Until his death three months ago at the age of 74, Rustamova nursed her diabetic husband through two leg amputations, heart surgery and cirrhosis of the liver.
After his death, Rustamova could have returned to Armenia, but she sees as her true home the two-storey house the couple shared in Opreti, a village not far from Sadakhlo. Rustamov’s photos hang everywhere there.
“I can go back to Armenia, but I don't want to go back,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of memories with Vagif here. I don't want to leave them. I want to die here.”
Childless, she now lives by herself. Each day, she tends to her vegetable crops, does housework and then heads to the store in her basement where she sells fruits, vegetables, cigarettes and chacha, the potent Georgian alcoholic brew.
She has incurred debts from her husband’s illnesses, but bears no resentment.
“Although it was so hard for me, he was worth it,” Rustamova says.
She pities those mixed Azerbaijani-Armenian families who have not been able to stay together.
“I know Armenian brides living in Azerbaijan who are still there,” she says. “They have given uptheir relatives and stayed in Azerbaijan. They cannot see their parents, brother, sisters and other relatives. They have a very hard life.”
Rustamova, who watches both Armenian and Azerbaijani TV, believes that “false stories” spread by both countries only worsen the divide between them.
“We have to look to the future and peace should be restored, so that no one will die and families will not be split up.”
Thoughts of her own happy marriage still haunt her. She has not cooked since her husband’s death and thinks of him each night before she falls asleep.
“I don't want to go to our bedroom where we were sleeping together. I have locked its door . . . ”
With a few tears falling, she closes her eyes as if to secure her memories.