Caucasus Conflict Voices May 2011

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Alternative opinions and views on Armenia-Azerbaijan relations and the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh

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  • VOICES

    1

  • c A u c A S u S c o n f L i c t V o i c E S , M A Y 2 0 1 1

    t H i S P r o J E c t W A S c r E A t E d b Y o n n i k k r i k o r i A n , A J o u r n A L i S t , P H o t o J o u r n A L i S t

    A n d o n L i n E M E d i A c o n S u L t A n t f r o M t H E u n i t E d k i n G d o M b A S E d i n Y E r E V A n ,

    A r M E n i A , f o r t H E P A S t 1 2 Y E A r S . i n A d d i t i o n t o W r i t i n G A n d P H o t o G r A P H i n G f o r

    t H E M A i n S t r E A M t r A d i t i o n A L M E d i A , H E A L S o f i x E S f o r t H E b b c , A L J A z E E r A

    E n G L i S H , n A t i o n A L G E o G r A P H i c A n d t H E W A L L S t r E E t J o u r n A L A M o n G o t H E r S ,

    H E i S A L S o t H E c A u c A S u S r E G i o n A L E d i t o r f o r G L o b A L V o i c E S o n L i n E A n d f i r S t

    V i S i t E d t H E d i S P u t E d t E r r i t o r Y o f n A G o r n o k A r A b A k H A S A r E P o r t E r i n 1 9 9 4 A n d

    A S S i S t E d t H o M A S d E W A A L i n t H E r E S E A r c H f o r B l a c k G a r d e n : a r m e n i a a n d

    a z e r B a i j a n T h r o u G h P e a c e a n d W a r .

    H t t P : / / W W W . o n E W o r L d . A M / d i V E r S i t Y /

    f r o n t c o v e r p h o t o : e t h n i c A r M e n i A n , t S o p i , g e o r g i A o n n i k k r i k o r i A n 2 0 1 1

  • i n t r o d u c t i o n . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

    c u L t u r E t H A t u n i t E S r A t H E r t H A n d i V i d E S . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

    A M A J o r i t Y o f M i n o r i t i E S A n d A k A L E i d o S c o P E o f c u L t u r E . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 3

    M A r n E u L i , t S o P i A n d k H o d J o u r n i . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 0

    P L A n S f o r A n A r M E n i A n - A z E r b A i J A n P E A c E b u i L d i n G c E n t E r i n G E o r G i A . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 2

    A r M E n i A - A z E r b A i J A n P E A c E b u i L d i n G k i c k S o f f i n t E k A L i . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 8

    t H E t H i n G S i W A n t . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 2

    f r i E n d S L i k E S i S t E r S . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 5

    E x P i r E d H A t r E d ? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 8

    S o c i A L M E d i A i n A r M E n i A - A z E r b A i J A n P E A c E b u i L d i n G . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 1

    c L E A r i n G M i n E S A n d S A V i n G L i V E S i n n A G o r n o k A r A b A k H . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 4

    c A u c A S u S c o n f L i c t V o i c E S , M A Y 2 0 1 1

    V O L U M E I I , M A Y 2 0 1 1

    VOICES

  • Anyone who works with the conflicts of the caucasus learns to live

    with contradiction. if you watch state media in Armenia or

    Azerbaijan or hear some politicians speak, you could believe that

    these two nations are implacable enemies on the verge of war. one

    Azerbaijani friend told me that nowadays whenever he hears the

    word fascist he expects to hear the word Armenian attached to

    it. in many ways the modern identities of independent Armenia

    and Azerbaijan and of the small statelet of nagorny karabakh are

    defined by rejection and hatred of the other.

    Yet as soon as you probe deeper strange things start to happen

    and this picture begins to blur. A long conversation with an

    Azerbaijani about how terrible the Armenians are ends with the

    admission that his grandmother was actuallyArmenian. A

    karabakh Armenian talks about the crimes of the Azerbaijanis and

    then casually lets slip that he had Azeri friends at school and still

    remembers a lot of the language.

    Move outside the conflict zone and these hidden signs of

    compatibility come out into the open. in the territory of Georgia,

    Armenian and Azeri villagers live side by side. there is trade and

    even inter-marriage. Armenians and Azerbaijanis often prefer to

    do business with each other than with Georgians.

