Tragedy in Ganja – Personal Suffering in the Wake of War
Two years after the Ganja missile attacks, the Caspian Post met up with Teymur Sarkarov, who retold the tale of the bombings and his awful loss. Image: Orkhan Azim
Azerbaijan’s second city, Ganja, sits on a plain at the base of the Lesser Caucasus foothills, a four-hour train ride inland from Baku. It’s a fascinating place with an ancient history, a mosque, bathhouse and caravanserai dating from the 17th century, a leafy central park and two impressively rebuilt theatre-concert halls. Older gents fill tea houses on the attractively pedestrianized Cavadkhan shopping street, which also has its share of trendy coffee shops. Nearby is a glitzy international-style mall full of fashionably dressed young shoppers.
However, for all its signs of growing modernity, a visitor can’t help but be struck by the large number of very visible memorials to those who died in the 2020 Second Karabakh War. That 44-day conflict allowed Azerbaijan to regain the vast majority of its territory previously occupied by Armenia, lands which lie just across the mountains that start to rise just south of the city limits.
In contrast to distant Baku, the location made Ganja far more vulnerable to attack during the war. Indeed, the city was hit by Armenian bombardments on four separate occasions in October 2020, with rockets falling indiscriminately on several residential districts. The first attacks on October 4/5 and October 8 caused a single death and around 30 injuries, but the October 10/11 blitz was far more deadly, affecting 95 homes and leaving ten civilians dead. The worst strike came before dawn on October 17, hitting three different areas of Ganja and resulting in 15 deaths and scores of injuries.
Search and rescue teams carry parts of a body from a blast site hit by a rocket during the fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan October 17, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
These bouts of shelling were seen as a sign of increasing desperation on the part of Armenia at the time. Some considered that Armenians possibly hoped to goad Baku into a counter-strike: the calculus being that if Azerbaijan hit back against an Armenian city, then Russia (and the CSTO) might be drawn into the conflict. Baku did not make any such response, and by November 10, 2020, Azerbaijan had won a convincing victory.
However, the human cost of the Ganja bombings has not been forgotten. International news coverage at the time of the October 17 strikes focussed on the orphaning of Khadija Shahnazarli, a three-year-old girl who survived but whose parents and baby sister had all died. But another family that was ripped apart was that of Teymur Sarkarov, who lost five family members.
During our interview with Teymur Sarkarov at the bombing site, October 2022. Image: Orkhan Azim
That fateful night Teymur heard the explosions and saw smoke rising in the night sky. Realizing that this came from the Sportshkola (Kepez) area of the city, he rushed across town to find that his father’s house had been destroyed. Teymur helped rescue workers’ desperate efforts to find survivors in the wreckage, but his brother Bakhtiyar, niece Nigar, sister Sevil and Sevil’s 10-month-old daughter Narin had all been killed. Teymur’s brother Rovshan was pulled out with minor injuries, and his father Suliddin appeared to have survived. However, in the hospital, when told of the deaths of so many of his family members, Suliddin succumbed to a heart attack and died.
Two years on, the Caspian Post met up with Teymur, who retold the tale of the bombings and his awful loss. Just one of the so many cases of personal tragedy from a conflict that, one hopes, is finally edging towards a more permanent end.