Armenia: Support for Georgi Vanyan

Following the cancellation last week of a festival of Azerbaijani films in Armenia's second largest city of Gyumri amid threats of violence, both the traditional media as well as online commentators have covered the campaign targeting the organizer, peace activist Georgi Vanyan.

Armenia and Azerbaijan remain locked in a bitter conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh and, although the war waged in the early 1990s was put on hold by a 1994 ceasefire agreement, tensions remain high on the front line with scores of conscripts dying in skirmishes each year.

Yet, despite the need to find a lasting peace and to bring the two countries together, the activities of individuals such as Vanyan irk nationalists. Some press reports on last week's incident, for example, quoted two ‘security experts,’ a term used for those engaged in the online information war with Azerbaijan, attacking Vanyan for his cross-border peace building initiatives.

Ironically, their position, along with other nationalists in Armenia, almost exactly mirrored that of their counterparts in Azerbaijan who welcomed the festival's cancellation and gleefully applauded video of Vanyan being assaulted. Even so, there were also other more alternative voices online.

@KevorkO: What if we put all these petty, small-minded ethno-nationalists in a single cage at the zoo? #caucasus #Armenia #Azerbaijan

@Alisa_Bala: people should understand that #peace is above all things and we must treat peace advocates,the most courageous people

@DiTomtie: Peace activist was beaten in Armenia. Sad proof that our societies are not ready for a change.

Similar comments were also made on Facebook, but there were also posts on a number of blogs and online sites as well. One on the Foreign Policy Association blog, for example, recounted a meeting between Vanyan and the author, an Azerbaijani, in 2009:

From my personal humble experience in conflict resolution I learned that advocating for peace can be a tough job. Mostly, because the majority of people who live in conflict zones and were affected by wars, do not understand the point of reconciliation. All they know is that they lost relatives, possibly were displaced, or had to flee. What they usually want is for justice – what they perceive as one – to be restored. In conflict zones one can rarely meet sincere peace advocates who would stand up to their own people, and tell them the other side of the story.

In South Caucasus Georgi Vanyan is one of the few.

That’s why in South Caucasus Georgi Vanyan is a rockstar.

And, although unlikely to be speaking for many young Azerbaijanis, Be Positive! sent a message from one side of the contact line to the other:

We, Azerbaijani Youth with common sense, think that recent events in Armenia are exhausting. […]


We reproach the weak and insensitive events against Georgi Vanyan as we, Azerbaijani bloggers, are in need of and faithful to democratic values […]. We are proud to give moral support to Georgi Vanyan.

There were also posts on blogs such as HİPER QARAGÜRUH`un bloqu [az]:

Azərbaycanda olduğu kimi, Ermənistanda da sülh tərəfdarı olan, insanların ölmələrini, it kimi bir-birlərini didməmələrini, minlərlə insanın avtoritar hakimiyyətlərin oyunlarının qurbanı olmamalarını, bu mənasız müharibələrə sərf olunan enerjinin inkişafa, tərəqqiyə sərf olunmasını istəyən, ağlı başında, intellektual, ziyalı insanlar var. Bu insanlardan biri də Cənubi Qafqazda tanınmış erməni hüquq müdafiəçisi, rejissor, yazar, “Qafqaz Sülhməramlı Təşəbbüslər Mərkəzi”nin rəhbəri Georgi Vanyandır.


Qafqazın bu iki ölkəsi aşağı-yuxarı eyni taleni bölüşən dövlətlərdir. İkisində də eyni vəziyyətdir. Sosial-iqtisadi vəziyyət, ölkədəki korrupsiya, təhsildəki biabırçı durum, siyasi repressiyalar, ifadə azadlığı, ordudakı “dedovşina” və s. Hətta deyərdim ki, Ermənistan bizdən biraz irəlidədir. Çünki, pul Sarkisyan hakimiyyətində bizimkilər qədər çox olmadığına görə, rejim cəmiyyəti bu qədər təzyiq altında saxlaya bilmir. Buna görə də nisbətən irəliləyişlər əldə olunub. Amma ümumilikdə vəziyyət eynidir.

As in Azerbaijan, there are rational, intellectual and intelligent people in Armenia advocating for peace, wanting an end to the death of people, to hatred among them, and to the surrender of thousands of people to the games of authoritarian governments, wishing that the energy spent on pointless wars were directed towards development and progress instead. One of those people is the well known Armenian human rights activist, film director, writer and director of Caucasus Center of Peacemaking Initiatives in the South Caucasus, Georgi Vanyan.


