The Two Sides Of Nagorno-Karabakh

10/08/2023

Seattle, 19th July 2023
Three months before the war broke out, I was at a birthday party and I was talking to a guy who’d left Armenia a year earlier, and he said to me, “If Azerbaijan invades Arstakh, we’re going to lose”. (Arstakh is the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh, ed.) I replied, “There’s zero chance of that happening.” I was naive and disconnected from the reality of what was going on in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

My dad is Armenian and my mum is Azerbaijani, both were born and raised in Baku. I was born in Baku in June 1989 – the last year Armenian babies were born there. A few months later, the city was no longer safe for Armenians. However, when my parents met, there were 20,000 Armenians in Baku, and their origins weren’t an issue. It was simply one Soviet person with another Soviet person. They had an easy life and would never have left the city if the USSR had continued.

However, in 1989, everything brokedown. When the Soviet Union collapsed, a new state emerged and two republics were created. There was no longer any possibility of coexistence between these two communities with such different cultures; on one side you had Turkish Muslims and on the other Armenian Christians. From then on, people who weren’t on the ‘right’ side of the border had to leave – my dad and grandmother moved to Moscow. The question was then where to draw the border. Where should it be? A question that 30 years later, is still at the heart of the conflict.

For several years, my mum and I travelled back and forth between Moscow and Baku. I was 3 years old and didn’t understand what was going on, but my mum trained me to answer certain questions. For example, when I was asked what my name was, I had to give her surname instead of my Armenian one. Once I was at the dentist and a man kept asking me: “Are you Azerbaijani? Are you sure? Really?” It was a wild time.

Afterwards, we left Moscow and emigrated to the United States. When I told people I was half Armenian, half Azerbaijani, there was often a 40-second pause, and then they would say something like, “Wow, that’s crap weird”, but that was all. That is until the second war broke out in 2020.

Afterwards, the interactions began to change. One day, a guy contacted me on Twitter saying: “I read in your bio that you’re Azerbaijani-Armenian, what does that mean? – What do you mean, what does that mean? – I don’t get it! – My father is Armenian, my mother is Azerbaijani, what don’t you understand? – OK, I’m sorry for you.” What do you mean you’re sorry? Sorry about what? That’s why I started tweeting my opinions, to try as best I could to offer some perspective.

However, I noticed that as soon as I took one side, the side in question appreciated it, and received it as a compliment, because I’m ‘mixed’. Yet, when I took the other side, those same people no longer took my opinion into account, for the same reason. People have already made up their minds, and today I don’t hold out much hope of changing that. I’ve also realised that, although I have a personal interest in the situation, there’s nothing material at stake in my day-to-day life, I’m only connected to it in an ethical sense. The war belongs to the people who are actually over there.

Like all conflicts, I know it will end eventually, but I don’t see a bright future for either Armenia or Azerbaijan. I try not to sit and think to myself: “Oh, I hope that one day there’ll be peace and I’ll be able to go back to Azerbaijan and visit Armenia”.

Marat

When Marat was born in Baku in 1989, the Soviet Union was on its last legs and the first war between Armenia and Azerbaijan was breaking out. The creation of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh by the Armenians living in the region, which officially belonged to Azerbaijan, was at stake. The first war (1989-1994) was followed by a second in 2020. In the meantime, Marat, his Armenian father and his Azerbaijani mother, immigrated to Moscow and then Seattle. Marat tells us about the influence this conflict has had on his life and identity.

Stay tuned, sign up to our In Vivo newsletter

Subscribe