By Vicky Melkonyan
How does one define the feeling of belonging to a place? I guess I will never know because I have never felt it myself. I was born in Armenia. Both my parents are Armenian. Our family can be described as a typical Armenian family that has traditional values and where everyone has their specific role – cook and take care of kids vs. work and make money. Why, then, you might ask, I never felt any affection toward my country, any pride for being an Armenian or why I simply never felt like I belong. The answer lies in multiple aspects of my own perception of the country.
Most of my negativity, however, derives from the things I know Armenians lived through when they came here from Baku. There were a lot of Armenians living in Baku during the Soviet Union era. Then came 1988 and everything turned upside down for all of them. I will not go into detail describing the horrors they witnessed in Baku and Sumgait. They fled saving their lives – some to Europe, some to Russia or the US and a large number of them came to Armenia.
My own mother lived in Baku with her large family. They were forced to leave the house they had built with their own hands. They lost all the money that had in the bank. After all that, however, neither the government of Armenia nor the people living here tried to help them, comfort them or compensate their losses in any way. On the contrary, things became much worse.
They came to live here in a village dormitory that used to be a musical school. They slept on bare floors – nine people sleeping in one tiny room, starving, having only a piece of bread per person. It was not just my mother’s family, there were approximately 30-35 families cramped into the school building. They had to fight among each other to buy a bucket of drinking water that a guy would bring in his truck. They had to fight over the oven to determine whose turn it is to bake bread because there was electricity for only so many hours. Honestly, I cannot imagine myself not going completely crazy after losing my home and everything I was used to and having to literally fight to survive.
If things seem very grim and hopeless to you by now, I suggest you pull up a chair. The rest is even worse. The attitude and treatment the refugees encountered from Armenians that lived here was unbearable. They have been segregated, called “Turks” and harassed multiple times for having lived among Muslims. That is ironic because at the same time there were hundreds of Azeri living in Armenia, especially in Ararat province. Women that came from Baku were branded and treated as prostitutes. My mother herself has been harassed by inappropriate comments from Armenian men. Above all, Armenians from Baku were regarded as a burden for Armenians living here. They were told many times that it would have been better if they stayed in Baku and were killed than came here to “eat our bread”.
At the same time the world answered with all kinds of help – food, clothing, etc. People who lived in Armenia saw an opportunity to benefit from. The refugees were supposed to get a box with different kinds of food per person. However, the Armenians in charge of distribution decided that they can give out a box per family instead and keep the rest to themselves. Certain kinds of food such as soy beans and rice, which were again intended for the refugees, Armenians gave to their pigs while the families from Baku starved. I was very young then, but I still remember my great-grandma telling me how every time she would give her piece of bread to her grandkids because she knew they were hungry.
Some of the people who came from Baku went mad, some committed suicide because why live if you have lost everything that was dear to your heart and on top of that you are rejected by your “home country”. Of course, some have moved on, they have found ways to build a new life and become successful. But can they ever forget the things they saw, the things they experienced? Can they ever forgive?
For some reason, to this day unclear to me, Armenians living in Armenia have been heavily prejudiced toward Armenians who fled from Azerbaijan. Were they not human? I will never understand why these people were treated so poorly in the one country to which they “belong”. The truth is that even today things have not changed much. I have heard people calling others “Turk” only because one of their parents has lived in Baku. I guess that makes me a “Turk” because my mother and her whole family lived there for a long time.
How then do you expect me to be a patriot? How do you expect me to love Armenians and be proud of “belonging” to this country? Knowing the truth about the past of so many Armenians has definitely made my life a lot more complicated. I find it impossible to forgive such intolerance and unfairness. I hear people brag about how Armenia is so wonderful and Armenians are so smart and etc. The fact remains that Armenians were not able to accept Armenians from a different country, let alone support them and encourage them. For the people who overnight lost everything they had ever known life has moved on but they never found their place in this society.