Azerbaijan | 1997
While on assignment on the Caspian Sea, I had reached the remote village of Nardalan. I was looking for a place to rest for a few hours, or perhaps a few days, to replenish myself in an atmosphere Reminiscent of my childhood. The sun had just risen. The bustle of the day had not yet begun. I strolled along the deserted streets, immersed in daydreams. I encountered an old man, who looked proud but gentle, seeming both dignified and vulnerable. After exchanging a few words in Azeri, he asked me, with emotion in his voice, “You’re from the south?” When I answered yes, he broke into sobs.
“I am from the south, too,” he said. “I was a year old when my parents decided to visit relatives here. But then the border was shut down, and we couldn’t leave. My childhood was marked by the grief my parents felt because they could never go back to their loved ones. They had left them for a few days that stretched into forever.”
As I listened to him, buried memories resurfaced in my mind, scenes from my childhood in Tabriz. I thought I heard my mother’s melancholy song of Ayriliq, which evoked the sorrow when Azerbaijan was arbitrarily divided in two. My father gave me the historical explanation for the separation, which had torn families apart, stranding family members on both sides of the Aras River.
This old man had grown up, and grown old, in that forced exile.