The Act of Meeting
I grew up in an interethnic family. If my parents were to be anyhow religious, I could even say that I grew up in an interconfessional family where my dad was a Grigorian Christian and my mom was a Sunni Muslim, but that is not true - even though, you can say that technically, they are both pretty secular. Another important footnote before I start is the following. If the collapse of the Soviet Union had not taken place, if there were no interethnic conflicts in different regions of the Soviet Union, if my family simply came to the airport in Tashkent one day earlier, I would most probably have grown up in Armenia but instead my home city is located somewhere in Central Asia, which till a certain point was ethnically pretty diverse. So, I do not remember cases where my or someone else’s ethnicity was an issue. And normally you do not tend to think about others (as well as yourself) in ethnic terms. Though my experience is probably limited and I might have just been relatively lucky.
The first time I met a person with an Azerbaijani ethnic background was at university fifteen years ago. She was studying linguistics and we would sometimes greet each other but I didn't even know her name. Once in my second or third year at university, we met again in the canteen and got “officially” acquainted. * A footnote: it might sound weird, but in the city I am from it was or still is pretty common to ask a person what her or his ethnicity is just after she or he has introduced her/himself. And, yes, this sounds somewhat contradictory to what I have just written in the previous passage. * I asked the girl what her ethnicity was. She replied, ‘Russian and Azerbaijani’. Even though I had a pretty weak cultural connection to Armenia… okay, to be very honest, the only thing that made me Armenian was probably the knowledge that my father was Armenian and even though I did not have hatred towards Azerbaijanis as people, I got very lost. However, I did not want her to see my confusion and had to react very quickly by happily (probably nervously) and loudly announcing that my father is Armenian which means that she and I have “South Caucasian kinship”. I don’t know how someone else would have reacted to such a pathetic statement but she joyfully laughed. It also turned out that she had a wonderful sense of humor - at least, she laughed with pleasure and very contagiously at my jokes that my not-very-funny jokes would start seeming funny even to me.
The second time I met a person with an Azerbaijani background was at English language courses. We also met in the canteen. When he asked what ethnicity I am and I replied, he probably also felt very nervous and lost but also did not want to show his confusion. So, he commented, ‘Armenian girls are the most beautiful girls in the whole Caucasus’... We did not talk very often but whenever I greeted him with a question, ‘How is it going?’, he would always reply, ‘It is going even better now as I have just seen you’. Eleven years ago this dubious phrase seemed nice to me.
Two days before I left to study in Germany, I met him on the street. With lots of enthusiasm, I shared the recent news. He replied, ‘Why Germany? Why not France?’ - ‘Why France’, I asked. - ‘Because there your compatriots would give you a Kalashnikov’. Then he started talking about the Karabakh conflict, about the Khojaly tragedy and many other things which now after nine years I cannot reconstruct well including the things I told him. I guess I said something highly unconvincing and pacifist. At the end of the conversation, he apologized and added with disappointment, ‘I guess you are too urbanized (*spoiled) to be interested in human sufferings’. We walked together a few meters more and ended up being at the central square in our homecity. There he apologized one more time.