Armenia-Azerbaijan: More dialogue through film

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

With national television in Armenia and Azerbaijan controlled directly or indirectly by the authorities or government-linked individuals, there is little opportunity for independent reporting. This is especially true in the case of the simmering conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh.

The war, fought in the early 1990s, left 25,000 dead and forced a million to flee their homes. Few ethnic Armenians remain in Azerbaijan, and ethnic Azeris also left Armenia, while attempts to negotiate a lasting peace continue to falter. Skirmishes, however, still occur on the front line despite a 1994 ceasefire agreement.

Communication between the two sides is also discouraged and, for most citizens, impossible. Even so, new and social media is slowly starting to fill the information void and circumvent official or self-imposed restrictions in place on objective reporting free from negative stereotyping, propaganda and occasional misinformation.

The independent media organization Internews, for example, is just one example of peace building initiatives migrating online. Although traditional video reporting, the Internet is perhaps the only medium through which such films can be seen and distributed. Such stories are rarely, if ever, reported in the mainstream media.

Part of a project implemented by British NGO Conciliation Resources, and already mentioned on Global Voices, some of the reports are very original and unique indeed. In Download, for example, virtual conflict teaches a previously addicted online gamer in Azerbaijan a lesson on the futility of war.

Download (English Subtitles) from Internews Armenia on Vimeo.

Meanwhile, former residents from Shusha, a once mainly Azerbaijani-inhabited town in Nagorno Karabakh known to Armenians as Shushi, remember their lives before the war. Negotiations to end the conflict contain provisions for the return of IDPs to their former homes in a phased implementation of any settlement.

Shusha Under Canvas (English Subtitles) from Internews Armenia on Vimeo.

Although the conflict was accompanied by numerous cases of ethnic cleansing and the tit-for-tat expulsion of minority communities, there are reportedly as many as 20,000 people of Armenian origin still living in Baku, the Azerbaijani capital and a few hundred ethnic Azeris in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.

Most are women or the children of mixed marriages, but in both cases, they keep a low profile. However, My Niece From The Caucasus profiles an Azerbaijani woman who remained in ethnic Armenian-populated Karabakh. Internews Armenia follows her on a journey to to meet with her family now living in Ukraine.

My Niece From The Caucasus (English Subtitles) from Internews Armenia on Vimeo.

The same theme is examined in At the 8th Kilometer, a joint production between Internews in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The film looks at the lives of women from mixed marriages now separated from their biological families. The report also includes an interview with an ethnic Armenian woman still living in Azerbaijan.

At The 8th Kilometre (English Subtitles) from Internews Armenia on Vimeo.

A more positive story, however, is told in All Films About Love, a touching look at an Armenian man still married to his Azerbaijani wife. Despite being directly affected by the war, the two pensioners remain together and say their love is as strong as ever.

All Films About Love (English Subtitles) from Internews Armenia on Vimeo.

Very definitely, it is the jointly produced films where the project shines. In Spectrum, for example, artists in Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan ponder the conflict as well as the need for communication, understanding, and peace through their work.

And in Kamancha-nameh, two musicians talk of their love for the same instrument which is part of both country's musical tradition. Despite attempts by the media to focus on the differences between the two nations, the report shows how similar they actually can be.

Spectrum (English Subtitles) from Internews Armenia on Vimeo.

Kamancha-nameh (English Subtitles) from Internews Armenia on Vimeo.

But perhaps one of the strongest collaborations, My Enemy – My Friend, details the experience of Armenians and Azerbaijanis held captive or taken hostage by the other side. It also reports on the work of two men on both sides of the front line who work tirelessly to free or exchange them.

My Enemy – My Friend (English Subtitles) from Internews Armenia on Vimeo.

Breaking many stereotypes, one can't help but realize how narrow coverage in the mainstream media of both countries is with regards to the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh as well as the possibility for Armenians and Azerbaijanis to live in peace. Now, however, such reports can be found on the Internet.

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

Special thanks to Konstantin Geodakian, Technical Director at Internews Armenia, for enabling embedding of the videos on Global Voices.


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