Huseyn Shahbandayev, teacher of Azerbaijani Language and Literature in Baku
It has been twenty-six years already since those exciting days when I went to my primary school. It was back in 1991. Our school was on the other bank of Baritli River, which divides our village into two parts. I recall that river for a reason. There was a narrow bridge to the other shore of the river, the strength and madness of which could easily dampen your voice. It was a challenge to cross that bridge even for one person. I was scared to death every time I crossed the bridge, thinking that my foot would slip off and I was going to fall into the river, and then inevitable die. I have always wondered and I still wonder why the bridge does not have any handrails. These ideas would come to my mind and I used to blame the community heads, saying to myself that I will have the handrails if I were in their position.
The road to school was even a bigger challenge: a curved-haul trail opened on the harsh slope. It was unavoidable not to. At least I always fall three or four times until I reached a small plain area next to the school. Every time while falling I had to put my hands down first to avoid my face landing into the mud.
Despite the setback, I went to school very enthusiastically. At home, my brother who was two years older gained slightly more respect as he went to school and started getting “A”s on all disciplines. I was trying to study like he did. My teacher was my uncle’s cousin, and sometimes I kept forgetting he was a teacher as he used to make so many jokes and spoil me with care when I was smaller. But it did not take that long to understand that kindness at home is not going to work here and I have to follow the rules. Within a short time I got the first compliments for my diligence and efforts, and imagine how happy I was when I showed my parents the first grade sheet.
Looking back to my years in 2nd grade. The first half of the school year all the marks were “A”s. It was not that easy as we always sat in the dark and studying under the oil lamp. Armenians cut the lines supplying lights to our village.
At that time, the lights went off very often and there were frequent power cuts on the power line left from the Soviet days. Sometimes we were left without lights for 1-2 days. But this time the situation seemed to be far different. It was clear from the talks that Armenian armed forces exploded the rock that had a power line to Kalbajar. They wanted to keep the people in fear and panic so that they move away and settle in other places. Even though I was a child, I could sense those tensions, witnessing sufferings and worries of the elders, and even now, years later I recall the gradual escalation of the repression day by day, hour after hour.
The situation at school was also devastating: without electricity we could not heat up the classes, our hands and faces were livid with cold. During breaks we would gather around a wood-burning stove. We were almost frozen. One of the days Mr. Hasan our teacher sent us home after the second lesson. He did not say any reason, but he looked very gloomy and did not even lift his head from the class register on his table:
– “Collect your books and notebooks, you have to go home. They are waiting for you at home.”
We have never seen him so bleak. So we quietly collected our things and went home. While we were still in the courtyard of the school we learned that the body of a dead soldier was brought to the village and all of the teachers were going there.
I can still see in my memory the event dedicated to the martyred soldier’s memorial. Most pupils and teachers were crying. This poor guy was killed on the border of Kalbajar and Goycha. The border post was attacked and his body was filled with bullets. Even at a young age, we could feel the heavy burden of silence. The teachers who spoke at the event cursed Armenians for killing Namig and those instigating the conflict. It was suggested that the school sets up a corner in memory of Namig at the school and asks the provincial leadership to name the school after him.
The incident shocked everyone so much that we did not have any mood whatsoever to celebrate Novruz (Spring new year) holidays. There were no such bonfires as before, as children we always looked forward to the atmosphere of the festive time, but not this time.
We left the village eight days after Novruz. Three days on our bare foots we walked through forests and mountains and under the shelling of Armenians managed to find a safe heaven in Ganja. Later, I had to study in different schools starting from Ismayilli, later we moved to Absheron, Khirdalan, I was everywhere, here and there.
These memories are very painful. What was the reason to force us out from our homes and land? Both my father and my grandfather had Armenian friends. We have always respected them! So why did they turn out to be so ungrateful?
This question remains unclear to me as it does to many.
These thoughts have come to me every morning while taking my daughter to school, for her the first day in class. But this is not the same school where I have studied. My school is far from where she goes. Armenians burned the building of that school, but the walls remained. I’ve seen that through the Internet. Nevertheless, I feel traumatized to remember what happened to us as children during those years.
I cannot go neither can I visit my school compound anymore, even though if I want to, our beloved teacher Mr. Hasan is not there any more. I’m happy that my daughter is now going to her school and she feels safe. The school is in the district where I work. This year she is studying in the first grade. She is very happy. She has no idea of the events we have passed through. Looking into the future, as she grows up, she will at some point be informed and hear of this tragic days in the history of Azerbaijan.
The author of the story is Huseyn Shahbendayev, the teacher of Azerbaijani language and literature in one of Baku schools. Huseyn Shahbendayev is the Honored teacher of Azerbaijan. The Ministry of Education of the Republic of Azerbaijan also awarded him under the “Artistic Work Competition for Primary School Students”. This story is based on real events. The hero of the story is his own son. They lived in the village of Bashlibel of Kalbajar region. When his son was studying in the second grade, Kalbajar was occupied in 1993, and the family was forced to leave the village before the boy finished the second grade. The story was written in September, 2017, the year when Huseyn muallim’s grandchild started first grade in one of Baku schools.