A personal trauma story: 30 years of depression

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this series examines the phenomenon of social trauma through the personal stories of Armenians and Azerbaijanis, how this trauma manifests itself and how it contributes to ongoing conflict dynamics. In the final chapter, a woman displaced by the First Nagorno-Karabakh War tries to come to terms with the personal, emotional scars left by this conflict and what a return to a long-lost homeland could mean.

The woman who speaks to me is a teacher. She says she never did politics, but politics came into her life anyway. Their family was never the same.

She considers herself fortunate that she has not lost loved ones in either of the two Nagorno-Karabakh wars. Yet all of the pain and injustice she has witnessed sit deep within her. All of the worries of the past thirty years are heavy on her chest and an emotional burden that she carries with her everywhere. In many ways it seems to have taken the joy of life away from her.

Before the first war she had lived in Fizuli. It was 1992, she was twenty-six, newly married, and had just settled in a tiny apartment with her husband, when terrible stories reached them from the town of Khojaly. There was nothing in the media, but information quickly spread through word of mouth. Her neighbors fled, but she and her husband were reluctant to leave their cozy new home, where they had put so much work. In any case, there was nowhere to go. She had two aunts in Baku, but one of them had already taken thirteen people in and the other seemed to have fallen out with the family, perhaps on purpose to avoid an influx of visitors.

It was around this time that her father-in-law went missing – last seen driving his old Moskvich. Her mother-in-law was quickly optimistic and said, “If he’s still alive, he’ll be back soon. He can communicate with the Armenians. After two weeks, they received calls asking for a ransom.

Her case was not an isolated one. Many traveled to the border regions of Azerbaijan to look for relatives who had disappeared, hoping to find them or at least get information about their whereabouts. These areas were rife with rumors as everyone tried to help each other with information. After a few months they were able to exchange their father-in-law for an Armenian officer. Even today, thirty years later, she still remembers his name – Alexander.

After his return from captivity, her father-in-law spoke little – especially to her. But one day she overheard a conversation he was having with friends. What she heard confirmed her belief in his persuasiveness. When Armenian fighters captured him, they tore the golden crowns from his mouth. But after some persuasion, they agreed to return the crowns and keep only the gold plating.

She knows that he suffered terribly in captivity. So much so that he promised God that if he were released he would crawl home on his knees as a token of gratitude. He didn’t like to talk about his suffering, but he often talked about the son of Misha, the old Armenian neighbor, who had recognized him in prison and smuggled bread for him.

You can never really go back

When she became pregnant, they finally decided to leave Fizuli not long before it fell to the Armenians. Today she has three grown children, all of whom were born in different cities and countries. She devoted the last thirty years to them and teaching. She consciously distanced herself from political and social life in order to avoid further trauma – so she hoped to keep calm and serenity. Only when she met people from Fizuli was she animated, eagerly engaged in discussions and talking about details from the past, her street, the large mulberry tree at the intersection, the bright color and the bewitching scent of the lilac …

Everyone missed Fizuli. Now and then she talks to her best school friend, an Armenian who moved from Fizuli to Moscow years ago. Occasionally they write to each other through the Odnoklassniki social network. Once her friend wrote “Curses on those who took away the happy life we ​​had in our small town.” She believes her friend was referring to Armenian nationalists.

When the second war broke out in September 2020, details and vivid memories from the first came back to her mind. Again her body trembled with fear, terrified at the premonition of the unknown she had learned during the first war. Again everything was there in front of her, as if the old war had been yesterday, as if these thirty years had never happened. This time too, she says, everything stayed exactly the same. The only difference was that this time it was not her own classmates who were killed, but those of their children.

She can barely remember the foggy night of November 10th when her sister called her to tell her to turn on the television because the president was giving a victory speech. She only remembers going out at two in the morning and wandering around Baku for hours. That was the night of liberation. That night she realized that she had lived her life in solidarity with the lost souls who had wandered the streets of Fizuli hoping for news from their children or relatives. In all those thirty years she had never allowed herself to be happy.

She is sad that victory came at such a high price. While many people were missing in the first war, many were wounded and mutilated in the second. She can see that the victory these young guys achieved did not bring them the sense of release that she does, but tries not to show it. She is even a little embarrassed to hug her son, knowing how many mothers can no longer do it.

She tries to help the victims of the war, but her options are limited. She knows what she needs are well-trained experts and an efficient referral system that could save people like her friend’s husband. When he returned from the war, he had stopped speaking and was now just hammering his head on the bed.

Today, as part of a special government program, lists of all those who want to return to Fizuli are being drawn up. Everyone she knows has her name written down, except for one woman. She is very comforted that her city has returned and that people will soon be able to move again. At the same time, she realizes that going back can bring disappointment as things will no longer be the same. The city she left thirty years ago no longer exists. All these years, she realizes, she lived in the hope of eventually returning not only to her hometown, but also to her past life.

But it will be a different city now, she says. It will no longer be the city of her childhood and youth that she has missed so much for the past thirty years. She doesn’t know yet what it will be like to live there again, but she really wants to try – maybe she will finally find peace there.

These articles are part of the Healing Collective Trauma initiative implemented by Indie Peace and funded by the European Union. The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Indie Peace and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union. Toponyms used reflect the toponyms used by the topic of the article.

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