Stories of forbidden love show the pain of fractured relations between Armenians and Azerbaijanis at their most poignant. Peace can fix them.

·It was New Year’s Eve 2025; that night was colder than any night that winter. However, perhaps Said was the only one who felt so cold in ancient Tbilisi. Every sensation was intensified, as now only one night stood between him and the most passionate dream of his youth. Everything that he had planned and dreamed of throughout the past eight years would come true. At least, he imagined it would. After all, why not? There were no obstacles in his path anymore, there were no more borders for him come tomorrow. The war that continued from the last century had come to an end. And maybe his pain of waiting would, too.

With the beginning of the New Year, they finally opened the borders between Armenia and Azerbaijan, part of the peace agreement, as was a new road between Baku and Yerevan. Azerbaijanis could for the first time freely travel to Armenia, and vice versa. Said could not wait any longer, starting his car and beginning the journey. The road was busy; many people were curious to see the open border, maybe catch a glimpse of the other side that had been closed for three decades, meet old friends or family. Or maybe – like him – find a love they had lost to the conflict.

Said was nervous. He stopped several times, walked in the cold and lit one cigarette after another. The smoke brought back old memories. He had first seen Arevik many years ago, in springtime at Frankfurt Airport in Germany. She was wearing a tiny flower-patterned dress. Said smiled involuntarily when he pictured that moment. The serious look on his face disappeared for the first time since he got into the car, replaced by a smile so deep, so vivid that no painter could depict it with any brush.

Arevik stood there in her dress in a passport control line next to his line; she wasn’t paying any attention to him. Said already knew that moment was going to change his life completely. All of a sudden, Arevik moved briskly and came to the line where Said stood. She caught his eyes for the first time and looked at him. She nervously asked, could Said give up his turn for her. Said couldn’t react in that moment. He didn’t understand what was happening. The only thing he knew was that nothing would ever be the same. He heard the girl ask in a voice that was louder and sharper this time, and he stepped back. But he was still speechless.

Arevik just thanked him with a nod and got into his place in the line. Only then, when Said wanted to move his eyes away from Arevik’s face and look aside, did he see the word on the passport that Arevik held in her hands. Armenia. A word that had the power to transfix him, shaken. It was as if the war had started again and the place where he stood wasn’t Frankfurt Airport, but the barricades on the front where the most horrific battles had taken place.

The noise of the dropping bag of the girl with the Armenian passport approaching the passport control booth pulled him out of his thoughts. Following Arevik, Said passed the passport control booth. He took his suitcases and walked up to the first taxi in line. At that very moment, the girl holding the Armenian passport in her hands got into the taxi from the other door. He was going to give up his turn this time as well, but she asked, “Where are you going?” Said mechanically recited his address. The girl said that she was going to the same district and offered to go together, if he had no objection. The distance from the airport to their destination was quite long.

Said was staring at the road with a still look in his eyes. Suddenly Arevik broke the silence. She started asking questions, one after another. Only half an hour ago, Said had desired this moment so lustfully, but now a powerful feeling of danger tried to push him aside from the girl sitting next to him.

Still, he answered the questions coming one after another. Gradually, he began to ask questions too. After half an hour, when they got out of the cab, Arevik was no longer the girl at the airport holding the Armenian passport; she was again the girl in the tiny flower-patterned dress, as he had seen her initially. During all this time they had talked about everything, except their names and where they were from. Maybe Said had offered different topics to avoid facing this danger. Because he knew where Arevik was from. With the shaky voice she had used at the airport, Arevik asked for his number when they were saying their goodbyes. Said hesitated for a moment, but gave it to her.

They met again two days later. Said decided to tell Arevik who he was. Her first reaction was the same as that of Said at the airport. But then she too was overwhelmed by a much stronger feeling than the notion of nationality, the enemy, war, Karabakh. Thus their beautiful love, which they kept secret from friends and family at home, had begun. Away from the judgements of home, their love was care-free. Each day was full of fun and tender moments, until the day six months later when Arevik returned to Yerevan to finish her studies. The day she left, she promised Said that she would return soon.

It was weeks before he received any news from her. She wrote that her mother was very sick and she wanted to take care of her. That she couldn’t leave her family alone. That they would have to face the fact that as long as Armenia and Azerbaijan were at war, there was no chance their love could survive.

Said was devastated and left Frankfurt for Baku. He felt intense loneliness, since he could not talk to anyone about his feelings for fear of being called a traitor. So he read books of Armenian-Azerbaijani love to find some solace and understanding, like Gugark by Seymur Bayjan and Artush and Zaur by Ali Akber, but the love of Anush and Seymur in Gugark and the tragedy of Artush and Zaur made life without his love even more unbearable. A few times he thought about committing suicide by jumping off the Maiden Tower in Baku’s Old City, as Artush and Zaur had. But then he chose to bow to the realities of the war and its consequences and accept his fate. He would forget everything and look forward to a future without Arevik.

That was years ago, maybe more than ten; even Said himself didn’t remember how many years it was exactly. Sometimes it seemed liked centuries had passed since that life-changing meeting in a very ordinary passport control line in Frankfurt.

Now, he was standing in a passport control line again, this time at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. He felt so close to her, but also fearful, that he would discover she had moved on and was married. The Armenian at the passport counter looked grimly at his passport, then at him, and asked: “What brings you to Armenia?”

“Love,” Said replied.

The face of the man lit up.“Well then, I hope you’ll find her. Welcome, neighbour!”·

Samira, 30, dedicates her life to social work. She is lecturing on the topic at Khazar University in Baku, is a social worker in a private kindergarten and conducts civil society projects for special education students.

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