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“We were caught in a trap, he got shot, but he’s alive…” – “The Lost ones”, Vusala Mammadova writes

We commemorate Rzayev Ahmad in Pressklub.az’s “Missing” project.

Sumgait, 1992.

When Ahmad came through the door in a soldier’s uniform, Aghkhanim lost her nerve:

– What’s with those clothes? Where are you going?

– I’m going to the front lines! I volunteered in secret.

– Without our permission…- Aghkhanim got angry.

– What was I supposed to do? If they know at home, they would never let me do it.

– I will let my father know now…

-I’m begging you, don’t tell them before I leave. I’ve made my decision, I’m going. I have a few minutes to spare and came to say goodbye to you.

Ahmed took out the star from his hat and put it in the palm of 5-year-old Rovshan:

– Keep this as a memento from your uncle! If something happens to me, remember me with this star…

– Don’t say such things! – Aghkhanim said with teary eyes.

– Don’t you cry for me! Look, I got you a present too. Keep this pin as a memento.

– Ahmad please, don’t leave without seeing my dads…

– We will have plenty of time to see each other later. Please, explain everything to them…

***

Sumgait, 2022.

83-year-old mother Umhani, describes Ahmad:

– He was my youngest… He was a very kind child to his mother, father, brother and sisters… It had been three years since he returned from military service… He worked in a factory, he was well respected… We wanted him to start a family, but he did not agree. “We are in war, it’s not the time to get married” he said… I didn’t push him hard enough, but I wish I did… In 1992, he went to Kalbajar as a volunteer… After the occupation of Kalbajar, he returned and went to Gubadli… He was an artilleryman and a tank driver… After Gubadli was occupied, he came back… This time he went to Fuzuli… I remember the exact date he left for Fuzuli – December 29, 1993… He never came back… He… I don’t know how to say this…? Even after 28 years, I still can’t bring myself to say it… How could a son like that be lost?

Voice trembling, eyes full, she could not speak… Her daughter Aghkhanim and her son Araz had to speak instead:

Aghkhanim Rzayeva:

– Ahmed was born on September 18, 1967 in Sumgait. We grew up like twins because we were only one year of age apart. He was talking to me all the time. His attendance was good, but he had no interest in studying. I used to do his homework in the evenings so that he wouldn’t get slapped by the teacher in the morning… (Laughs) His grades were 3-4 (avarage)… They wrote his name on the blackboard the school he studied in… When he went to play football, he would drag me along to make me the goalkeeper. When he left, said goodbye to only me…

Araz Rzayev:

– He left without telling us goodbye… I wouldn’t let him go, because we needed his support. Dad sick, mom old, he needed to build a new family. I came home from work in the evening and heard the news that Ahmed has gone again…But he promised that he would not go…

Respect for the elder has always been important in our family. I was Ahmed’s older brother, there was a curtain between us. We had the same relationship with my father… That’s why he didn’t argue with me much… But he still left…

He served in military unit No. 706. When he was in Gubadli, he was wounded in the plain of Yazi. The bullet had scraped the left side of his neck… I went to visit him when he was hospitalized in Khanaliq. I asked if he needed anything. He said, “No. I will fight to the end, I have no intention of returning home. My brothers-in-arms and friends have died by my side, I must avenge them.”

– My son always thought of others, never himself. At times, he would give his paycheck to someone else saying “A pair of pants is enough for me. He has a baby child; he needs it more than I do…”. My Ahmad had such a big heart.

– He was the same on the front lines. In Fuzuli, their headquarters were in Karimbeyli and their sleeping quarters were in Shukurbeyli. I went as far as to the battlefields… Upper Hasanli, Water reservoir, Uzumlu around Shukurbeyli… he was shot in the battle there… Frankly, it seems to me that he has no chance of surviving…

– Why? – asks his mother.

– I have traveled all over Azerbaijan. Ganja, Imishli, Baku… My brother’s picture in hand, I visited all cemeteries, nameless graves, and mortuaries. I went to hospitals. I showed the picture to the wounded soldiers and asked them to look carefully at the picture. I asked the civilians in the ward… “You might not know his name, but you would remember his face.” I said… No one saw him… That’s why I’m sure he was left behind in the war zone…

– At that time, his fellow soldiers said he was wounded in the shoulder, but he was alive… – adds the mother…

– I went straight to the trench and asked his friends. They said, Armenians attacked us in the vineyards near Shukurbeyli village. We were below and they were way above, they ambushed us. We suffered many losses and some were wounded, but none of us were taken prisoner. They said that Ahmed was alive, the bullet hit him in the shoulder. Didn’t hit his leg? No. So he could walk! If he could not leave injured, it means he was shot and left behind. I asked them to tell it straight, “He was shot and you couldn’t carry him out… Say it!” Tell me the truth!”

