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Armenia-Azerbaijan: Conflict Voices

This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices.

In the 16 years since a ceasefire agreement put the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh on hold, successive attempts to broker a final peace have faltered.

In the past year and a half, however, social networking sites and blogs offer new opportunities to those engaged in conflict management, transformation and resolution initiatives although the adoption of these new tools in such work remains low throughout the region.

Moreover, despite the new possibilities, much online discourse relating to the conflict remains negative, propagandist, and sometimes more aimed towards perpetuating hostility between the two sides rather than seeking to end it. Nevertheless, in two guest posts made this week on the personal blog of Global Voices’ Caucasus editor, a young Azerbaijani and Armenian were given the opportunity to offer their own opinion of the conflict as well as recount their own personal experiences.

Such voices are rarely, if ever, heard in the local media, but could blogs and other online tools now offer them the ability to be heard? In the first post, Zamira Abbasova, a 25-year-old ethnic Azerbaijani refugee from Armenia, details her experience [EN/AM/AZ/RU/ES]. The student now studying conflict transformation in the United States first contacted Global Voices in October after reading its Caucasus coverage presented as part of her course.

I was born in Vardenis in 1984 and four years later my entire family as well as all my relatives had to leave Armenia, fleeing to Azerbaijan due to the mass displacements. I was only four when I left Armenia, but in retrospect I don’t know whether that’s fortunate or not as I am unable to remember everything I left behind. But I do remember our house, our garden, the playground, my friends, my apple tree, and the rooster which I loved so much.

After arriving in Azerbaijan I used to dream about our house and walking in the ruins of our village. At some point, however, everything just faded away. Even so, my family have never lost their belief that one day we will go back home. We believe that two neighbors who have lived together for centuries will come together again even if evil has never left them alone and always whispers hatred.

[…]

Meeting Armenians for the first time shook my feelings and emotions up and down. I made lots of friends, talked openly to them, and heard their perspective. Since then, every time I see an Armenian, be it in the street or any other social gathering, I feel some kind of invisible tie to them and to the land in which I was born, ignoring the fact that “they should be my enemies”. That is the power of “good” over “evil” which we have ignored for too long.

This war made me a Peacemaker although I am very new in this area. My struggle is more complicated, however, because on the one hand I have to help those who are in conflict, and on the other help myself.

The post touched many and was shared by some Armenians on their Facebook pages as well as on those of others with experience of the region. Already available in English, Azerbaijani, Russian and Spanish, one reader of many also voluntarily translated it into Armenian while an ethnic Armenian refugee from Azerbaijan, who Global Voices had already connected with Zamira Abbasova, said she felt inspired in a comment left on the post.

Thank you both guys for sharing this touching story. I guess I gotta write about our (Zamira’s and my case) in my blog as well. This post has just inspired me for that. Again thanks a lot.

The following day, a 22-year-old recent graduate in Armenia made her own guest post [EN/AZ/RU] on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and tense relations with Turkey. Also posting a video of a recent flashmob calling for peace in the South Caucasus region, Marine Ejuryan recounts how she had once been more negative towards Armenia's estranged neighbors, but is now involved in many cross-border initiatives to encourage dialogue between all sides.

For those of you that know me, but didn’t when I was still a freshman or sophomore, you’ll probably be surprised to hear that just four years ago I was one of those to be found among young Armenians shouting anti-Turkish and anti-Azerbaijani slogans during commemoration events. I was also the same person writing articles for my university newspaper with titles such as “The big hoax, Azerbaijan.”

In retrospect, when I look back at those perhaps ‘dark’ years, I know that it was simply the time when I was at the peak of a process searching for myself, determining my own ideology and finding my own path in life. I can also assume that there are many other young people and teenagers in our countries who have also been through this before finally ending up where they are today.

And now, having just graduated with a MA in International Relations, I have also turned into someone who has dozens of Turkish and Azerbaijani friends. Among them, I have to say, some are very close indeed. I’m also someone who listens to Turkish and Azerbaijani music, reads books by authors from both of those countries, and finally a person who supports every genuine initiative that will lead to peace and a resolution of the conflict which keeps others apart.