    We hear far too little of what i call this third narrative of the

    Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, a narrative of peace. it spins the

    idea that the two peoples are capable of getting along fine, have

    lived together in the past and, if politicians are able to overcome

    differences on the karabakh conflict, can live together in the

    future. international mediators are too timid to speak this

    c A u c A S u S c o n f L i c t V o i c E S , M A Y 2 0 1 1

    2

    introduction

    t H o M A S d E W A A L

  • narrative or feel that it is not their business. the media in both

    countries suppresses it.

    this is why i congratulate onnik krikorian for the work he has

    done over the past few years, both in print and in images, and

    which is published here. He has given a voice to these alternative

    points of view and given a vivid picture of the different and much

    more positive Armenian-Azerbaijani reality that still exists in

    ordinary people and in Georgia.

    Look at these pictures and descriptions of villages such as tekali

    and you see that the problem there is not ethnic incompatibility or

    historical injustice, but poverty poverty that will have a much

    better chance of being fixed if the karabakh conflict can be

    overcome and money can be diverted from buying expensive

    weapons. it is a totally different and refreshing approach and he

    has done it pretty much by himself.

    Send this collection to anyone who thinks they understand the

    Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and be pleasantly surprised by

    their reaction.

    t H o M A S d E W A A L i S A S E n i o r A S S o c i A t E i n t H E

    r u S S i A A n d E u r A S i A P r o G r A M A t t H E c A r n E G i E

    E n d o W M E n t . H E i S A L S o t H E A u t H o r o f b L A c k

    G A r d E n : A r M E n i A A n d A z E r b A i J A n t H r o u G H

    P E A c E A n d W A r .

    c A u c A S u S c o n f L i c t V o i c E S , M A Y 2 0 1 1

    3

  • E t H n i c A r M E n i A n S , t S o P i , G E o r G i A o n n i k k r i k o r i A n 2 0 0 9

  • c A u c A S u S c o n f L i c t V o i c E S , M A Y 2 0 1 1

    5

    culture that Unites rather than Divides

    o n n i k k r i k o r i A n A n d A Y G u n J A n M A M M A d o V A

    tbiLiSi, Georgia An Azeri teahouse, and naturally Azerbaijani

    can be heard spoken inside. A dozen men, identical in appearance,

    sit at tables, chain smoking and drinking cups of ay (tea). Salam,

    we say, before approaching the waitress. the owners of another

    Azeri teahouse, ironically run by ethnic Armenians just around the

    corner, directed us here, saying that the waitress too is Armenian.

    She is, even though the teahouse is owned by an ethnic Azeri.

    Anyway, we take our seats at a table with the intention of once

    again exploring the reality of peaceful coexistence in at least one

    part of the South caucasus.

    considered neutral ground by international organizations and

    local nGos engaged in regional cooperation, communication and

    peace-building activities, the situation is, of course, very different

    than in Armenia and Azerbaijan proper. A recent survey by the

    caucasus resource research centers (crrc), for example, found

    that 70 percent of Armenians disapproved of forming friendships

    with Azerbaijanis. that figure is alarmingly high, but the situation

    is even worse in Azerbaijan. there, 97 percent of Azerbaijanis said

    they didnt look favorably on friendship with Armenians.

    true, thousands of ethnic Armenians, mainly the wives of

    Azerbaijanis, are believed to still live in baku, the capital, but they

    do so with some difficulty, maintaining a low profile to avoid

    discrimination. the same is true to a lesser extent for significantly

    fewer Azeris in Yerevan, although their ethnic kin from iran do

    indeed operate more openly in the Armenian capital. of course,

    locals dont view them with quite as much hostility as they might if

    they were from Azerbaijan. indeed, even a festival of non-political

    contemporary films from Azerbaijan had to be canceled recently

    after strong local nationalist backlash.

  • in both cases, however, its probably no wonder. Armenia and

    Azerbaijan fought a bloody war in the early 1990s over the

    disputed mainly Armenian-inhabited territory of nagorno

    karabakh. over 25,000 were killed and a million on both sides

    were forced to flee their homes. despite a tentative peace, the

    frontline remains tense, with dozens of young conscripts on both

    sides dying each year. Moreover, with the mutual massacre of

    civilian populations throughout history selectively taught in

    schools and kept alive by the local media, once could hardly expect

    that an environment for mutual understanding could exist.

    Arpine Porsughyan, the co-author of a crrc report on media bias

    in Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, notes the role the media plays,

    but also says that the general public is to blame too, especially as

    consumers are eager to digest such information. Some argue that

    those with a strong interest in politics and access to various

    sources of information are subject to biased processing, she says,

    explaining that people tend to filter information based on already

    existing views even if they otherwise say they would prefer a more

    unbiased media.

    in Georgia, however, the situation is very different. free from the

    nationalist rhetoric of Armenian and Azerbaijani political forces,

    and isolated from the negative stereotypes and propaganda

    usually disseminated on an almost daily basis in the local press,

    ethnic Armenians and Azeris coexist quite well, and do so without

    regrets and by no means reluctantly. As in Moscow or elsewhere

    outside of the conflict zone, they naturally congregate together,

    recognizing a similarity in terms of culture, cuisine, and mentality.

    back in the teahouse, examples sit before us at nearly every table.

