Azeri-Armenian Strife Has Been Set in Stone
By Chloe Arnold
Tuesday, Apr. 13, 2004.
BAKU, Azerbaijan — I had never seen people queuing to get into a
cemetery until last Saturday. Some brought their children, others
brought their grandparents. Still others, who were making a day of it,
carried video cameras and bags full of sandwiches.
There’s only one person who could attract such crowds in Azerbaijan,
even after his death. And sure enough, everyone was heading to the
center of the graveyard, where Heidar Aliyev, the last president, is
now buried. Aliyev died of heart failure last year at the age of 80,
after leading the country for more than 30 years.
His grave is a lavish affair. A flight of white marble steps leads you
to a wide terrace patrolled by an armed guard. Around it, there are
benches scattered around where the hordes can rest their feet.
At the center is a massive easel bearing a photograph of Aliyev,
looking as round and cheery as the Pillsbury Doughboy. Beneath it are
dozens of bouquets of fresh flowers that are replaced every few hours.
The other graves in the cemetery — Azerbaijan’s celebrated scholars,
politicians and statesmen — are almost as flash. Some have life-size
marble statues of the deceased, others have surreal sculptures made of
glass or metal perched on top of them. One features a jungle of
plastic flowers and fronds — there are even strings of rubber grapes
slung between the trees over the gravestone.
It’s all a little different on the other side of town in the rundown
cemetery for ordinary folk. There’s no guard at the gate — there
isn’t even a gate — and one section has been completely
destroyed. The flowerbeds have been trampled, there’s graffiti and
broken glass everywhere and someone has taken a sledgehammer to the
graves, leaving nothing but fragments of stone.
It’s here that many of Baku’s Armenians are buried, in what used to be
one of the capital’s Armenian quarters. That was when Azeris and
Armenians lived side by side, and Armenians were buried just a stone’s
throw from the graves of the hundreds of Azeri soldiers killed during
World War II.
But then that was before the war over Nagorny Karabakh, which
destroyed the friendship between the two neighboring countries. The
international community has urged the two sides to reach some sort of
agreement over the disputed territory. But when hatred runs so deep
that even the dead are drawn into the conflict, there’s little hope of
Ironically, Aliyev’s son Ilham, the new president, now lives just
behind the desecrated Armenian cemetery. He regularly visits his
father’s grave. But in the current climate, he’s unlikely to do
anything about the shattered gravestones on the other side of his
Chloe Arnold is a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress