By Ara Nerssessian
From 1988 through 1990, the Armenian population in Soviet Azerbaijan was the target of racially motivated pogroms in the cities of Sumgait (Feb. 27-29, 1988), Kirovabad (Nov. 21-27, 1988), and Baku (Jan. 13-19, 1990). These pogroms set the stage for two decades of aggression by Azerbaijan, during which it launched and lost a war against Nagorno-Karabagh (Artsakh), and later used its oil wealth to buy a massive military arsenal that its leaders still vow to use—against a Christian people that has for thousands of years lived on these lands, and that, after great challenges, has flourished since its freedom from Soviet and Azerbaijani oppression.
Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. In 1990, her childhood was completely destroyed by an orchestrated wave of Azerbaijani aggression towards Armenians. She recently published her memoirs, titled Nowhere, a Story of Exile, which tells the story of her life in Baku, and the Azerbaijani brutality that shattered her childhood.
On July 12, I sat down with Anna to discuss her memories of Baku, and why it’s important to remember her story, a story of exile. To see the video of the interview, visit http://youtu.be/-lep_1mdspw.
A.N.: What was it like growing up in Baku?
A.T.: My childhood was beautiful up until I was 10. In ’88 things changed drastically, it went from happy to confused and scared. I see my childhood as before and after.
A.N.: Can you tell me about the Azeri aggression against Armenians?
A.T.: Initially the Azeris had demonstrations; it eventually escalated into breaking into Armenian homes. The most memorable thing for me was having my father sitting in the dark with knives, and waiting…waiting it out. Saying, “I’m going to protect you.” Another thing I remember is hiding in school when the demonstrations went bad. I was fearful of who I was. In December ’88, after the earthquake in Armenia, where tens of thousands were killed, on top of this sadness Azeris were sending congratulatory cards to Armenians, such as my parents and their friends. That was disturbing, because yes there was violence on the street, but you never expect it to come to you.
A.N.: Was there always hostility toward the Armenians?
A.T.: I think the hostility was always there. I don’t think I noticed it so much as a child because my parents protected me from it. The hostilities escalated when the Soviet Union collapsed. The independence of Artsakh was also a major factor that escalated Azeri hostility towards Armenians. Despite the fear, it is Artsakh’s right to be independent. We suffered for something, and have to make sure this [Artsakh’s international recognition] happens.
A.N.: Do you miss Baku?
A.T.: After I moved to Yerevan, the Armenians would ask me, “How you can miss Baku after all the corruption there?” And it is because, before we had a beautiful life, and it was destroyed by the Azeris, and you don’t get over it overnight.
A.N.: Why did you write this book?
A.T.: Initially I wrote the book for my children, because I understand in America people blend in, and life goes on, and people forget their roots, and that was important to me when I started writing at 14 for my children and my family. But my parents persuaded me. Yes it was written for a purpose, but it’s also a historic piece, not just for Armenians, but for Americans as a whole. We learn from our past; and can never forget our past.
Ara Nerssessian is a currently an ANCA Leo Sarkisian Intern.