You know, I was in the army too. We had an agreement among our fellow soldiers – if something happened to either of us, rest would say he was either wounded or captured, but never dead so that their parents would never lose hope…

Gözdən qaçırmayın:  MM-də müzakirə: “Xalqın çoxu nə partiyamızın adını bilir, nə sədrini tanıyır”

– I wait every day, hoping he is still alive… – mother whispers.

– I had a friend from Lachin who lived here in Sumgait – Zeynalov Salman. He was two years older than Ahmed, married, had a son and a daughter. He also volunteered in August 1992. On February 10, 1994, he was martyred together with the national hero Gorkhmaz Eyvazov in the battle of Jojug-Marjanli in Jabrayil. Korkhmaz also left behind two children. And Afghan Gorchuyev… He had two children as well… In total, there were five martyrs. Two of them were buried in Martyrs’ Alley in Baku, and three in Sumgait – Afgan, Gorkhmaz and Salman… When I returned home from their funerals, my mother said…

– I said, Araz, Alfilam has written a letter home… Go quickly, they say there is news from Ahmed…

– I knew Alfilam. He was also fighting in the war. Ahmed would never write letters, I had to personally visit him. However, Alfilam would tell when he wrote a letter to his family. So, I went…  The letter said “Tell Araz that Ahmed is injured. They say he is in Fuzuli.” I immediately left…

First, I went to Beylagan hospital where they brought the wounded. The seriously injured were sent to Baku by helicopter. I did all I could… I looked for my brother among the wounded and the martyrs… He was nowhere to be found…

– How is that possible? Such a handsome man and they couldn’t find him anywhere? – mother shrugs her shoulders.

– There is a place called “prophet” in Beylagan, where many nameless martyrs were photographed, numbered and buried. For example, picture number 5 is in grave number 5… There were descriptions written on the back of the picture… For example, “has a mole on his back” … There were so many pictures piled up…

I looked at those pictures for maybe eight hours, thinking maybe he lost a lot of blood and his face was unrecognizable… I couldn’t find him… The signs didn’t match. I’m grateful to those who buried them and made all those records so that people could at least find the remains of their children. There was one I remember, they only found a piece of him, put his head on it and took a picture…

Anyway… It turned out that the incident happened on January 13, a month before the news reached us. I left no stone unturned. I approached the ambulances and asked where they took the injured man that looked like the boy in the picture that day. I even forgot how to sleep… The loss was my own, I had to keep looking…

– We are still looking… Thinking, maybe the day would come…

– You see, my mother is still waiting… I searched for months… We also thought about the possibility of him being captured, but it was never confirmed… Many times have I visited the Red Cross, the State Commission on Prisoners, the Missing and Hostaged Citizens. Do you know how many people were in front of the Red Cross? Everyone was looking for their missing loved ones… Some were found, some were returned from captivity…

– And some would return empty-handed like us… Every time my son went there, I stood waiting by the door…

– Ahmed’s name was finally removed from the list of missing persons…

– Now his name is on the missing persons board in Sumgait Martyrs’ Alley. Do you know how many names are on that board? It has the names of all those who went missing from Sumgait… Believe me, it is harder for a mother to see her child’s name on a missing persons board than it is for her to see it on a headstone…

– Mother, I am sure that he was left behind on the battlefield… I think so… Frankly, if I were in Ahmed’s shoes, I too would tell my brothers in arms the same thing so that those at home would not lose hope…

– After 7 months, they gave my child martyr status…

– I didn’t want that. Why should we bury a man when he is still alive? However, they gave my mother the status of a martyr’s mother.

– For months I never took that money… I’m still waiting… It just won’t leave my mind…

– My mother waits for news every day…

– The state provided an apartment. That’s great, I thought, we will marry him off as soon as he returns…

– Every year on his birthday, I visit the Alley of Martyrs and touch his name on the list of the missing… –

-Back then, my husband went to the military unit many times saying “I gave you my son alive, why is there no news of him?”

– My father died of heart failure in 1999. His will was about my brother. He told me “Araz, look for him, maybe he is alive… Don’t lose hope, look for your brother, he might still be alive…”

– Now, when mass cemeteries are discovered in liberated territories, everyone calls us to tell about it. I follow all the news… When Fuzuli was released, I was happy thinking maybe the child would finally be found. I say child but he is 55 years old now. God knows, maybe his hair has gone white by now.

– To this day, we are still thinking of him. My 22-year-old cousin was also martyred in Fuzuli during the 44-day war. We buried him in Sumgait Martyrs’ Alley…

Note: Materials from the State Commission on Prisoners and the Missing were used as a source in this article.

Vusala Mammadova

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