By studying the history of the cities we lost during the struggles that continued till the end of World War I, we bear witness to the pain and at the same time walk away with crucial lessons from the losses incurred. Therefore, these cities in distant lands that have been invaded, destroyed, purged of humans, and whose ties with the past have been severed to a great extent with the destruction of centuries-old artifacts, hold significance in terms of bestowing our experience to the next generations as well. If we were to make a list of the cities that were destroyed within the last three decades alone, it is clear that we will reach a terrifying number. Photographs from cities such as Sarajevo, Baghdad, Damascus, and Aleppo present dimensions of the destruction in all its horror. We ascertain from the current situation that the same applies to Nagorno-Karabakh and the cities surrounding it. Agdam was completely destroyed and purged of humanity in the last three decades. I do not remember any city being destroyed to such an extent in the last few years.
It is obvious that we have not been able to fully reveal the dimensions of the destruction our cities experienced. Recalling how Alaşehir was once destroyed and burned to the ground, the virtually systematic situation we are facing becomes clear. The story of Alaşehir burning was passed on from one person to the other even during my childhood. Setting our cities ablaze following invasion and occupation is interesting. The most well-known one among them is the burning of İzmir. Years later we would be blamed for the burned cities with the notion of alternative history or parallel history. Had the history that we had forgotten not made itself felt in our bones by almost leaping out from where it was hiding as of the early 1990s, the majority would have been convinced into believing the unofficial version of history. The extremely powerful propaganda pressure of the ‘90s deserves to be studied.
Much like the stories passed down from one person to another despite intensive propaganda, our songs have also saved our cities histories from being forgotten. The ballads telling the story of the cities we left behind in the Balkans are heart-wrenching. The well-known Selanik Türküsü (The Thessaloniki Ballad), which tells of a personal love story, became synonymous in time with the city’s destiny. It is as if the complaint in the lines translated into English as, “Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, may you be in ruins, may your lands be taken over by floods, so you too can be left without a lover just like me,” became a reality, and Thessaloniki was stranded from its lovers. Whenever I hear this ballad, I always feel that this whole city was lost because of this lover. If it were not for our ballads, we probably would have forgotten the stories of the cities we inherited from our forefathers as well.
The spectacle which the Armenians left behind after departing from the lands they had occupied is truly chilling. In the early days of the Second Karabakh War, photographs comparing Armenians and Caucasus Turkey through orientalist concepts were shared. These photographs were reminiscent of the rough discrepancies such as the classic progression-regression, modern-archaic, developed-primitive. It would not help to show them the remnants of the occupation. It is clear that they will deny or trivialize what they see. However, the specter of Agdam is meaningful enough to tell the truth to those who are willing to see it. The houses set on fire by Armenians also deserve a mention. Three decades ago, the Caucasus Turks had locked their homes before leaving. The cities that have been destroyed in the last three decades in the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Afghanistan need to be seen with a fresh pair of eyes.
Caucasus Turks managed to return Tuesday to Lachin, a city they were forced to leave years ago. Of course, the city will be opened to civilian settlement in time, because they planted mines throughout the entire city that they abandoned. Therefore, it is going to take a while longer to ensure Lachin’s security. However, this time nobody is going to say (like in the ballad), “You were a later bloomer, but withered soon; you should not have bloomed in the first place.” Those who had to leave their home city three decades ago sang so sincerely the verse, “Oh Lachin, dear Lachin, I will sacrifice all for you Lachin” that we were also affected by the grief being expressed. Nobody could stop them from returning to their beloved Lachin. As the recovery of lost lands is an important example in terms of population as well, it can be said that this ballad will express a different emotion.
Now, with the liberation of Lachin, an era has closed in Nagorno-Karabakh. Some of the most important conditions of the cease-fire deal are yet to be fulfilled. It is obvious that these will take time, and that the construction stage of the road that will be built in the south of Zengazur must be followed carefully. As our cities are being revived, the entire process needs to be closely monitored.