    At one, the conversation changes as Georgian television news cuts

    to footage of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents meeting in

    Astrakhan, russia, for yet another high-level meeting to finally

    resolve the conflict. i used to take the similarities between our

    nations for granted, but this war made me appreciate how similar,

    if not the same, we all are, says Albert, an ethnic Armenian singer,

    as the conversation shifts to discussion of the news on the screen

    ahead. Away from politics, though, he sings mainly in Azerbaijani,

    especially those songs written by Sayat nova, the 18th-century

    Armenian troubadour.

    c A u c A S u S c o n f L i c t V o i c E S , M A Y 2 0 1 1

    6

  • its like when you fight with your brother or sister, adds one of

    his closest friends sitting next to him. they are your own flesh

    and blood, but still you hit them just for nothing. this is how it is

    with our nations too.

    that man is 74-year-old ramiz, an ethnic Azeri musician who

    prefers to sing in Armenian. He even married an Armenian while

    further completing the picture of mutual coexistence Albert

    married an ethnic Azeri. My Armenian friend is worth a thousand

    other friends, says ramiz as the teahouse starts to resonate with

    the sound of Armenian and Azerbaijani being spoken

    interchangeably. the war between two neighboring countries is a

    political, rather than an ethnic, one, they say, before the eyes of

    both of them start to shine when the conversation once again

    turns to Sayat nova.

    Like Sergei Paradjanov, whose last film before his death in 1990

    was based on an Azeri love story and filmed in Azerbaijan despite

    the rising tensions, Sayat nova was very much a cultural figure for

    the entire caucasus and not restrained by national ideology or

    borders. the legendary bard wrote most of his songs in

    Azerbaijani, then the lingua franca of the region. indeed, a statue

    of Paradjanov can also be found nearby, as can a monument to

    Sayat nova, although its a mainly ethnic Azeri area of tbilisi, and

    soon the location of a new Azerbaijani Embassy overlooking

    Heydar Aliyev Park.

    in fact, it marks the approach to St. Gevorg, a 13th-century church

    and seat of the head of the Armenian Apostolic church in Georgia.

    Sayat nova is also buried there, but it is unclear whether

    Azerbaijanis will be as welcome as Armenians appear to be in

    tbilisis Azeri teahouses. As it turns out, they are very welcome

    indeed, and as the conversation switches to russian, the eyes of

    the Armenian woman selling candles in the church light up when

    one of us, an Azerbaijani from baku, identifies herself as such.

    karine says that ethnic Azeris also visit the church and some even

    pray.

    She also has many Azerbaijani friends, many of them with

    Armenian spouses, and dreams of visiting her friends in baku.

    it might not be the capital of Azerbaijan, but its namesake a

    restaurant just five minutes away on foot is yet another example

    of peaceful coexistence in the city. Save for the substitution of pork

    for lamb in some dishes, the menu is nearly identical to that found

    c A u c A S u S c o n f L i c t V o i c E S , M A Y 2 0 1 1

    7

  • A z E r i n o V r u z , M A r n E u L i , G E o r G i A o n n i k k r i k o r i A n 2 0 1 1

  • in almost any restaurant serving national cuisine in Armenia. its

    no wonder then that both ethnic groups dine here. the manager,

    an ethnic Azeri, says there are no problems between the two,

    although she does admit that not every visitor from Azerbaijan

    proper is happy with the situation.

    nevertheless, tbilisis Azeri restaurant welcomes customers,

    Armenian and Azeri alike.

    Yelena osipova, a student from Armenia now studying in the u.S.,

    knows this only too well. As a freshman at college in a country far

    away, i happened to attend an Azeri cultural evening, she

    remembers, admitting that she was unable to differentiate the

    tradition of music, national dress and cuisine from her own. At a

    certain point, i became confused since it was very difficult to

    consider that it wasnt an Armenian cultural evening. the main

    reminder of that was the Azerbaijani flag hanging on the wall.

    the situation is even more acute for those who lived in the others

    country before being forced out as the conflict erupted around

    them. zamira Abbasova, for example, is a 26-year-old ethnic Azeri

    from Armenia who recently returned to baku from the u.S. where

    she studied conflict transformatio...