Even so, the sense of risk meant these were brief visits. “I was the guest of the Armenian family in my own house, but I did not stay there overnight,” says Mamed.
Communist Party officials allegedly attempted to convince them not to leave Armenia.
Kerkenj’s new inhabitants also had wanted to name the village Shafaq, but their request was denied. “Kerkenj” was a Turkish name, they were told, and, therefore, could be left unchanged. (Kerkenj’s former ethnic Armenian inhabitants say the name means “harder than stone” in their dialect of Armenian).
Traveling to Kerkenj today, nothing except its past distinguishes this village from neighboring villages.
On a hillside that is to the left of the villages lie the graves of its former ethnic Armenian inhabitants.
Locals concede that children have scratched a few tombstone photographs and knocked over a few tombstones, but say it is hard to keep a constant eye on youngsters. They maintain that the cemetery has been preserved.
The cemetery’s care-keeper, a local mullah who guards both the village’s ethnic Armenian and ethnic Azerbaijani cemeteries, declined to comment to Chai Khana.
Allazov, the village’s main aqsaqal or male elder, described the damage with a frown.
Despite his nostalgia for Qizil Shafaq, however, he does not believe that a friendship between Armenia and Azerbaijan can be revived.
“Imagine, you have a small garden,” he says, speaking of Nagorno Karabakh and the surrounding seven territories now under Armenian control. “You grow the trees that bring the fruit, you grow the flowers, and then your neighbor comes and takes this garden from out of your hands..."
That connection with the earth matters deeply to him.
In Kerkenj, as in Qizil Shafaq, Allazov served as the sovkhoz chairman. Though his 70-year-old wife, Khanim, and he have tried living in Baku, home to his daughter and three sons, he says he cannot.
“I was born and spent all my life in the country. I missed it. I wanted to hear the sound of the rooster, how the cow is mooing, a barking dog, and how my cat meows,” he says.
So, every morning, he changes his clothes and heads to the fields to help with the farming in Kerkenj. The setting may be different, but his devotion to his work is not.