By: Christine Feghali
Before I started my internship, I had another job working as a saleswoman and interior designer of sorts. While I was there, I had a very interesting coworker named Alex. He would always welcome me to the store with a big smile on his face and say good morning with his thick accent. We were talking about sports one day and discovered that we’re both big AC Milan and Italy fans. We would talk about his pregnant wife and about what they were going to name the baby. We both spoke Arabic so we’d have short conversations and, over time, our conversations became more frequent.
This man named Alex was nothing more than a work friend and I never really thought about our new friendship until the bomb was dropped. I found out that “Alex” was a pseudonym and that he was not Persian like I had thought he was. He was Azeri. I was torn. My Armenian side was telling me to pull away. Another part of me was trying to justify this friendship. I felt ashamed for having befriended an Azeri. I had conversations about the friendship with some of the people that were closest to me, trying to determine what to do with this new found information.
This whole situation made me think about the relationship between Armenians, Turks, and Azeris. Why is there this sudden tension and awkwardness when we find out that someone is Turkish or Azeri?
I know that “Alex” was not responsible for the deaths of my ancestors. I know that he is not responsible for holding back Armenian Genocide recognition. I know that Azerbaijan’s school system isn’t teaching Azeri students about the genocide. They are learning the Azeri’s half-baked version of history. I know all these things, yet I don’t feel comfortable having him as a friend anymore. I know it sounds terrible, and it is. But knowing what I know about my history, my people, and our struggle, I felt like I was betraying my people.
What happened in the years leading up the Genocide and the subsequent 97 years is too painful. It’s not only the denial of the Genocide. It’s knowing that a majority of our rightful homeland is in the wrong hands. It’s knowing that we keep believing politicians only to have them be swayed by the Turks. It’s knowing that there are hundreds of deaths each year on the Artsakh and Azerbaijan border because of the constant violations of the ceasefire agreement. It’s knowing that the next generation of Turkish and Azeri youth are being taught a horrendous lie, which only perpetuates the current problems. It’s all these things and more.
I ultimately ended up reducing the amount of time I would spend talking to him. A smiling face and a mutual love of AC Milan was no longer reason enough to maintain a friendship. He left when his wife gave birth and I haven’t heard from him since.
I realize now that I could have taken the opportunity to learn about their perspective. We could have had meaningful discussions about the current situation and about the Armenian Genocide. I didn’t even offer a opportunity for him to discuss his beliefs. If I could go back, I would change the way I handled things. I would have capitalized on having an Azeri as a friend rather than pulling away.
Today, I don’t know where he is or how he’s doing. I can’t go back in time and change the way I reacted to the news. As Lynyrd Skynyrd says, all I can do is write about it.