If It Hadn’t Been For January 20…

27 years ago, on January 23 or 24, someone knocked unexpectedly at the door of our home in a remote Russian village.

27 years ago, on January 23 or 24, someone knocked unexpectedly at the door of our home in a remote Russian village.

My father, keeping his newspaper in hand, sat down in his corner of the living room without even taking his boots off, without even wiping the snow from his overcoat.

My little brother’s hand froze in an open bag of candy sitting on a green shelf. My mother had her hands in thick gloves, with which she was sticking soem coal in a Russian oven.

Nobody even had the chance to ask what happened. My father placed his face between his hands and started to cry. My mother beat her knees with her coal-stained gloves.

“What has happened? Has my Gagha died?”

She meant her father.

“My uncle died, is that it?”

She meant my father’s dad.


My middle brother had stayed behind in Azerbaijan with my grandfather.

She sat down next to the stove. My father through his tears said:

“Nothing has happened to our own. They’ve killed people in Baku. Hundreds of people. The Russians…the Russian army. They will kill us here as well. Azerbaijan is separating from Russia, forever. Even if they don’t kill us, they will put up a border. Those who are on the other side, they will stay there. Those who are here will have to stay here. Raji and my father will stay on the other side. We will not see them again.”

My mother rushed to take the newspaper from him. This might have been the first newspaper she had ever taken into her hands in her lifetime. She scanned the paper, her eyes looking for someone. Suddenly, casting a look at the pictures, she sat down again.

That day, nobody left home. The next day, my father didn’t go to work. On the next day, the chairman of the kolkhoz (collective farm) came to our house. My father said he was going to quit.

“We are going back to Azerbaijan.”

The kolkhoz chairman was shocked. My father was the best vet on the enormous farm. He had a five-year contract, and a good salary. I was in school, and my brother was in kindergarten. The kolkhoz chairman understood nothing.

“Someone hurt you, someone offended you, is that it, Valera?” he asked. (They couldn’t pronounce my father’s name.)

“You just tell me. Are you crazy? There is war there. Right in the region you’re from. Where do you want to take the children?”

The kolkhoz chairman talked for a while. Various people came to our house for the next week on an almost constant basis. My mom cooked for them, my dad drank Russian vodka with them and our guests tried to persuade him to stay.

They tried scaring him with talk of war, with talk of the wonderful life and future that might await him if he were to stay.

All of these monologues were accompanied by a well-set Caucasian spread and a large amount of Russian vodka. Usually, my father would become a very easygoing and amenable person when he would drink. But this time, he wouldn’t change his mind.

Our family had a history of separation of over 60 years. This separation had come about as a result of the closing of borders between two countries: Iran and the Soviet Union.

In the 1930s, my great-grandfather, Haji Qasim, came back to his village after receiving a religious education in Iran, in Qom. Shortly after, he had to flee back to Iran with his pregnant wife and two daughters. He didn’t want to wait for the wave of atheism, religious persecution and exile to catch him first.

My grandfather was born a few months after he left.

However, they were separated, and my grandfather ended up back in Azerbaijan. For 60 years, he was unable to find out anything about his father. He turned his face towards Iran while sleeping. He never drank because his father had been a religious person. He began praying in his early childhood. He searched for his father in religion.

What scared my father was the 60-year-old regret of my grandfather. He was afraid of us having to go through the same story, of closing borders between Russia and Azerbaijan, and he was especially afraid of my 7-year-old brother being left on the other side of the border. This fear made him take his two children out of a calm Russian village back to Karabakh, where the war was on fire.

The events of January 20 were the main source of this fear. My father believed strongly that the borders would close soon – he refused to take back his resignation. We left our house within a month, loaded up our stuff and went back to Azerbaijan.

We left our ginger-colored dog, Dinga, in Russia.

Now when I think about it, it turns out that somehow, the fate of my simple, villager family was dependent on the politics of big countries, of the relations between them. My grandfather who escaped to Iran in the 1930s was driven out by the Soviets: the reason we escaped Russia in the 1990s was also because of the Soviets. In 1993, the reason was the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Finally, I had to leave Georgia in order not to spoil the good relations it enjoys with Azerbaijan. . .

Neither countries nor people understand the serious and dramatic role they can play in the life of people they don’t know, who are far away from them: they are not away of how they can utterly and completely change their lives, sometimes even destroy them.

And I think that as long as the fate of people will depend on the politics of two given countries; on relations amongst presidents; on the change of regimes…the universe will always suffer from a lack of happy people.

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