Lucian Kim / NPR
Sanubar Aliyeva has lived in Russia for more than half her life, but she says she is still a proud Azerbaijani. On a recent afternoon, 61-year-old health care workers arrived at the Azerbaijan Embassy in Moscow to pay their respects to the victims of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, more than 1,000 miles away.
Aliyeva says that her younger brother lost a leg in the first Nagorno-Karabakh war almost 30 years ago. When fierce fighting between Armenians and Azerbaijanis resurfaced in September, she said, her brother volunteered to enlist.
“Of course they didn’t take him, he is over 50 years old,” Aliyeva said. “They told him that the Azerbaijani army is very strong now so they don’t need fathers like him.”
The war broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani and Armenians, who called Russia home. These two ethnic communities are among Russia’s largest and most organized, though conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has pushed them into hostile camps.
The Soviet Union disintegrated after many of their ethnic groups began to secede in the late 1980s. When Armenia and Azerbaijan gained independence in 1991, the Armenian peoples living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region fought and won the war. won the bloody separatist war from Azerbaijan. Now, with Turkish support, Azerbaijanis are determined to take back the territory they lost to the Armenians.
The new skirmish has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of both sides.
Red carnations, photos and stuffed animals are piled up outside the Azerbaijan Embassy in Moscow.
Aliyeva also brought flowers. She said that she remembered working with the Armenians when she was a young woman in Soviet Azerbaijan.
“I have no idea why we can live together in the same way that we did in the Soviet era,” she said.
Elshad Agverdiyev, 32 years old Muscovite of Azerbaijan origin, was born when the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict just started. He said he had given up hope on diplomatic efforts by Russia and the United States, and that the two countries, together with France, have co-chaired the peace process since the 1990s.
Agverdiyev said: “We have waited 10 years, 20 years, now it is almost 30 years. Unfortunately, the international community has not done anything. We have only received empty promises.” “What is left of Azerbaijan to do? We want to solve this problem ourselves.”
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has resulted in tensions between the Azerbaijan and Armenian communities of Russia. In July, when Azerbaijan and Armenia fought during the prelude to the current fighting, members of two expat communities clashed in Moscow and St. Petersburg, with reports of dozens of arrests. . After a new outbreak of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh, the city of Moscow asked the leaders of both ethnic communities to sign a statement sent to their voters calling for calm.
Shamil Tagiyev, a leader of the Azerbaijan community in Moscow, said: “From day one, we have urged people not to yield to provocative and emotional actions and to abide by the law. His connections with local Armenians are mediated through the mayor’s office, he said.
The gap between Armenians and Azerbaijanis widened as fighting continued in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.
For Armenians in Moscow, the Armenian Apostolic Church became the center of the community. The cavernous church, consecrated in 2013, is built with a tuff stone in the traditional Armenian style.
Sasun Davtyan, an immigrant worker from Armenia, came to pray for Artsakh, as the Armenians called Nagorno-Karabakh.
Lucian Kim / NPR
Davtyan, 28, said: “My brothers are there, they are volunteers. They went to protect their homeland.” “When the time comes, I’ll be ready to join them.”
He says he doesn’t hold any hope of help from Russia, the defender of the history of Armenia or the United States, which also has a substantial Armenian community.
“The hope is with us and only us,” said Davtyan.
The Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the oldest churches in Christianity, has gathered Armenians together for almost 2,000 years.
Gevorg Vardanyan, a priest at Moscow church, said: “The conflict has brought the community closer together, because we all understand that Armenia and Artsakh are on the verge of extinction. He said that the Armenian general memory of the Ottoman Empire’s mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 remains very large. Most historians and increasingly countries consider it genocide; Turkey refutes this term.
In today’s conflict, Vardanyan says, religion plays a big role, with Christian Armenians pitted against predominantly Muslim Azerbaijanis. But he suggests that faith can also lead to reconciliation.
“Both Azerbaijani and Armenians understand that young men are dying and no one wants mourning in their homes,” Vardanyan said. “Religion is the light around us that we can build our relationships with, because a religious person never wants to kill and should never kill. No war is needed; war is in. That is without God. “
To some members of his congregation, Vardanyan’s words sounded full of aspiration.
Lucian Kim / NPR
Akop Akavyan, who went to church for afternoon services with his wife and teenage son, said: “The longer the war lasts, the more difficult the situation becomes. “The wound was very deep and kept getting bigger.”
Akavyan says he simply wants the war to end and has not yet begun to think about how Armenians and Azeri can one day live in peace.
His son Andrei, 17, born and raised in multiracial Moscow, has a different perspective.
It will take time, he said, but one day Armenians and Azerbaijani will think differently, in the same way that Germans and Russians – bitter enemies of World War II – can now be friends.