7 December 2021

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"BACK TO ZANGILAN, TO AGHALI!"

The tragic story of an Azerbaijani woman from Garabagh who returned home after 28 long years

Author:

01.03.2021

Suraya Mammadova (71) is a native of the Zangilan district of Azerbaijan. For the last 28 years, she has been dreaming about returning to Garabagh, to her native village of Aghali, where she was born and lived. Even after so many years, when we tend to forget many things that we remembered, the memories of the land where we were born and raised remain fresh, as if all these events happened yesterday. Aunt Suraya has kept all her memories since...

 

Striking news

One of the chilly days of December 2020 refreshed her memories. The day before, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev visited the district of Zangilan liberated from the Armenian invaders by our victorious Army. On the same day, I got a call from my colleague Zaka Guliyev. It was an unexpected one. He was full of impressions talking about a video footage covering the president's visit to Zangilan. Zaka's family was twice as happy. Being originally from the village of Aghali, Zangilan, he noticed the houses of his fellow villagers on the video footage shot by the First Vice-President of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva. President stopped his car near one of these houses and shared his impressions: “These are our houses, which we liberated from the Armenian invaders. Perhaps, the residents of Uchunju Aghali will know whose house this is."

Trying not to miss a single word from the president’s report, the villagers were following his speech very carefully. Zaka could not hide his joy either, as the president was standing next to his aunt's house. A few steps away was the house of his other aunt, who lived next door. 28 years later, Zaka and his family saw their homeland, houses, gardens again...

There were also a few sad moments, of course. Even through I was on the other side of the phone, I could feel the same as Zaka and his relatives. Then he shared with me another video filmed at his wedding in 2017, where an elderly woman was addressing his fellow villagers from Zangilan: “I want back to Zangilan, to Aghali!” That gray-haired woman was Aunt Suraya...

We agreed with Zaka to write an official request for permission to visit their native village as soon as possible.

 

Here we go...

January 2021. It didn't take long before we got a positive answer. We were extremely happy. After many years, my colleague and old friend will be able to visit his native land, his home. And for the first time in my life I will be able to see yet another wondrous corner of our liberated Motherland. As soon as the preparations were over, we embarked on a truly historic trip to Zangilan accompanied by a few other natives of the district, namely Uncle Adil, Zaka's father, and his aunt Suraya.

"What is more beautiful - autumn or winter?" -

The dispute, unceasing so far ...

The native wasteland is all the nicer

Than paradise with milky shores!

This quatrain-bayati sounded like a greeting. Aunt Suraya is one of the 42,000 residents of Zangilan who were expelled from their homes during the First Garabagh War and scattered across 47 other districts of Azerbaijan, in Baku and Sumgayit. In the 19902, the majority of them became victims of the unjust and insidious war unleashed by Armenia. She was forced to leave her home on a cold October day in 1993. This was the second tragedy in her life – back in 1988, Aunt Suraya’s husband died in a tragic accident. And now Suraya and her five children had to go through another pain of loss – the loss of their home, sweet village where she spent the best years of her life. It was the beginning of a new period in the life of the forced migrant full of hardships and upheavals.

But after night comes the dawn. Aunt Suraya wanted to talk to us about one of such warm dawns in her new life. This morning will often remind her of the past. But now she wanted only one thing – to have an opportunity to reunite with her native land that would refresh her childhood memories, to visit the places where the remains of her relatives and friends rested.

I was told that during the 44-day Patriotic War, Aunt Suraya constantly reminded her family members about the solidarity, "iron fist" of the Azerbaijani people and loved to repeat that particular quatrain. She’s wiping off the foggy windows of our car, which takes us to Zangilan, and is peering through the horizon hidden by the clouds. I don't know, maybe this helps her to overcome the feeling of excitement from the upcoming meeting with her forgotten past? She proudly speaks of her heroes, who will forever remain in her memory: the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, soldiers of our army, martyrs and the veterans of war. The 71-year-old mother speaks of them as warmly as she does of her five children.

 

Welcome to Aghali!

After four hours, we see a road sign with the name of the district – we are entering Zangilan! Next to the inscription is the state flag of Azerbaijan and the leaves of a plane tree, which has made Zangilan famous around the whole world. The age-old plane tree forests have attracted famous scientists from many countries back in the Soviet times. Aunt Suraya walks up to the flag, falls to her knees, kisses the ground and cries. This was the moment she has been expecting for so many years... At that moment, I imagined the days of Aunt Suraya's youth, her life with her family, among her fellow villagers. After 28 years, she reunited with the soil, which gave her life, raised her...

