For 48-year-old Durdana Aghayeva, the eight days of captivity she was subjected to by the occupying forces of Nagorno-Karabakh felt agonizingly long – more like 80 days, says an article headlined ‘Painful journey of an Azerbaijani war victim’ published by the New Strait Times.
Armenians captured Durdana when she was trying to flee in the aftermath of the Khojaly tragedy. The woman was beaten and tortured in the basement of a police station.
It was during the early morning of Feb 26, 1992, that the Khojaly-born woman was just 20 years old and working as a telephone operator. Like many young people, she dreamed of many things, including the pursuit of tertiary education – only for the war to shatter the dreams.
Aghayeva is the eldest in her family, and she has three brothers. Her father died in 1986 while her mother died in 2017.
Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Malaysia Prof Dr. Qaley Allahverdiyev said that the Khojaly tragedy refers to the killing of 613 ethnic Azerbaijani civilians in February 1992 in Khojaly, a small town in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The number included 106 women, 63 children, and 70 elderly.
Allahverdiyev also said that the Azerbaijan government is working towards gaining international acknowledgment to recognize the tragedy as genocide. He said more than one million Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced persons due to the Armenian occupation.
Besides that, on that bloody night, Allahverdiyev said 1,275 people were taken as hostages while 150 more are still missing.
Like any other war victims, the past still haunts Aghayeva. She was fleeing her home with some 70 to 80 people – young, old, children and women, and including her family members – into a forest area to find a safe place. But according to her, the painful tragedy struck when a shot wounded her right leg. Then the enemies captured her.
In an exclusive interview with Bernama in Baku recently, Aghayeva – through a translator – said that her 19-year-old brother was also injured and captured. They were separated from their mother, grandmother, and brothers, who managed to reach a safe zone.
“Everyone was trying to flee their homes in Khojaly. And when they began firing, everyone lost each other. We got separated. Many were wounded.
“I feel like it was a very dark, long and cold night… they forced us to walk 3 kilometers in pain to a police station…it was harsh winter and snow. We all pleaded, cried, even scared to ask for water, and afraid of torture. I got no clue what was waiting for me. The only thing that came to mind was that I am going to die. We reach the police station in the early morning,” she narrated between sobbing detailing the trauma and ordeal she went through.
Aghayeva, along with her brother, was released after eight days in exchange for prisoners of war and handed over to the Azerbaijani military before being reunited with her family after she insisted that she will only go if her brother, too, were released. She was depressed following the ordeal and frequently needed hospital visits.
In 1998, she married a man from Baku whom she met in the course of her job in the field of communication and gave birth to a girl in 2002. Her daughter, now 17 and in secondary school, also joined the interview.
Aghayeva said that she still works in the communication field to support her family and lives a housing area for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) provided by the Azerbaijani government.
“After the capture and the incident, it was like I lost all my dreams, like getting married and having a family until I met this person. When I started meeting him, slowly I told him all my stories. He said he fully accepted me as I am. He supported me, especially emotional support. Finally, I saw a little light at the end of the tunnel,” Aghayeva explained.
“He encouraged me to tell the story to the outside world…if by doing so, I can feel it can heal me. Finally, what I have gone through was published in a book entitled ‘Eight Days In Armenian Captivity – Memories of a girl from Khojaly.’ Telling the story has a healing effect,” said Aghayeva, who unfortunately lost her husband three years ago.
Having faced such ordeal, Aghayeva said she wishes for a world that is peaceful and free of wars and conflicts.
“Peace is the key to everything. I have seen the brutality of war. War is evil, so pray for peace everywhere. I don’t want any child and any woman to go through what I went through. I don’t wish for any woman to have to undergo what I went through. Islam is a religion of peace,” she said.
Aghayeva recalled the beautiful days and years before the conflict where there was peaceful co-existence between Azerbaijanis and Armenians.
“I hope that this occupation will end so that we, the IDPs can go back to our homes in Khojaly and other currently occupied areas…to touch once again the flowers…to experience the spring… to feel the beautifulness of our villages and our towns,” said Aghayeva, her eyes in tears longing for that day.
She has visited the United States, Turkey, Italy, Russia, and Iran to share her experiences and convey the message of peace. Her book was written in 2016 and published in four languages; Turkish, Russia, Azerbaijan, and English.
She said that she didn’t have any intention to write a book at first because she only wanted to tell the story for her daughter to read in the future.
“But people encouraged me to write, and as a survivor of war, I feel I have the responsibility to tell the world,” she pointed out.
While thanking Malaysia and its people for their support to their cause, Aghayeva hoped one day would visit Malaysia to share her message of peace.
“It was a war, and though I saw them (captors) as enemies, and despite tortures, I don’t wish any of them or their family members endure what I had to go through,” Aghayeva said.
The conflict between the two countries started in 1988 – three years before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – following Armenia’s territorial claims against Azerbaijan.
And in 1992, war broke out between the two former Soviet states, resulting in Armenia’s occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory, including Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts. All these areas are internationally recognized, including Malaysia, as part of Azerbaijan.
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