November 15, 2019

Irreplaceable: How War in Karabakh has Threatened the Existence of a Legendary Breed

There is an old Spanish Proverb that states: “A horse is worth more than riches.”  This idea has great meaning to me, as I think of the happiness I lost as a young woman, when I ran for my life from the home of my childhood, never to return again. I think of that experience; of having run like the wind, or like a galloping horse trying to run from oncoming predators, and how it has emotionally bound me to the great horses of Karabakh, a legendary breed of galant and statuesque horses that once carried great leaders of a distant time. These beautiful, strong and exotic horses once filled the now mostly empty lands of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. A region that was viciously taken from my country by Armenia, which took advantage of a fledgling country trying to find its way after the demise of the Soviet Union. It was this invasion that also took so much away from so many people, and much worse, took many lives out of the world.

Khojaly, my hometown, was only one of many cities seized and brutalized by the Armenian invaders, at the start of the Nagorno-Karabakh war in the early 1990s. And today Azerbaijani lands still remain under hostile occupation. Our beautiful homes remain stolen, violated, and destroyed. Today in my country, we have many people living as refugees; nearly 800,000 expelled by Armenia from the Karabakh region. Ever since those terrifying days of 1992, I have been unable to return, to visit the home of my birth or pay respect at the graves of my ancestors. But I count myself as lucky to have survived, to have a life and a family today.

Ever since I was a young girl growing up in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, I have been enthralled by horses, and most particularly, by the Karabakh horse; an Azerbaijani treasure, and a legend and symbol of our values and freedom. The Karabakh horse also represents a certain peacefulness; with a honey colored mane and calm temperament balanced by a renowned speed and agility. That is what always stood out to me about the horse, and to many horse enthusiasts around the globe, this horse seemed as if it could do practically anything, and was burdened by nothing. In those days, I could never have imagined that the Karabakh horse would become an endangered species.

When the invaders came, they spared nothing, living or material. Young children, the elderly, our homes and mosques, our graveyards and even our livestock and wildlife were ravaged and destroyed. Precious across all of Azerbaijan, the Karabakh horse is native to this particular region, and while people fled and sought refuge, great efforts were also made to protect our legendary horses. They, like so many people, were also moved, from town to town, away from the violence, and often under the veil of the moon or through rough, mountain terrains. Without pasture and amidst tremendous instability, many horses died, preventing a repopulation of the dramatically devastated breed.

Today, the Azerbaijani government has programs to encourage  the development of the Karabakh horse population, but this is especially difficult without access to their natural habitats; lands that remain occupied by the same forces that drove the horses out. Now there are only a few thousand Karabakh horses left in the world. In fact, in 2013, a Karabakh horse won a race on United States soil. But the future of the Karabakh horse remains bleak, without international outcry and the ability to return home, the breed may parish. 

The pain I endured and the scars I have will fade over time, and the beautiful life I share with my family in our new home in the capital city of Baku nourishes my soul. I have lost many people but the threat to the cherished Karabakh horses is something that deep in my soul triggers my sadness and outrage. Despite their strength and sleek beauty, and renowned agility, they are no match for the brutal inhumanity of war. I pray that as the world’s great powers work to resolve this conflict, they remember those that do not have a voice, that cannot raise a hand and be counted.