanis are united in a steel fist, raising above their heads the ideal of the liberation struggle of many decades - precious Shusha. And he is sure that the destroyed Shusha will rise from its knees again.

Alas, early winter twilight sets in. And you have to look at Shusha through the eyes of Vereshchagin. After all, the genius Russian artist was struck in Shusha not only by the mourning ceremony for the martyrs - the grandchildren of the Prophet Muhammad in the month of Muharram - but also by the dreary Shusha night.

The city is plunging into night darkness. Just like two centuries ago, the night silhouette of the city barely shows through the gloomy darkness. And in the distance the lights of another city are burning - Khankendi. Life is gradually returning to the Armenian city of Karabakh.

In the early morning, soldiers melt the snow again to get water. There is still no water in Shusha. And I rush to the legendary Isa Bulagi - a holy spring in the Shusha forest. No, the well-known spring in all of Azerbaijan bears not the name of the prophet Isa, but of the forester, who found the light, wonderful water as crystal as the air of Shusha. But we must pass through the Russian checkpoint, because the road to Isa Bulagi is at least four kilometres.

'Do you have any weapons?' asks the Russian peacekeeper.

'Of course not.'

'Can I check the trunk?' the soldier demands politely.

'Certainly. Do so.'

Not finding any weapons in our car, they open the way for us to the Lachin-Khankendi highway. Russian peacekeepers check Armenian vehicles just as politely and rigorously. And at the edge of the forest, a large sign in Azerbaijani is pleasing to the eye: İsa bulağı. Next are the Azerbaijani soldiers. Now I am at the famous spring. Residents of Shusha say that the taste of the water from this spring can never be confused with any other. This is the taste of our beloved homeland, the land of our ancestors!

Isa bulagi - the taste of the land of ancestors

But it's time for me to get ready for the road. And the way back does not go through the Victory Road, paved thanks to the great labour of Azerbaijani soldiers, about which I have narrated in previous reports. But through Khankendi.

I am returning home by the 'road of peace.' Or maybe reconciliation? Although, is it possible to imagine this reconciliation after so many wars, bloodshed and mutual hatred? Russian soldiers distract from the main philosophical issue of today. We set out on the road, accompanied by a car of Russian peacekeepers. Now we are at the Khankendi post. Let's go!

We are driving towards Khankendi. A few kilometres from the city, Russian officers asked us to wait. They had to return to Shusha again for documents. I get out of the car. I want to smoke. Dozens of Armenian cars are passing by. Everyone, without exception, turns around, because they know: we are coming from Shusha. And that we are Azerbaijanis. Just yesterday we were divided by a war not for life, but for death. And now we are standing side by side, a few steps from each other. Confused and amazed. We look into each other's eyes, expressing the same silent question: how to live on?

We continue our way. We pass Khankendi, at the gate of which many cars have accumulated. We drive up to Shushikend. Karabakh policemen are standing somewhere in the corner. They look at us, point a finger, one of them smiles in surprise. It turns out that the war did not separate us, but brought us together again. Are we together now?

Driving through Shushikend

We arrived at the main toponym of the Second Karabakh War - the village of Girmizi Bazar. So many times, Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists have passed this village from hand to hand. A few weeks ago, what bloody battles were going on for this village! And now the sign above the café showcase invites us to fresh beer! It is inconceivable, who foresees fate?! Most of the villagers ran out into the street. 'The Azerbaijanis are coming,' is heard from all sides. But we came not by a military path, but in peace.

Today in the Girmizi Bazaar it does not smell of blood, but of beer

Azerbaijani troops stopped right outside the village. Russian peacekeepers are returning to Khankendi. And we go on the right - to the village of Azikh, Khojavend district. And this village during the second war, like the world famous Azikh cave, where traces of the Acheulean cultural civilisation were found, returned to the rule of Azerbaijan.

We drive up to the centre of the village, which was under occupation for 28 years. Next to the obelisk in honour of those who fell during the Second World War, there are the graves of Armenian soldiers who died in the first Karabakh war. Not a single trace of vandalism. God-fearing Azerbaijani soldiers bypass cemeteries and even the graves of Armenian soldiers. Shortly before the liberation of the village, the Armenian occupation administration was working on the construction of a monument to those who fell in the first Karabakh war. But they didn't have time. Azikh is again in the hands of Azerbaijan. The population of the village left their homes.

In the village of Azikh, the graves of Armenian soldiers who died in the first Karabakh war

We continue on our way. And now we have reached Boyuk Taglar. The very place where our journey to Shusha began.

I say goodbye to Fariz, who has come a long way with us in most of Nagorno-Karabakh. 'Where are you heading now?' I ask our driver. His answer amazes me with his dedication: 'Again to the road of Victory. And then to Shusha. The caravan doesn’t stop,' Fariz laughs and shakes his hand tightly.

The caravan will not stop while the hearts of such steadfast and fearless people are beating. 'Sisyphean labour.' Endless but not fruitless! The road to Victory is made by walking. This is a simple answer to the complex Karabakh conundrum.

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