When I woke up on the last Sunday of September and reached for my phone to snooze the alarm, a message on the screen caught my eye and I jumped up: severe fighting erupted at the border! I was in Lankaran - far from the frontline, at the southern border of the country, filming. I left my work unfinished and left for Baku. On the way, I already saw the moving military vehicles. People standing along the road were applauding soldiers as they passed.
Early the next day my photographer friends and I made our way to the Fuzuli frontline. It was 10 in the evening when we arrived at the city, and the driver refused to take us any further. As we made our way into Fuzuli by foot, police stopped us due to the heavy shooting in the area. Eventually, we made our way to Tartar.
When I first arrived in Tartar, the sounds of gunfire and shooting frightened me. As the days passed, however, it became part of my everyday life. My memories of the last month are nothing but artillery and gun fire.
Once we were about to leave a shelter where we had filmed residents of Shikharkh settlement in Tartar district. A few meters before we stepped out of the shelter, a shell hit the area. We were thrown back with the people in the shelter. Later, the people in the shelter taught us a safer way to move to a more protected area. We had just moved when a projectile hit about 50-100 meters away from us. We ran through the area so fast that for two days we were terrified.
One day when we were filming with our friends, we heard gunshots again. This time the projectile fell a few hundred meters away from us and knocked us off our feet. One of my friends filmed the incident and it was broadcast on a local TV channel. My mother saw the video and called me. She was nervous, and asked questions non-stop, “Aziz, did you get into a shootout? Are you okay? Has anything happened to you?” To calm her down, I had to lie, “No, mama. Don’t worry, I was not near any shooting at all.”
My mother sighed and soothed, “Thanks God… I saw someone running, he looked like you".
Days are hectic with work, but the nights are worse. The war changed the way I dreamed. Vivid dreams make it difficult to sleep soundly. When I finished shooting in Agdam and came back to Tartar, I felt more tired than usual and went to bed earlier. I had a nightmare and my friends forced me to wake up and calm down. I don’t remember the nightmare in detail, but I can still recall the feeling. My friends told me that I was calling someone to help me.
For me, war means the loss of loved ones, relatives. It doesn't matter if you are the winner or not. The consequences of the war are going to be more terrible than the war itself. Perhaps I’ll realize this experience after a certain time. For now I’ll leave this paragraph from Susan Sontag’s book of “Regarding the Pain of Others”:
“Look, the photographs say, this is what it’s like. This is what war does. And that, that is what it does, too. War tears, rends. War rips open, eviscerates. War scorches. War dismembers. War ruins. Not to be pained by these pictures, not to recoil from them, not to strive to abolish what causes this havoc, this carnage – these, for [Virginia] Woolf, would be the reactions of a moral monster. And, she is saying, we are not monsters, we members of the educated class. Our failure is one of imagination, of empathy: we have failed to hold this reality in mind.”
Disclaimer: Chai Khana is sympathetic to the views and feelings of the communities on both sides of the conflict. We understand that some of the material in this edition may offend readers. Our hope is that by giving journalists a platform to write honestly about their experiences during these difficult times, we will help foster dialogue.
This article was prepared with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) South Caucasus Regional Office. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of FES or Chai Khana.