Azerbaijanis who fled war look to return home, if it exists

Azerbaijanis who fled war look to return home, if it exists
Smoke rises from burning houses as people leave the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region for Armenia on November 14, 2020. The territory will be handed over to Azerbaijan on November 15.

As Azerbaijan regains control of the land it lost to Armenian forces a quarter of a century ago, civilians who fled the fighting decades ago wonder if they can go home now and if there is still a home to return to.

An estimated 600,000 Azerbaijanis were displaced in the war of the 1990s that left the Nagorno-Karabakh region under the control of ethnic Armenian separatists and large adjacent territories in the hands of Armenia. During six weeks of resumption of fighting this fall that ended on November 10, Azerbaijan regained parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and a large part of the outlying areas.

More territory is being returned as part of the ceasefire agreement that halted the latest fighting. But as Azerbaijani forces discovered when the first area, Aghdam, was handed over on Friday, much of the reclaimed land is uninhabitable. The city of Aghdam, where 50,000 people once lived, is now a shattered ruin.

62-year-old Adil Sharifov, who left his hometown in 1992 during the first war and lives in the Azerbaijani capital Baku, knows that he will encounter similar devastation if he returns to the city of Jabrayil, which he longs to do.

Jabrayil is one of the outlying areas recovered by Azerbaijani troops before the recent fighting ended. Shortly after it was taken, one of Sharifov’s cousins ​​went there and told him that the city was destroyed, including the large house with an orchard where Sharifov’s family lived.

However, “the day I return will be the greatest happiness for me,” he said.

For years, he said, his family had followed reports about Jabrayil on the Internet. They knew the destruction was terrible, but Sharifov’s late mother was desperately hopeful that her house had been saved and she had the keys.

“I will build an even better house,” he promised.

Ulviya Jumayeva, 50, may return to better, if not ideal, circumstances in her native Shusha, a city that Azerbaijani forces took in the key offensive of the six-week war.

Her younger brother, Nasimi, took part in the battle and called her to say that the apartment her family fled from in 1992 was intact, though mostly stripped of the family’s possessions.

“According to him, it is clear that the Armenians lived there after us, and then they took everything. But our big mirror in the hallway, which we loved to look at when we were kids, remains, “Jumayeva said, adding,” Maybe my grandchildren will look in this mirror. “

“We all have houses in Baku, but everyone considered them non-permanent, because all these years we lived with the hope of returning to Shusha,” he said. “Our hearts, our thoughts have always been on our hometown.”

But he acknowledged that his feelings towards Armenians have grown more bitter.

“My friends from school were mostly Armenians. I never treated ordinary Armenians badly, believing that their criminal leaders who unleashed the war were to blame for the massacre, war and pain that they also brought to their people, ”Jumayeva said.

“But after the current events, after the bombing of peaceful cities … after the Armenians who are now leaving our territories, who are even outside Karabakh, burn down the houses of the Azerbaijanis where they lived illegally … something fractured in me. I changed my attitude towards them, ”he said. “I understood that we Azerbaijanis will not be able to live in peace alongside the Armenians.”

While Sharifov has less to go back to, he takes a more moderate view and says that the two ethnic groups with different religious traditions still have the potential to live together amicably.

“If Armenians observe the laws of Azerbaijan and do not behave like bearded men who came to kill, then we will live in peace,” he said. “The time to shoot is over. Enough of casualties. We want peace, we don’t want war ”.

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