I have met many people from Azerbaijan during my trips to Georgia. With most of them we would have small talks in shops or cafes, and then will come the awkward silence that I am sure is familiar to everyone from our countries. The silence that drops like a bomb every time when the conversation reaches to the question ‘where are you from?’ And usually that would be it-end of the conversation with an uncomfortable sighing ‘I see!’
Fortunately, these were not my only experiences. My first friend from Azerbaijan I met in Budapest. We both were freshly enrolled MA students at the same university. He arrived to the dormitory earlier than me. I met him on the first day of my arrival. I remember that day clearly. I just arrived and went downstairs to check out the building, garden, study room, etc. He was the first student to say ‘hi’ to me in the building. Sitting in the study room with his colleagues, he called me when I entered the room. He presented himself and where he comes from, to which I replied ‘Hi, I am Flora, from Armenia. Nice to meet’. And there came the silence, but not as awkward as I thought it would be. It lasted a couple of seconds after which he told me that there is going to be a welcoming party in the evening and that they all are going to be there. He, of course, invited me to join. I accepted the invitation and joined the welcoming party in the evening. After the party some of us went to make tea in the kitchen and hang out without loud music. My friend from Azerbaijan was also there. Slowly one by one everyone went to sleep, and only the two of us ended up sitting until six in the morning- drinking tea and talking. Now when I look back, I can say for sure that, truly, this was my first encounter with a person from Azerbaijan. We would talk about everything and the more topics were coming up, the more we were realizing that we are not different at all. We were coming from two neighboring countries that listen to the same type of music, eat the same food, had the same Soviet background and cultural specificities. Even most of the proverbs used in our languages were similar if not the same. But during that night, at least for a moment, I caught myself on a thought that I would later tell him, a thought that went through his mind as well. Essentially, for a while we were looking at each other like one would look at a dangerous animal behind a glass in the zoo. Awful comparison, I know, but that is how it felt. I would stare at him and realize that similar to me he also has two eyes, a mouth, and breaths the same air in the same manner as I do. He told me later he was thinking the same. So where was that monster we were expecting to see? Where was that scary enemy we were taught to be afraid of? It simply did not exist. We were but two kids sitting there and not being able to process why we have to hate each other. It turned out that we did not have to. We became very close friends_‘canik’s_ as we used to call each other. And then the 2016 April war happened.
In a matter of hours Armenian guys who studied with us arrived to the dormitory. I remember that night. It was the first day of the Four day war. The Armenian community, maybe seven of us, was sitting downstairs and ‘canik’ passed by and went outside. He did not say ‘hi’ to me, did not talk, just went outside. I and another friend of ours followed him to see what the matter was. He was afraid that we might be angry on him and might not want to talk to him because of the war. The moment was heartbreaking_ not because he thought that I would not talk to him or be angry at him, but because we realized that all this heavy background that we inherited is rooted in us so much that for a second it could have shattered out friendship. But it did not. We were stronger. We are stronger. We passed those four days together, all of us, sharing the pain and concern for each other’s families and countries. And the only question we asked during those days was ‘why?’, ‘why do our countries have to keep doing this to each other?’ And soon that crisis passed. Our friendship stayed.
That year he left the university and went back to Baku. Of course, we were in touch all the time. A year or two after that he wrote to me from Baku that he wants to visit Budapest. And, of course, I was going to host him in my apartment. He brought the most tasty pomegranate wine and our favorite baklava. Another Armenian friend of ours was also living with me at that time. This was a wonderful reunion of three friends. Our parents all knew that we are going to stay with each other. Honestly, none of them were a fan of that idea and who can blame them? They have heard and seen the best, the worst, and the crazy of each other’s countries. During the first day each of our parents called us at least three times. They knew we are friends, they knew we lived in the same dormitory building for years, but this was different for them, as we were under the same roof in a small apartment. That moment, although I assume concerning and scary for them, was magical for us. Showing and introducing each other to our parents over Skype felt for us like we moved a tiny step forward towards the resolution of long standing conflict between our countries. I cannot get into our parents’ heads and nor can I know what they were thinking, but I saw the smiles on their faces. They told us their pre-war friendship stories and we felt like there is hope not only for us but also for them; as if we managed not only to co-exist but also become such close friends, others can do the same.