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A mixed marriage in Nagorno Karabakh

14 February 2012 2 Comments

Gyulizar Kazimova. Photo by Areg Balayan

The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh forced most of those making up the Armenian and Azerbaijani minorities in Azerbaijan and Armenia to flee their homes. Today, nearly 18 years later, as many as 10-20,000 thousand ethnic Armenians still reportedly reside in Azerbaijan with a few hundred ethnic Azeris living in Armenia and Karabakh. Most are women married into the ethnic majority or are children from mixed marriages. Kristine Khanumian reports on one such case.

Forty-three-year-old Gyulizar Kasimova Mussa gyzy was born in the village of Marzyli in the Agdam district [of Azerbaijan], but is now known by the surname of her husband, Slavik Grigoryan. There were four children in her family – two brothers and two sisters. Her father died when she was just a child, and Gyulizar’s mother moved in with her own in the village of Gachar in the Fizuli district, later working at a collective farm in the village of Sarushen in Nagorno-Karabakh. Gathering grapes alongside Armenians, that was when Gyulizar met Slavik.

“My people were against my marrying an Armenian,” she says. “In 1986, when I ran away with Slavik, my brothers came for me. They took me and didn’t let me out to see him for 12 days. But I ran away back to my husband. My brothers came for me again and I ran away once more. We got married here. Slava’s parents held the wedding. All the Azeris here must have come to the wedding, and they sat around the table with the Armenians. All of them. Except my family. My mother, my sister, my brothers -– none of them ended up coming to the wedding.”

Gyulizar’s house is easy to find in Sarushen. Ask anyone on the street and they will immediately point you to “the Azeri woman’s house,” asking anyone wanting to visit if they are her relatives. Built in the Soviet period, Gyulizar’s house is hardly any different from the others and hasn’t seen repairs for ages. The television is the only thing that isn’t from then. Gyulizar is happy to have guests, greeting them with a smile. Serving us tea and coffee while chatting enthusiastically and baking bread, she sits down by the table, falls silent, and breaks into tears.

“I want to find out if my mother is still alive,” she says, having last seen her family after the birth of her second son and before the war. “My older brother got married, but I have no news about my younger one. I would at least like to find out something. I’d like to write them a letter, send a picture, and if I got a reply I’d calm down. I miss them, I really miss them, I’d like to see them, for them to see the family I have, my kids, how I’m living, how I’m accepted here. They might think I’ve lost my husband or that I’m gone – that I was killed in the war. I’m sure they’re thinking about me.”

“When my oldest son was born, my mother saw him, and she saw the second, but the others– my third son and my daughter, she didn’t get to see them,” she continues. “Before the war we went away to Russia, and when we came back none of my family was here anymore. Since then I haven’t had a single chance to see them.”

She says she doesn’t even know where her family has gone, but presumes they went to the Azerbaijani town of Zhdanov. “My younger brother had a house there,” she remembers even if her information is only speculative. Since the war she hasn’t tried to get in touch with them. “And I haven’t tried,” she admits. “What’s more, I don’t know exactly where they are. They know I live here in Sarushen village so they could get in touch with me if they wanted. But maybe they don’t want to. Or maybe they’re afraid.”

In spite of this, she still admits that she misses her family. Sometimes, she says, she even thinks of going to visit them, but then starts to worry as to how she’ll be greeted there. In Karabakh, Gyulizar says, she’s already used to people treating her well, despite her being the “enemy.” Even during the war, she explains, she didn’t have any problems. “Not a single person has said to me, you’re not one of us, why do you live here? Everyone treats me well. I’ve got used to them, and they to me. I feel free here,” she concludes.

[Edited by Onnik Krikorian]

This article first appeared in Armenian language on www.mediaLab.am

This article was prepared within the framework of the “Unbiased reporting of the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the online media” project implemented by the Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF) with support of the British Embassy Yerevan.

It was also provided by the author as part of the project “Media Cooperation and Peace Journalism in the South Caucasus” implemented by the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation (ICCN) in cooperation with the European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI) – Caucasus.

Kristine Khanumian is a correspondent for Chorrord Inknishkhanutiun and MediaLab.

Onnik Krikorian of Caucasus Conflict Voices was one of two trainers at a project workshop held in Famagusta, Northern Cyprus, in September 2011. The article, in Russian, is available on the project blog, the Caucasian Circle of Peace Journalism. A version of this article is also available in Armenian on www.mediaLab.am.

The project’s Facebook group is here.

2 Comments »

  • Danny said:

    “as many as 10-20,000 thousand ethnic Armenians still reportedly reside in Azerbaijan” – where this data came from? If it’s Azeri government – it’s obvious garbage (in that case you shouldn;t disseminate it). If it’s an independent reputable source – provide the link.

  • admin said:

    Danny, it is well known that some Armenians remain in Azerbaijan. The number, however, is disputed with official sources claiming as many as 40,000. However, the number used by some journalists and analysts writing on the situation is as many as 15-20,000.

    Of course, just as we don’t know if the number of Azeris in Armenia is as high as the few hundred the U.S. State Department has estimated or just a handful, we don’t know precise figures and this article by IWPR includes another at between 3-5,000.

    Armenia-Azerbaijan: Those Who Remained
    Ethnic identity is a sensitive issue for those Armenians and Azerbaijanis who decided not join the conflict-induced, two-way mass emigration.

    http://iwpr.net/report-news/armenia-azerbaijan-those-who-remained

    We also know that some officials in Azerbaijan have ethnic Armenian wives, but a project to name them was halted because of the sensitivities. Friends in Baku also tell me that they have Armenian plumbers, but like Azeris in Armenia they keep a low profile.

    Incidentally, here’s another story in video on the same subject with an Armenian in Azerbaijan (at 7mins in the film). Again, like most that remain in both countries they married into the majority population (or are the children from mixed marriages):

    http://vimeo.com/12369644

    Anyway, as the 40,000 figure is too high and as the estimate from one source just that with others saying there could be as many as 15-20,000, I’ve used the ‘up to…” way as implying it could be much lower. I also use ‘few hundred’ re. Azeris in Armenia and Karabakh for the same reason.

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