Article By Lusine Hovhannesyan
There was a time when I had decided never to use the word “Genocide” because, if before it only encompassed the demand to bring the perpetrator to justice, then there came a time when the fact that your people were subjected to Genocide became humiliating.
Starting on February 20, 1988, we were demanding that the decision of the Armenian population of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast to join Armenia be respected. What happened six days later, in the industrial Azerbaijani town of Sumgait was that word which I had decided never to utter – Genocide. In a Soviet country, where Internationalism was a beloved and cherished concept, a state-sponsored genocide took place.
According to testimonials by those Armenians who did survive Sumgait, housing inspectors had visited all the Armenian homes days before the incidents, making a registry of Armenian residents, confirming that the pogroms were indeed state-sponsored. The phone lines in all Armenian households were disconnected, on February 26, during a rally at the square in Sumgait, city authorities made calls to kill the Armenians, the roads from Sumgait to Baku were closed.
And in spite of yourself, you again start to use the degrading word “Genocide” but now you have moved beyond cursing the murderer and your blow comes down on your own kind, you start to blame yourself, because you were weak and unprotected. If you were subject to genocide, it was because somewhere you did something wrong and are continuing to do so and you need to feel the mistake so…never again…
On the one hand, you were unable to have your own state and became a subject on your own historical land, on the other, you did not understand that the best thing to do was to remain in your own country and you did not correctly evaluate the tendencies of the “fraternal nation.” I am now reading once again. “Sumgait…Genocide…Perestroika?” a book by Hr. Ulubabyan, S. Zolyan, A. Arshakyan. A book I thought I almost knew by heart, a book that recounts in detail all the victims (official numbers), includes excerpts from the trials in Moscow, biographies, documentary material from the speeches delivered in Sumgait starting from February 26, inciting the mobs, from the events that followed and all of a sudden I discover that there is a line in the biography of every single Armenian victim that I had not paid attention to.
The Armenians who fell victim to the raging, inhuman, animalistic savagery were all born in the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, the same oblast that in those days was demanding the right to self-determination, the same oblast that would declare independence in the future paying the price with war, the same oblast that even though is an unrecognized republic now but exists, has a defense army, has Armenian as its state language, has its own television station and watches programs from Armenia, the oblast that had one simple demand and wish from which the grand struggle of the Armenians living in the Azerbaijani Autonomous Nagorno Karabakh flowed…And that simple, humanistic, completely non-violent demand and wish was denied by the Azerbaijani SSR.
I thought I knew everything about that book on the Sumgait Pogroms by heart, but I had missed that one thing – the birthplace of the brutally tortured victims: the village of Mokhrenes of the Hadrut region, Dzamdzor village of Hadrut region, Kyatuk village of the Askeran region, Chardakhlu village of the Karabakh plains; which in 1975 had a population of 4000, an all-Armenian population up until the Karabakh Movement and boasted 12 Generals, seven Heroes of the Soviet Union and two Marshals to the Soviet Union. Arachadzor village of the Martakert region, Chlldran village of the Martakert region, Medz Shen of the Martakert region, Chaylu village of the Martakert region, Badara village of the Askeran region, Jilan village of the Hadrut region, Martuni region, Karakend village of the Martuni region, Vank village of the Martakert region. All these regions, with the exception of Chardakhlu, the village with a population of 4000 people, were part of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and are now part of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (Republic of Artsakh). All these people were from the wonderful villages of the Karabakh Autonomous Oblast that has breathtaking nature, impregnable geography and they left their homes, they locked their doors and went to an industrial city, to Sumgait to become factory workers, to live in buildings made of concrete blocks, to go to their factories in the morning, to speak Russian and to probably earn a little more money. The Soviet Armenian villagers, fed and deceived on the songs and slogans of the International willingly chose their ghastly graves. And you begin to look for the blame within yourself but then you think; There is such a thing as labor migration around the world, there is such a thing as urbanization, but they don’t slaughter the newcomers with axes. And no sane county solves interethnic issues with genocide.
Azerbaijani writer Akram Aylisli in his novel “Stone Dreams,” wich was banned in Azerbaijan, writes, “In every family in Aylis*…who confiscated an Armenian home, there is mental illness, I say this to you as a doctor. Have you ever seen calm in any of those houses…?” Then Aylisi goes on to describe all the ailments of those families who live in the houses Armenians were forced to abandon.
I do not like the word “genocide” and have decided to never use it but on every February 28 I have the urge to look with one eye to see who lives at District 45, Building 10/13, Apartment 37 or District 41, Building 26, Apartment 21 or District 12, Building 29, Apartment 52….in that monstrous city of Sumgait. I imagine at some corners of those entrances the screams of 20-year-old Irina, running for her life from an axe wielding savage still echo and the smell of her brothers’ flesh burnt on bonfires still linger in the courtyard and have not vanished through the will of memory. Are there more mentally ill people in Sumgait now? If we were to believe Azerbaijani writer Akram Aylisli, then the number of the mentally ill must have definitely grown in Azerbaijan because for 30 years now Azerbaijanis wake up and bid “good night” to one another in the homes of thousands of Armenians from Sumgait and Baku.
I learned from the Internet that all the roofs in Sumgait have been renovated and the roofs of the city are now red. There are seaside parks and a large new botanical garden. And most importantly, there is now a statue of a dove, it is white…but in February of 88, at the intersection of “Мир” and “Дружба” streets, meaning “peace” and “friendship,” where people now lead ordinary lives, Armenians were being hacked to death.
At the end of the list of victims in that book on the Sumgait Pogroms it says, “Newborn – name unknown.” The child would have been 30 years old this year…
*Aylis, Akulis in Armenian is an historical Armenian village in the Nakhichevan region.