Surayya Mammadova – Homeward Bound Series
Seeking the physical fragments of a lifetime’s loss
Surayya Mammadova, on reaching Zanglian for the first time since she was displaced.
“I want to pick flowers from my grandfather’s garden,” says Surayya Mammadova – an Azerbaijani lady in her early 70s, her face furrowed with emotion. The dream might seem quaintly banal until you discover that that garden is in Zangilan, one of the seven provinces of Azerbaijan under occupation for almost 30 years by hostile Armenian forces. Only in the aftermath of the Second Karabakh War does Surayya finally have any hope of crossing that invisible geopolitical line that blocked any hope of a journey back home for so long.
Surayya was a 43-year-old widow when she was forced to flee with her five children from their village of Aghali. As documentary footage has shown in the story of Kifayet Suleymanova, getting out of Zangilan in 1993 was no easy matter. With Armenian forces closing in from three sides, the only route to safety was across the Araz River and into Iran. It was a treacherous journey and one that required delicate political arrangements and personal bravery from those escaping.
Now that’s a distant but still painful memory that Surayya hopes to put to rest by returning to see what’s left of Aghali. On arrival, she finds her sister’s stone-walled house relatively intact. Her own house, however, and that of her father Khudakarim, have been less fortunate. Little remains beyond the roofless walls pierced by frameless window holes. And that is the state in which the rest of the village’s three sections appear lie – shattered ruins ransacked for any useful scraps of re-usable building material.
Climbing the hillside to the village cemetery, overlooking a magnificent horizon of snow-covered mountains, she finds the broken gravestone of her late husband, Vagif Mammudov. Snapped off its base, it lies on the ground with the portrait miniature missing - chipped out of its oval. “What have these stones done to deserve such anger?” she wonders. It’s a question being asked by so many as others. Surayya was just one of some 700,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who are now finally getting the chance to return to their childhood homes, to survey the remnants of their memories and to think about how to rebuild in a world that will hopefully offer a new era of peace.