Also available in Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian, the post again proved to be incredibly popular, and not least in Azerbaijan itself. Scores of young Azerbaijanis shared the entry on Facebook while some even added her on the same social networking site. Not surprisingly, Facebook was even mentioned as a valuable tool for cross-border networking and communication in the post.

The Önər Blog reposted the Azerbaijani version of Eurjyan's entry.

Dialoq.

Bizim önümüzdə olan yeganə yoldur. Dialoq mənim vəziyyətimdə Azərbaycanlılar ilə ünsiyyət tapıb bir çox məsələyə dair fikrimi dəyişdirən yeganə yol idi. Danışmaq və irəliləmək. Əməkdaşlıq etmək və irəliləmək. Yalnız bu mövqe ilə bir çox həssas məsələlər həll oluna bilər. İllər əvvəl bir kitabda oxuduğum və həmişə yaddaşımda saxlayacağım aşağıdakı cümləni indi sizinlə paylaşmaq istəyirəm.

“Münaqişədə olan tərəflərin “hər şeyi” əldə edə bilməyəcəkləri fikri həqiqətdir. Lakin bu həqiqət siyasidir. Humanist mövqeyi nəzərindən isə, hər iki tərəf hər şey əldə edə bilər. Əgər bu “hər şey” qəti sülhdürsə”.

Dialogue.

This is the only path before us, just as it was in my case when talking with Azerbaijanis changed my view on many things. Talking and moving on. Cooperating and moving on. Only with this approach can many other sensitive issues find their ultimate solution as well. Instead, I always keep in mind this sentence, which I read in a book some years ago and want to share with you now.

“The opinion that neither side of the conflict can get “everything” is right. But this rightfulness is, so to speak, political. From a humanitarian aspect, both sides can get everything, as this “everything” is the ultimate peace.”

The point was not lost on Italian youth activist and filmmaker Letizia Gambini who is currently working on a documentary film on youth activism in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as well as blogging on her travels at The Story of a Brilliant Idea. She also tweeted her own reaction to the post.

Commenting on both posts, Micael Bogar, a seasoned veteran of the South Caucasus and formerly a program manager at the American University examing the use of new media in conflict (interviewed by Global Voices here), wondered if they didn't represent the start of something larger in the region.

Nevertheless, despite the huge popularity in relative terms of the posts from both sides of the conflict, that is not to say they are reflective of the majority view held in both societies. Moreover, with increasing concerns about media freedom in both countries, it is also possible that online activity could yet be targeted. Nonetheless, even if the negative currently outweighs the positive, the potential is there as one comment from a reader in Azerbaijan illustrated.

I think this post made my day, even my week. I believe we the youth of both countries can start this hard and long reconciliation process between our nations and finally start worrying about real problems rather than bullying each other.

In a previous post on the newly launched Caucasus Edition, Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines blogger Arzu Geybullayeva sets the context and comments on the reality which many believe now needs to be changed.

We built high walls around ourselves, feeding ourselves as well as our children on at times unsubstantiated norms and values, turning into robots. We shut down at a time when we should all be turning on and looking for a better, brighter future.

It is time to wake up, it is time to start breaking the stereotypes and leaving our comfort zones.

In two separate comments addressed to the authors of both posts, Ianyan blogger Liana Aghajanian agrees and adds that she thinks such an approach could be successful.

Zamira, I am very touched by your story and appreciate the perspective you provide. I hope there are more stories from your past as well as your future journey you can share – I believe stories like these are the foundations where conflicts can truly be transformed. Thank you

[…]

This was beautiful and even more important, I feel that this is the type of writing, the type of dialogue and experience that can actually contribute to change. It’s so close I can feel it. Thank you Marine for sharing your story.

Of course, such voices are arguably a minority in both societies and especially in terms of online activity, but new tools do at least offer them the possibility to make their views be known. Considering the current level of discussion and debate on the conflict, or even lack of it, such a development is therefore unprecedented. Indeed, this is particularly true on Facebook where the number of of shares and positive comments eclipse by far those made on blogs or other open sites.

This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices.

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