This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices.
As part of the BBC Superpower Season, the BBC's Azeri service approached Global Voices Online's Caucasus editor to participate in its own reflection on the power of the Internet. Locked into a bitter stalemate over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, BBC Azeri were specifically interested in how new and social media could bring the two warring sides together.
What follows is part two of the series, originally published yesterday in Azerbaijani, translated or using the original texts in English. It followed one already republished in English on Global Voices Online yesterday. The third and final part will appear tomorrow.
The BBC Superpower season is in March. In these programs we discussed the power of Internet and the way it affects the lives of people.
The Internet has brought big changes to the lives of people starting from personal relations to business contacts. New media has opened up a new way not only for journalists. It has also inspired an audience and civil society towards free thought and social activism.
The wide use of social media has changed cultural and political values throughout the world. People are willing to communicate, participate and share their thoughts.
This new online project prepared by the Azeri service of the BBC within this Internet season is called Facebook diary.
Every day the participants of this project will follow social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and share their observations with readers of this site.
The first part of our Facebook diary is called Social media and conflict resolution.
As an observation, the main purpose of using Facebook is about the opportunities offered to users of social media as well as using it as a think-tank platform.
What opportunity does social media offer to peace activists from Armenia and Azerbaijan? Can new media tools change the current situation? What are the negative effects of social media in the light of nationalists using new media for an attack on the “enemy”?
Answers to these questions will be given by diarists writing on “Social media and conflict resolution” – Arzu Qeybullayeva from Azerbaijan and Onnik Krikorian from Armenia.
While we talk of Facebook as an opportunity shared by all, there are unfortunately also times when it can become a war zone. I would like to share with you a discussion that took place on my wall, several weeks ago, regarding a link I posted on an incident that took place in Yerevan.
After posting this on my wall, I received a sad face smiley from Edgar, an Armenian friend of mine, who then sent me a link to the video from that incident.
However, it didn't take long before a young Azerbaijani boy posted this: “İ don't want both nations’ freedom.. good for us bad for them….main thing is our freedom…”
Araz jan, you seem to be a young guy with kind eyes and friendly smile. My advice to you: try to overcome the hatred in your heart, never treat things which have human dimension as purely political. Don't forget that democracy is an absolute category, which doesn't recognize any nationalities or borders. After all, the more democratic regimes we have in the region the less possible is the war here. The human history doesn't remember any case of war between two democratic countries.
First of all don't say me “jan”…İ'm not your friend…Second yeah I have friendly smile but it is only for my nation–TURKS…I will never smile to you country and nation…I hate Armenia and all armenians….and now I only want to kill all of armenians which killed my citizens in Karabagh and even killed women and children in one night (Khojali)…why killed?? for friiendship?))You are such nation which can't live and make war as a human…In history turks didn't kill women and children in war…only you nation and fascist soldiers did it….Don't advice me about democracy and friendship…After the freedom of Karabagh and İravan,killing of minumum 30000 armenian soldiers, and then if İ have time İ will think about it….democracy and firendship…
After that, the conversation didn't lead anywhere and I tried explaining to Araz that another war wont change anything and nor would such negative attitudeseither. Perhaps, he is too young to see it the way I do, but I hope his mindset does change and that there are more real as well as virtual friendships on Facebook to share positive messages rather than ones full of hatred.
Onnik Krikorian is the Caucasus regional editor of Global Voices Online as well as a freelance journalist and photojournalist based in Yerevan, Armenia.
A Year of Change: Despite fears, alternative voices emerge online
A year ago, I could never imagined that I'd now be sitting in Yerevan getting ready to co-present on the role of new and social media in conflict transformation with Arzu Geybullayeva next month in Tbilisi, Georgia. What started out as a few email exchanges before connecting on Facebook eventually transformed itself into offline friendship as well as a project to show that ethnic Armenians and Azeris can and do co-exist together outside of the conflict zone.
True, after our initial contact, many other Armenians and Azeris have also been connecting, but I don't think either of us could have expected it to have happened so quickly and, more importantly, so easily. Certainly, I could never have imagined that last year I'd be genuinely cooperating with Azerbaijani bloggers and journalists. However, we did, and photos, articles, podcasts and videos were mainly disseminated via blogs and social networking sites.
Of course, not everyone is convinced that such moves are to be applauded or promoted. Unfortunately, fears about open communication between Armenians and Azerbaijanis still persist.
Last month, for example, a short message from Azerbaijan went out on Twitter. “Media report: Police & NatSec detains Baku resident for chatting with Armenians in Internet forums,“ it read. However, there was no link to the story although that didn't stop some Armenians from re-tweeting it. Finally, when the original story was tracked down, it was anything but what it initially had seemed.
Instead, two Azerbaijanis had quarreled about Armenians on a forum and decided to meet up to ‘discuss matters’ in person. This being the Caucasus where emotions often run wild, you can guess what happened next. A fight in a public space followed and the police intervened. After checking the story with a journalist friend to Baku, neither man was apparently taken for questioning by National Security.
Of course, it's understandable why many Armenians and Azerbaijanis believed the somewhat misleading tweet, but what about positive stories of Armenians and Azerbaijanis coming together? Why does everyone seem to focus on the negative? Why have a myriad of voices been ignored or drowned out by less tolerant ones in the local media? Instead, and speaking as a journalist, the Internet now allows me access to such some very important sources.
A few months ago, for example, after reading some of my blog posts, Zamira, an ethnic Azeri refugee contacted me by email. A few weeks later, I asked her about her own personal history. Her words were both touching and thought-provoking to say the least.
My family left Armenia during the displacement in 1988. I was only 4 when I left, but I don’t know if it's fortunate or unfortunate not being able to remember everything I left behind.
Our house, the garden, playground, my friends, my apple tree and rooster, which I really loved. After coming here I used to dream about our house a lot and then at some point everything faded away.
For many years we couldn’t adjust which influenced my psychology as a whole. You can't imagine how horrible it feels to be a refugee. I miss my home and hope that before I die I will have a chance to see it again.
This war made me become a peacemaker. My struggle is more complicated, though, because on the one hand I have to help those who are in conflict and on the other help myself.
We're now Facebook friends and regularly communicate with each other both openly and privately. There are other examples existing online on both sides as well, but so far not heard in the mainstream media. Some recent examples of videos posted on YouTube illustrate this point incredibly well.
Last month, for example, a small group of Armenian and Azerbaijani youth visiting Tbilisi held a flash mob and walked peacefully to the Georgian Parliament. Their message, scrawled on large cards in Armenian, Azerbaijan, French, Georgian, German and French, was simple. It was a message of peace in the South Caucasus.
Or what about the YouTube video of a young man and woman dancing to a North Caucasian tune, location unknown, draped in the flags of their respective countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan?
Or my own video interview, shot on a simple mobile phone and uploaded to YouTube, with an ethnic Azeri living in Tbilisi next door to Armenian neighbors speaking of peaceful coexistence between ethnic groups?
Yet, with the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan apparently involved in negotiations to finally end a conflict which threatens to destabilize the region and frustrate its long term development, isn't it about time the media objectively covered such examples as well?
Until they do, perhaps, this is where new and social media can step in.
The original text in Azerbaijani is available on the BBC Azeri web site. Many thanks to Konul Khalilova for permission to post a version in English. The main collaboration between the BBC and Global Voices Online for the Superpower Season is here.
This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices.