Home / Armenia / ‘I Always Want to Leave. Perhaps It’s the Tatar Blood in my Veins. But I Know That I Will Always Want to Come Back’: Interview

‘I Always Want to Leave. Perhaps It’s the Tatar Blood in my Veins. But I Know That I Will Always Want to Come Back’: Interview

Over the past few months, two teams of journalists, writers and bloggers in both Armenia and Azerbaijan interviewed a handful of women of different ages and backgrounds, both in the capitals of Yerevan and Baku and in the regions as part of the Armenian and Azerbaijani Women’s Narratives Project. We asked them about their lives, their hopes and wishes for themselves, their families and their countries. Epress.am will feature the interviews — one a week, published every Monday. This is the sixth interview in this series.

To read the interview below in full, visit the blog by clicking here. No photographs were taken of the interviewees to create a more comfortable interview environment and to respect their privacy.

The interview with Yelena Hagverdiyeva took place on Feb. 8, 2011, in Azerbaijan. Yelena is a successful painter whose works (as well as her late husband Ujal Hagverdiyev’s) are displayed in the Azerbaijan’s Museum of Modern Art and have made their way to many private collections around the world. Here is her story:

My name is Yelena Rafailovna Hagverdiyeva. My maiden name was Isakayeva and my husband said that I could keep it when we were getting married, but I am stubborn as all Tatars and I’ve changed it.

I have one son. When Ujal and I had just gotten married, we weren’t sure if we wanted to become parents right away. But then one year passed and another year passed and we still did not have a child, so I started visiting doctors and all that but it seemed to be hopeless.

But then one day we traveled to Sheki and we saw a small church in the village of Kish. We decided to walk there, it looked like it was a short distance away but we walked for a long time and got there by the afternoon. Ujal had a long beard and long hair and I was wearing a traditional “kelagai” and was young and beautiful (laughing). Lots of kids were swarming around us and we asked them to show us where the church was, so they took us there by some tiny roads.

It was an amazingly beautiful Albanian church. And there was a woman there who said to us that it was a magic church which is why it had survived through the ages. Everyone who had some problems or maladies came there to make a wish. She told us to take a coin and place it on the wall. If the coin sticks, the wish will come true. So we got a coin (back then it was a Soviet kopek) and gave to her and on the third try the coin stack. She turned to my husband and said “You will have a son!” and after one year we had our son. After that, we visited the church every year.

How did your family deal with the collapse of the Soviet Union?

This is a kind o subject that can be endless, I guess. This was a huge part of our lives, which changed, and often damaged, an entire generation. But we have survived somehow… Some – just barely, others – quite successfully. This is normal, this is life. That system had to change sometime. What we have today will also change someday.

At the time of perestroika and all those changes, I had a young child and I was just like an eagle-mother hovering around my baby. I had to be strong and self-confident, even though I consider myself to be shy and quiet. I did not even realize what kind of political changes were happening, I just wanted to keep my baby warm and fed. Now it’s strange to remember those times but there were days when I had to visit friends to feed my kid because we didn’t have any food at home.

If I had not met my husband, I cannot imagine where I would be now. If I did not become a painter… I guess I could have become a good doctor. Why not? My mother was a very good pediatrician, many still remember her in our city. But I was just very lucky – God has given me this path I have followed. I did not expect to become an artist – and frankly I don’t think of myself as a great artist, don’t have any grandeur about this. But it is good to be one, to feel one, to live like one. I do what I can, I do it from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know how this happened. Perhaps, it was my husband who guided me.

Do you feel like an equal member of the predominantly-male artistic community?

I don’t know. I’ve never thought of that. I am my own self. Or, perhaps, no one can be their own self. But the thought has not occurred to me. It has never bothered me. I’ve never made it my problem.

I tried to talk my son out of becoming an artist. I told him it was hard work with little security. “Besides, your father was a great artist and everyone will always compare you to him. You have his last name. Can you deal with that? If so, go ahead.” When his father died, he was too young to think about what he wanted to be. But one of our friends helped to ignite him.

Now it’s been six years since my husband’s gone and I realize that he left this world young and beautiful, he was flying, he was on the top. We are aging, and supposedly, becoming wiser but he will always remain young and flying.

When he was no longer with us, it was absolutely terrible. I’d make one step and be unsure if I could make another one. I felt like I was falling off a cliff. I could not walk across the street. But he left all doors open for our son. Everywhere he comes, people ask if he is his father’s son.

And he left a door open for me too. He was painting the church murals and I had to finish that job. Forty days after his death I was already in the church, working. I was there for 1.5 years. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have survived. And in there, he was close by.

How have your housekeeping responsibilities affected your career? Can a woman be the genius in the family?

It’s hard to tell. If you have a strong desire which gushes out of you, it will find its way out, one way or another. Perhaps, at some point I was happy to comply, perhaps I liked it. I found this to be a part of the creative process, within the family – I created birthday celebrations, parties, dinners. It was art in a way. I did not think of myself as deprived of something, it really did make me very happy. I was doing this for my child and was doing it with pleasure. Everything depends on the attitude.

In my parents’ home, responsibilities were divided evenly. My dad could vacuum, he could cook sometimes. It was not a shameful act. Everyone had their own job – I had to take out the trash or to buy bread and my sister was a master-cook.

My husband had three other siblings, his mother worked and his dad was an artist, so I am sure they had some division of labor at home. But he was a little sickly and also his mom’s favorite and all children knew that. So, perhaps, he’d just never had to deal with taking out the trash. So, he went through life without having to take out trash once.

Would you want to live somewhere else?

I always want to leave somewhere. Perhaps, it’s the Tatar blood in my veins. But I know that I will always want to come back. I am feeling good here, I feel attached.

What do you think about peace with Armenians?

I would have very much liked for the war to end. But I know that there isn’t much that depends on me. Perhaps, if the politicians would come to an agreement, people would follow and make peace.