How Armenians and Azerbaijanis swapped homes

The story of the old and new house

When the Karabakh conflict broke out, there was a population exchange between Armenia and Azerbaijan – the Armenians left Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijanis left Armenia. People who experienced violence due to the conflict and the rise of nationalist sentiments, or who felt unsafe, were forced to leave their homes.

Wondering where to go, many of these people came up with a surprising solution – simply to swap homes with the other side.
“Our village was just in full bloom. We went and looked, Alyosha liked my house. Then they went to the village council, got a certificate, then bought tickets to Yerevan to return from there to Baku by train. While we were in the area, five or six Armeniansfound out that I was a ‘Turk’. They whispered to each other about something and got on the bus with us. And as soon as we drove a little, one of them got up and came over to me.”

Aydin lived in Armenia in the village of Narimanly (since 1991 the village has been called Shatvan) in the Vardenis region. In 1989, he swapped homes with an Armenian named Alyosha, who lived in the village of Lokbatan near Baku. For this Aydin went to Baku, to the “Glass Bazaar”. It was a short street behind the bazaar, where in Soviet times those who wanted to swap housing met (it was then not permitted to buy or sell). There he met the Lokbatan Alyosha.

“Alyosha was the first one I met. Tall, thin, with a long face and blond hair. He doesn’t even look like an Armenian, rather like us.”

Aydin wanted to give Alyosha power of attorney and send him to Narimanly, but he preferred that they go to Armenia together to have a look at the house himself. Alyosha's family was waiting for him in Lokbatan. So the two homeowners went first to Yerevan, and from there to Basargechar, as Aydin calls the Vardenis region (this name existed until 1969). But on the way back, they ran into trouble.

View from the window of the apartment where Alyosha used to live and now Aydin lives

“This guy sat next to me. At first he spoke in Russian. He said that he was a Ganja Armenian. And then he switched to pure Azerbaijani, saying that his father was beaten in Ganja and his money was stolen. And, he said, now I also have to give him my money. I replied that I had no money, that my friend even bought my ticket. Then the guy reached into his pocket and pulled out a switchblade.”

The stranger stabbed Aydin with the knife in his side. Aydin jumped.

“At that moment, the bus began to rock like an earthquake. Alyosha rushed to me, covered my wound with his handkerchief and started to scream in Russian and Armenian. People in the bus shouted for the driver to stop.”

“A woman sitting in front told the man who stabbed me ‘because of you we suffer’. Most of the passengers were from Azerbaijan. They kicked the thugs out of the bus.”

Aydin and Alyosha got off at the entrance to Yerevan and drove to the railway station by taxi. In the evening they returned to Baku by train. Here it was Alyosha's turn to be afraid, and Aydin's turn to reassure him.

They hired KAMAZ to load Alyosha's things and send him and his family to Armenia:

“I hired a car myself, paid 2,000 rubles because Alyosha had no money. All his belongings consisted of three or four iron beds, mattresses, a table, chairs and a sofa. I don’t know how they got there, whether KAMAZ took them to the right place, I don’t know anything about this. But I look at the satellite -- the house is intact, and there’s definitely someone living in it. ”
New home
Aydin got a four-room apartment from Alyosha.

“Built in 1980, no renovation. They moved there five years ago. There is black linoleum on the floor, darkened plaster on the walls, windows and doors are no good. The building itself belonged to Avtotransport, and then I found out that Alyosha, like me, was a driver. I lived in Moscow for a long time.”
In the village of Narimanly, Aydin worked as a driver on a collective farm. He took up the job after his father, who held this position, died in 1988.

“I got the car in April-May and managed to work for four or five months. And in October-November, all this running around had already begun. In this same car I traveled between Armenia and Azerbaijan three times transporting our things. In the end I went to pick up the tobacco that we left to dry, then returned on my own.”

After seeing Alyosha and his family off, Aydin went to the village of Shikhlar, Goranboy region, to pick up family members who lived with distant relatives and bring them to a new apartment:

“At that time there were five of us: my two brothers, sister, mother and me. I gradually got used to it. Thank you kind people for helping! Man is such a creature that he can endure any difficulty. You know, there is such a good saying: if time does not repeat after you, then you repeat after time. Many people were left without a home at all,
could not exchange nor offer anything.”
After settling in Baku, Aydin began to work there as a driver, then due to health problems he did not leave his house for seven years. Now he is working again, but in a completely different field.

“There is a bakery in Zabrat where I work. I bake gingerbread. By the way, I also baked these gingerbread cookies,” he points to cookies on the table.
Old home
“We had forty acres of land and a large four-room house, about 120 square meters. Cattle shed, garage, barn. As soon as I grew up, we started building it. Not from “blocks”, as they build here, but from black “wild stones”, as we used to say. They brought the stone by car, unloaded it at the door, split it with a hammer and built it. At first there were three rooms. My late father insisted that I also add a large hall. He himself did not even have a chance to really live there. Then another oven was set up for bread and a special place to store grain. And at the very end another extension, my father wanted to have a place to celebrate all sorts of sad and joyful events (this is the second floor) and keep hay to protect it from rain and snow (and this is on the first floor),” Aydin describes his house in Narimanly.
He adds:

And the weather there was different. Four distinct seasons. Summer lasted only three months. Winters were very cold, for three or four months the snow stayed on the ground. What a beautiful spring it was. Poppies bloomed, turning the mountains red.

Aydin still longs for the lands where he grew up:
Thirty-five years have passed since 1988, and I have not forgotten that place for a single minute. And my children chide me saying ‘this is our motherland’, but I have not forgotten.”
Aytan Farkhadova
Trajectories is a media project that tells stories of people whose lives have been impacted by conflicts in the South Caucasus. We work with authors and editors from across the South Caucasus and do not support any one side in any conflict. The publications on this page are solely the responsibility of the authors. In the majority of cases, toponyms are those used in the author’s society. The project is implemented by GoGroup Media and International Alert and is funded by the European Union
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