Babaeva says she's neither Azerbaijani nor
Armenian. She's Karabakhtsi.
STEPANAKERT, NKR -- When Raya Babaeva appears
in the newsroom of Artsakh Public TV and Radio
her colleagues become enthusiastic and sincerely
greet her saying "Hi, Raya jan, where have
you been, we missed you."
Such warm relations between colleagues would
probably cause no curiosity until one learns some
things about this relationship.
Say hello to Raya Babaeva, an Azerbaijani woman
who lives in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh,
ground zero for hatred between Azeris and Karabakhis.
Despite the war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis
Raya found enough courage not to leave Karabakh
and nowadays enjoys the love and respect of Armenians
"When people ask me if I attribute myself
as Azerbaijani or Armenian I reply that I am a
Karabakhtsi," she says smiling.
For Raya, 57, the line between Armenian and Azeri
disappeared in 1966, when she married Karabakh
Armenian Ararat Grigoryan.
During Soviet times marriages between Armenians
and Azerbaijanis were not common and desirable
but not unique either.
Besides causing thousands of deaths on both sides,
the 1990-1994 war in Karabakh affected the families
of mixed marriages. Some families left for Russia
or other countries; some divorced, with Azeris
leaving for Azerbaijan and Armenians for Armenia.
Raya said that during the years of war she was
never thinking about leaving Karabakh to live
far from her Armenian husband and two children.
She was ready to stay in Karabakh until the conflict
ended and was even ready to stay until being deported.
"It was a hard time for me. Azerbaijanis
and Armenians were killing each other, and each
death hurt me," Babaeva says.
However she says she was never afraid of being
killed by those who knew she was Azeri. Neighbors
treated her as they did before and no one cursed
her for being Azerbaijani.
"Once my Armenian friend who came to visit
me told me 'I want to take a weapon and go to
fight Azeris'. I told her 'Kill me, I am one of
them'. She looked at me, then hugged me, cried
and said 'How can you say that?' I was crying
too. That was for the first time I realized the
cruelty of war," Babaeva recalls.
The Armenian husband and Azeri wife were ready
to share all difficulties together and never blame
each other for being either Armenian or Azerbaijani.
However the war did not spare the family. Raya's
husband Ararat was killed in 1992 when he happened
into a street that was under fire from the Azeris.
After Ararat's death Raya realized that it was
not only her husband that kept her in Karabakh.
"I lived here for more than 30 years and
didn't want another home. Armenians accept me
as their own and I have no reason to feel isolated.
And I thank a lot both authorities and people
who gave me the chance to live here as I lived
here before," she says.
Raya's job at Artsakh Public TV and Radio gives
her a chance not to forget her mother tongue.
She reads the news on "The Voice of Justice",
which broadcasts on 31st short wave's channel
in Azerbaijani language for Azerbaijan.
"We consider this program as a cultural
bridge between Karabakh and Azerbaijan. We tell
the news about Karabakh, the political analysis
and diplomatic talk about the possible settlement
of the conflict. If there are Azerbaijani captives
we interview them and their parents can hear from
them that they are alive," Raya says.
She believes that the conflict can be over soon,
but only if Azerbaijan recognizes the independence
"I hope one day Azerbaijanis can come to
Karabakh and Armenians can go to Baku," she
says. "The conflict can not be resolved completely
unless people have a chance to freely cross borders."
Her colleague Larisa Grigoryan describes Raya
as a devoted friend, kind and sincere.
"I am a patriot and to some extent a nationalist,"
Larisa says. "But I don't see the reason
why I should hate Raya. It is not her fault that
her people turned out to be so hostile. I see
no difference between her and my Armenian friends."
As for Raya she says she has two Gods: One she
had when she was born into her Azerbaijani family
and other when she was baptized in 1985 in Echmiadzin.
"When I bathe my grandchildren I pour water
on them and make by palm a cross over their heads
saying 'God bless you' as it is accepted in Karabakh,"
"When I hear news from Azerbaijan my heart
jumps and the feelings burst into me. I love my
Azerbaijani people and I will love them till the
end of my days. And I love Armenian people because
whatever good I had in my life was Armenian."
There are more Azeris who live in Karabakh; some
of them changed their names, others live in villages
and their life is not public. Raya is well known
in Stepanakert and if you ask passersby if they
know any Azeris in Stepanakert many would tell
"Meet Raya, she is a very good person."