These two countries of the Caucasus share more or less the same destiny. They are in the same situation: socio-economic situation, corruption, the shameful state of education, political repressions, freedom of expression concerns, hazing in the army etc. I would even say that Armenia is ahead of us a little. The reason is that [Armenian President] Sarkisyan’s regime does not have as much money as ours do and this is why their regime cannot apply as much pressure on society. This explains why they have comparatively some progress. But overall, the situation is the same.

The online portal,, also featured commentary [az]:

Tendensiya budur ki, Ermənistanda türkə, Azərbaycana nifrət etməyəni, Azərbaycanda isə kökündə “erməni” sözü olan istənilən nəsnəyə nifrət etməyəni dışlayırlar. Bu, 2 rejimin bəlkə də yeganə təbliğatdır ki, əhalinin inanmasına nail olublar.

Rejimlər müharibə təbliğatından necə istifadə edir, bunu uzun-uzadı bu yazıda anlatmayacağam. Əsas məsələ budur ki, nifrəti saxlamaqla hakimpreiyyətlərinin ömrünü uzadırlar. Kimsə bu nifrətin əleyhinə çıxsa, hakimiyyət tərəfindən qınanır, gözdən salınır, böhtanlar atılır, bəzən isə cinayət işi açılır və sair təzyiqlərlə üzləşir. Əhali də ona pis baxır, “erməni” və ya “türk” deyib təhqir edir, ona qız vermirlər və ya evdə qalır, onu təhqir etmək caiz sayılır və s..


Bu iyrənc müharibə təbliğatı, beyinlərə yeridilən nifrət propoqandası bitməyincə nə buralarda bir demokratik ölkə qurulacaq, nə də Qarabağ problemi həll olunacaq.

Bu rejimlər, bu təbliğatlar müvəqqətidir, bizə qalan nifrət yox, sevgidir – Vanyanın humanizm, sülh sevgisi.

The tendency is that those in Armenia who do not hate Turks and Azerbaijan, and those in Azerbaijan who do not hate anything with the word “Armenian” in it, are ostracized. This is probably the only propaganda from the two regimes that their people will believe.

I am not going to explain in this post in details how these regimes make use of war propaganda. The main thing is that by keeping hatred alive these regimes prolong the lives of their rule. Anyone who stands against this hatred is criticized, belittled, defamed by the government, or sometimes criminal cases are opened and pressure is applied. People look down on that person, they humiliate that person by calling them “Armenian” or “Turk”. No one wants their son or daughter to marry that person. Humiliating that person is considered a virtue etc.


Until this propaganda of a foul war, this brainwashed propaganda of hatred, ends, neither democratic systems will be established in these [countries] nor will the Karabakh problem be resolved.

These regimes, this propaganda, are temporary. What we will end up with is love, Vanyan’s humanity, his love for peace.

Undaunted by the actions against him in Gyumri, Vanyan eventually held his otherwise ill-fated Azerbaijani film festival at a restaurant outside the city limits and plans to hold another next week in Vanadzor, Armenia's third largest city. Moreover, there also appears to be another positive outcome from attempts to obstruct Vanyan's work.

Zardust Alizadeh, an Azerbaijani analyst and a speaker at one of Vanyan's recent cross-border events, was quoted as saying by NewCaucasus that he might now consider staging a festival of Armenian films:

Я считаю, что настоящее искусство – служит добру, гуманизму, сближению народов. И мне пришла в голову идея: а почему бы мне не повторить инициативу Ваняна в Азербайджане?

I think that real art serves the kindness, humanity and reconciliation of people. And an idea came to my mind: why not repeat the initiative of Vanyan in Azerbaijan?
Thanks to Global Voices author Pervin Muradli who translated from Azerbaijani into English for this post.


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  • […] Ironically, those opposed to the festival justified their position by alleging there were no similarly moderate voices in Azerbaijan, Armenia's foe to the East. However, the attacks and threats against festival organizer Georgi Vanyan in particular have since shown that not to be the case. […]

  • […] По ирония на съдбата, опонентите на фестивала се обосновават със заявлението, че в считания за враг на Армения Азербейджан няма сходно ниво на разбирателство. Въпреки всичко, заплахите и атаките в частност към организатора на фестивала Георги Ваниан са доказателство за противното. […]

  • […] actions have become more evident in the predominantly mono-ethnic country, including in February when a prominent peace activist was attacked much to the concern of international human rights groups. And, while even government officials have […]

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