...Emotions go wild. I see tears of joy in the eyes of Aunt Suraya, her son Shahin, my friend Zaka and Uncle Adil. And I thankfully realise what a great good deed did those who made the dream of these people come true. They gave them a chance to taste the joy of reuniting with their native land after so many years of disappointment and sadness. And at that moment our car stops right in front of that famous house in the village of Uchunju Aghali...

This is the house of Zaka's second aunt, Sarmaya Ahmedova. She could not join us for health reasons. According to her relatives, Sarmaya’s house had always been full of guests. Now the destroyed house stands lonely alongside the road, as if waiting for its original owners. Nothing remained here after the Armenian plunder. The only things left from the house, where the villagers would often gather for celebrations, are the walls, a leaky roof and a dilapidated grape hedge...

The loss of the native village turned into a great grief for this family. Sarmaya Aliyeva lost her son Kamil and her husband Salman. Standing in front of the house and telling us about the fate of her neighbour, Aunt Suraya prays before we leave the ruins of the house. “We have returned our lands, Sarmaya! May the souls of your son Kamil and husband Salman rest in peace! Get well soon and return to your home. Visit your home, my dear."

Aunt Suraya has patiently lived with her losses for 33 years. For the sake of her five children, for the sake of her elderly parents. The children were very young when her husband, Vagif Mahmudov, died tragically. Neighbours and fellow villagers did their best to support the family. The family lost its head but support. Of course, nothing and no one could replace Vagif for the children and Aunt Suraya. She often visited her husband's grave. But she had to stop her visits to the cemetery in 1993. Zangilan was occupied. For 28 years, she has seen Vagif's tombstone only in her dreams. And now she was going to visit the grave of her soul mate in reality again...

I have seen many heartbreaking scenes in my life. But I couldn't even imagine what a woman might feel when she visited the grave of her five children after years of separation.

All graves in the cemetery of the Aghali village have been destroyed. Approaching the grave of the father and husband, Aunt Suraya’s son Shahin tightly squeezes her hand, asking her to be strong. The mother and her son were going through the last minutes of painful days of waiting and separation. We were standing aside but there were tears in our eyes, which were cold from the frost. Vagif's soul reunited with his family. The years of lonely melancholy in Zangilan, years of sorrowful memories outside the homeland were over.

“Zangilan was the last district invaded by Armenians. On that day, I lost not only my parental home, but also the right to visit the graves of my loved ones. I thought we would not see them again. I often wished I could visit the graves of my parents and Vagif as in good old times to share with them my thoughts, the things I had a lot on my mind... That’s how I had lived twenty-eight years with a broken heart. I don’t even know how those years passed?!” in front of me was a truly courageous woman. The one who was afraid of the hardships and shocks of life, who was courageous enough to face them. I still could not understand where this woman got so much strength, perseverance and will?!

...We're heading towards Aunt Suraya’s house. She and Uncle Adil look at the meadows, ruined orchards and vegetable gardens, sharing with each other their childhood memories. Involuntarily listening to the dialogue of these two elderly people who were born, grew up and started their families here, I began to understand gradually how the consequences of the occupation affected their lives.

And here it is, our last destination at the end of a long journey – the house of Aunt Suraya. After everything she had to face in these years, after everything she has experienced today, she could no longer bear it. Her knees buckled and I saw the old woman crumpling in front of her house, rather a pile of stones left from it.

The vandals who defiled the graves of our ancestors have also plundered our homes. They destroyed the grave of her husband Vagif and their house... What we saw was another heavy blow to the tortured heart of Aunt Suraya. Her home and the graves of her loved ones were destroyed. I could not find words to comfort her. But at the same time, I felt that the words were not necessary, for our Great Victory healed the wounds of thousands of Azerbaijani mothers like Aunt Suraya...

...It was getting dark. With the hope of returning here again to see the prospering district of Zangilan next time, we set off back toward Baku.

 

 

 

THE FIRST “SMART VILLAGE” PROJECT IMPLEMENTED IN ZANGILAN

The first "smart village" project will be implemented in the village of Aghaly, Zangilan (Azerbaijan). This was stated by the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev during the press conference for the representatives of local and foreign media held on February 28 in Baku.

“The project will be implemented in three villages of Zangilan - Aghaly I, Aghaly II, Aghaly III. I instructed to fully complete the project by the end of this year. About 1000 people will be accommodated there. We will create all the necessary infrastructure, the cultivated areas will be restored, and people will return to their homes. There can be many such pilot projects. Now we are working on this one,” Mr. Aliyev said.

The project will mainly have five components, including housing, manufacturing, social services, smart agriculture, and alternative energy.



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