Ulviyya Fataliyyeva, a talented 24-year-old chess player, heard Armenian missiles fall 1km from her house in Ganja, Azerbaijan. TNGO Contributor Daniela Movileanu interviews her to uncover the Human Story behind the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.*
*The interview was recorded on Oct. 8, 2020.
On what seems to be a normal Sunday morning, Ulviyya is lying on the sofa in the quiet of her Ganja house. But at 10:43 AM the unexpected happens: the house shudders like in an earthquake and a deafening sound abruptly ends the quiet. “What’s going on?” she asks in her mind, rushing into the corridor. There, she hears her mom saying in an emotional voice, “Ganja is under fire”. Her mom has just seen with her own eyes two missiles streak into the city. The news sends Ulviyya’s mind reeling, unable to understand or process the information.
Her city, Ganja, the second largest city of Azerbaijan, is 60km far from the conflict zone in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous territory controlled by ethnic Armenians but internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. She knows that her grandmother’s city, Tovuz, close to the Armenian border, has been under attack since 12 July despite being outside the conflict zone. But why is her city, Ganja, being dragged into the conflict, too? She did a quick Google search but found no information.
She tells herself to stay calm. She recalls all the times she was on the point of losing everything in a game of chess but managed to control her emotions and avoid the worst. This ability helped her to become twice European Youth Champion, member of her National Team, Woman Grandmaster – one of the highest titles in chess – and much more. But no more than thirty minutes after the first attack, a second blast forces her to face the fact that her chess skills are of little use now. Under shock, she barely hears her mom urging her to go to the basement immediately. She knows it is the right thing to do, but she feels paralysed, her thoughts swirling in her mind.
Since that morning on 4 October, Ulviyya’s city has been constantly shelled.
The first attacks hit the university, no more than 1km far from her home and near her father’s workplace. One person died, more than thirty were injured. The following day, new attacks at 10AM. Then at 2:43AM and again at 2AM. Azerbaijan claims that the missiles were launched from Armenian territory in order to provoke the country and trigger the pact of mutual assistance with Russia, but Armenia denies this charge.
For his part, Vagarshak Harutyunyan, chief advisor to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, confirmed his government’s intention to target civilian areas in Azerbaijan in an interview for a popular Russian channel. What is sure is that Ulviyya, like many others trapped in this conflict, has barely slept since that Sunday morning, knowing that a missile could sweep away her own home at any time. As she put it, these days in Ganja you “cannot do anything, you are just waiting. In one second, in a minute, or in an hour, everything can be destroyed”.
You cannot do anything, you are just waiting. In one second, in a minute, or in an hour, everything can be destroyed.
Despite the Russian-brokered humanitarian ceasefire of 10 October, Armenian weapons continue to wreak havoc in several Azerbaijani cities, including Ganja, Mingachevir, Tartar, and Barda. The attacks of Sunday, 11 October, on Ganja killed 10 civilians, injured 34, and destroyed over 100 civilian facilities, according to local statistics referred to us by Ulviyya. Based on official reports, at least 250 Armenians and Azerbaijanis have died since the conflict started escalating in late September, with both sides accusing each other of targeting civilians.
In this conversation with Ulviyya, TNGO writer Daniela Movileanu tries to understand the experience of young Azerbaijanis like her in this long-standing conflict. The violent clashes of the 1990s, which ended with a ceasefire in 1994, are still fresh in the memories of Ulviyya’s parents and their generation. Their most painful memory is the Khojaly massacre of 26 February 1992, when Armenian forces killed as many as 613 ethic Azerbaijani civilians in the town of Khojaly in what is known as the worst atrocity in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (see for instance the film documentary Endless Corridor).
But what about Ulviyya’s generation? What do Nagorno-Karabakh and Turkey mean to young Azerbaijanis today?
TNGO is extremely grateful to Ulviyya for sharing her experience and opinions with us in a long video call despite the lack of internet connection in Azerbaijan these days. The excitement in her voice as she describes her quiet life before the conflict – how she obtained her master’s degree in Anglo-American Studies from La Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, how she started playing the piano and spending more time with her family during the pandemic period – and then the constant fear caused by the attacks attests to her desire to let the world know what is happening in her city.
Watch the full conversation with Ulviyya to learn more about her powerful story.
Breakdown of the conversation:
- 0:00 – 09:00 – Personal questions to get to know Ulviyya
- 09:00 – 22:30 – Ulviyya’s experience of the attacks
- 22:30 – 43:30 – Ulviyya’s perceptions (about the conflict and Turkey) and her final message
This interview is part of TNGO’s Human Stories rubric.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The New Global Order. Any content provided by our authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company or individual.