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Armenia-Azerbaijan: Backseat musical musings… and ethnic conflict

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Arts & Culture, Citizen Media, Ethnicity & Race, Film, Media & Journalism, Music, War & Conflict

This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices [1].

With the broadcast media heavily controlled in both Armenia and Azerbaijan there are few avenues left for independent journalists to use to disseminate alternative information and reports. This is especially true when it comes to the still unresolved conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh [2].

However, as Internet penetration increases in the region, and as costs come down and connection speeds slowly improve, the one obvious medium is online. Indeed, with organizations such as Conciliation Resources and Internews uploading video reports to YouTube [3] and Vimeo [4], it is no surprise to discover others doing the same.

The latest example of this comes from the Eurasia Partnership Foundation as part of its Unbiased Media Coverage of Armenia-Azerbaijan Relations [5] project with an innovative approach to raising awareness of the negative stereotypes in play on both sides of the 1994 ceasefire line.

Shared 211 times on Facebook and viewed over 2,600 times in just a few days at time of writing, that might not sound a lot for many countries, but it is quite successful in the context of Armenia and Azerbaijan, especially with the prevailing mood one of ignoring such issues.

Пассажир [6] from eurasiaam [7] on Vimeo [8].

Unfortunately, the video is only available in Armenian and Azerbaijani with Russian subtitles so Global Voices asked bloggers from both countries to comment instead. In the first, ethnic Armenian blogger Ianyan introduces the concept behind the short film [9].

While most of us don’t expect political and cultural discussion when we pull over a taxi cab to get to where we need to go, a handful of Armenians and Azeris got just that thanks to a innovative social experiment called “The Passenger.”

A documentary created by Armenian journalist Christina Vardanyan and Azeri journalist Framana Nabieva, the film follows two taxi drivers – one in Yerevan and one in Baku who discreetly play music from their neighboring country, much to the general dismay of the passengers on both sides.


The discussion then shifts to the question of relations with the other side: is peace ever possible? Armenian participants’ responses are not unexpected, however a few are noteworthy. A younger passenger expresses hope in relations by saying that the only way to break the cycle of bigotry and hate begins with parents raising children to see everyone on the other side as equal. At least two passengers say that the negative feelings are mutual. One man says the most important thing is that we’re all human.

The Armenian Unzipped liked the project too, although noted that the responses from unsuspecting passengers in Yerevan and Baku were not unexpected [10].

I can’t say that opinions expressed from both sides were surprising. They were mainly based on cliches and due to the lack of direct communication between Azeris and Armenians following Karabakh war. That’s the reason why social networks, blogs or offline meetings are so important, although they could be used for inciting hatred too.

The blog also considered that there were too few responses from the Azerbaijani side, something that another Armenian blog, Global Chaos, also noted. Nevertheless, it also appreciated the initiative [11].

This is brilliant: a great illustration of the fact that attitudes and thoughts are very similar, if not the same, on both sides. […]


What struck me most was the painfully obvious awareness on both sides that the attitudes and stereotypes are primarily due to socialization, official government propaganda (yes, I won't shy away from using that term here), and the effects of the media. […] Most of the younger “participants” pointed out that they have never interacted with representatives from the other side…

And that's the core of the problem – the lack of knowledge of and about “the other”. Crossing the physical and official state boundaries might be impossible for most people at the moment; and yet, modern information and communication technology can help create the virtual space where stereotypes and prejudices can be overcome, and where dialogue might – just might – be possible.

Reaction on Facebook was also similar, with most comments applauding the film. Even so, some admitted that the general negative view each side holds of the other was disappointing. One of those was Marine Ejuryan, an Armenian student with experience of cross-border peace-building initiatives.

The same sentiment was expressed by the Azerbaijani Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines which set the responses in the context of situation in both countries [12].

My first impressions: it made me feel sad, because watching it, whether you want it or not, the reality hits you. While, many young people from both sides are engaged in joint projects, conversations, meetings and initiatives- working together to break the walls of long- lasting mistrust- still, many if not majority on both sides, think of the other as “an enemy”.

The movie also shows, how little the two sides know of each other, something that's been generated as a result of long and thus as a result deeply embedded stereotypes.

In another guest post on my own blog, Reader in Azerbaijan, agrees [13].

Both societies have become mostly driven by stereotypes, clichés and opinionated attitudes towards those neither have met or communicated with. This is the “accomplishment” of the traditional media which has done nothing but spread misinformation, ignite hatred and instill bias.


That said, there is also another reality not shown by this video. Another smaller reality behind the scenes. With alternative voices and social media bypassing biased traditional media to overcome stereotypes, a new generation is starting to emerge.

Tolerant and open, and willing to engage in open communication and dialogue, these are people who have been lucky and smart enough to realize that they all share common values and culture.

They are people who do not confine their minds to a dubious history, state borders and ethnicity. Indeed, we are so diverse and this diversity can enrich us. We are so similar and this similarity can connect us. Even though our languages differ.

Nevertheless, the video succeeded in encouraging discussion and debate and almost everyone agreed that it was an experiment which should be expanded upon. Global Voices will continue to monitor developments in the use of new and social media in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. A special coverage page is available here [1].

This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices [1].

Global Voices would like to thank Mika Artyan, Liana Aghajanian, Yelena Osipova, Arzu Geybullayeva and Aygun Janmammadova for taking the time to post their responses to the Eurasia Partnership Foundation video specially for this entry.