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Friends like Sisters: A view from Moscow

24 January 2011 One Comment

“If you received my SMS, it can mean one of two things. Either peace between our countries is really possible, or I’m now on the KGB’s list.”

I admit that I don’t remember much about the war or the incidents in Sumgait and Baku, but one memory still remains clear. We were at the house of my grandparents in a small village in Armenia with my numerous cousins playing in the yard. And I can remember drawing huge posters with red letters while screaming anti-Turkish slogans very passionately. In those years before moving to Moscow, while I never had any particular interest in what really happened with Azerbaijan, I knew that I hated them with all my heart. This completely blind hatred was injected into my blood and it came with my genes. It was an undeniable and unquestionable truth collected in one single negative emotion that defined who I was.

“Are you Marianna? The new Armenian girl?” a girl was later to ask me in class in Moscow, smiling and introducing herself as Leyla from Baku. She was in my art history class and actually the first person in months who tried to get to know me. “She can’t be Azeri, she is so nice,” was my first thought. “They should be like monsters with bloody hands and crazy eyes,” was my second, although it would have been odd to find such students in a university. It was also this moment that was the only time in all our years of friendship that I doubted her because of nationality. In fact, I am so happy because I met her. In reality, she turned out to be an adorable charming person, with an enormous range of talents, and such a huge amount of love which she shares with everyone around her.

Of course, we made an agreement promising never to discuss the situation between our countries because we knew that, as we’d been told different things, the discussion would never be constructive and only just harm our friendship. This was perfectly convenient for me because, unlike Leyla, I knew next to nothing and I wouldn’t really be able to argue. But realizing this, I was always amazed that she came to meet me first, despite all that true or false information she had been told about Armenia back home. Over time, I started researching the conflict and asking around to fill in the gaps of my knowledge and to understand what had happened. But, as I was learning and discovering more, I never felt my feelings towards Leyla changing. Instead, we became even closer as friends.

Not only that, but I also learned that during the incidents in Baku, her family helped many Armenians in different ways. They traded their apartment in Moscow for one owned by Armenians in Baku, and even though the Moscow one was way more valuable, so that they could move. Her grandma’s passport was also used to transfer around 50 Armenian women across the border and her neighbor continues to help people sneak through customs in Georgia to see their abandoned homes. In fact, there are many more such stories which I would never have allowed myself to believe before.

And Leyla herself has saved me twice during my university years. I was absolutely spoiled by my family and friends back in Yerevan, but in Moscow faced the reality of being ignored by people around me. This was actually the toughest time in my life, but Leyla was the first person to see who I was, instead of thinking of me as “just another immigrant from Caucasus.” Her friendship gave me the confidence to live my life, meet people and make new friends. She was the one who introduced me to other Armenians at school, and the one to teach me to understand my privileges as being “different.” On another occasion she helped me with my studies.

When all of my other friends were out enjoying themselves, it was Leyla who spent several sleepless nights helping me with my presentation. Without her, I would have failed.

During the past few years so many things have happened between us that I could only imagine how unacceptable they might seem for many people back in Yerevan or Baku. Not mentioning casual things, such as my parents calling her “daughter” or her introducing me to Armenians living in Yerevan, there are tons of amazing stories. There’s helping me out with a visa invitation, us both singing Armenian songs in the middle of Istanbul, or Leyla knowing words in Armenian such as “herustatsmporik” (teletubby) or phrases from Armenian cartoons such as “mer mah@ ekele” (Mkneri Zhoghov).

So, I’m not trying to send out a sophisticated message through this post, end it dramatically, or even comment on my thoughts and hopes on the political situation between us. All I am trying to say is that these kinds of relationships are reality, they matter, and they do bring about change. That might be small, but it is meaningful and positive compared to being a person full of hate inside who posts ugly comments on the Internet or raises a child with the same negative emotions so they become a sick and incomplete person for the rest of their life.

Marianna Karapetyan

One Comment »

  • admin said:

    This post was originally posted on the old version of this blog:

    Comments made there were as follows:

    05.05.11 / 7pm

    I’d be glad if she didn’t write about good parts of an Azeri and instead insulted. I and many Azerbaijani want the war to continue not because Armenians are bad people but because it is the only why for us to realize our identity, to feel belonging. Armenians don’t need Azerbaijan as an enemy figure because they have Turkey and terrible 1915. But we need Armenia as our eternal enemy for the sake of our nationality. Armenians! Don’t be timid, let’s hate each other to the fullest!

    05.05.11 / 9pm

    Well, an interesting response but one I don’t think many would agree with. Perpetual conflict doesn’t help anyone whether they’re Armenian, Azerbaijani, Turkish or from anywhere else for that matter. Besides, a national identity based on hatred of another seems more to indicate a lack of identity in any form which I don’t believe is healthy or indeed normal. It’s also probably indicative of a lack of tolerant and democratic thought or at least that’s my opinion, anyway.

    Still, I don’t think that Armenians hate Turks in the way the comment suggests, hence why Turkish trucks and citizens do freely come into Armenia and why many Armenians go on holiday to Turkey. To be honest, although there are many problems in this relationship on the political level, it’s one I hope Armenia and Azerbaijan will one day reach.

    Or rather, one that Armenians and Azerbaijanis return to…

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