This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices.
Although a recent conference held earlier this month at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington D.C. highlighted some of the shortcomings and dangers of using new and social media in conflict resolution, there is no doubt that online tools have moved in to fill a gap left vacant by a usually politically polarized and propagandist media in the South Caucasus.
This is particularly true for Armenia and Azerbaijan, two countries locked into deadlock in continuing negotiations to find a lasting solution to conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh over 16 years after a ceasefire agreement was signed in 1994. The war claimed over 25,000 lives, forced a million to flee from their homes, and there are fears that hostilities might break out again, especially after the albeit short war between Russia and Georgia in late 2008.
However, even if most online activity in this area arguably seeks only to acerbate the situation, blogs do allow alternative voices the chance to be heard. Such an opportunity was made evidently clear this week when EurasiaNet, an online news site dealing with the Caucasus and Central Asia, republished two guest entries by an Armenian and Azerbaijani blogger.
These two blog posts by Scary Azeri and Global Chaos were originally published as part of a series for an online project giving space to alternative voices on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh. [...] The project is managed by [...] the Yerevan-based Caucasus editor for Global Voices Online.
In the first, originally posted on The Caucasian Knot as part of a larger project using new and social media to overcome negative stereotypes in the region, popular Azerbaijani blogger Scary Azeri offers her own personal reflections on the conflict and how online activity has opened up new avenues for communication.
In my class at school, half of us were Azeris. The rest were other nationalities. I did not even register the fact that some of my classmates were Armenian until people started to leave. Did I suddenly start hating them just because they had an Armenian name? Of course not. Does my mother hate her university friend who had to flee from Baku, but then, years after, having found my mum on Facebook, got in touch? I watched them talk on Skype, laughing, sharing their memories. Nothing had changed between them. Nothing ever could.
[...] Our mentality, cultures and backgrounds are interlinked and the similarities come through in our music, food and customs. The internet opened the doors in the virtual world that have been shut by the war in the real life.
But, in the real life, how far does this conflict stretch across the borders? What happens abroad, far away from the conflict zone?
Well, I would argue that it fades away.
And that is what it feels like to someone living outside the conflict zone. Of course I remember what happened. But I also remember the good parts of the past. Every war eventually comes to an end. And I sincerely hope there is going to be peace in the region sometime soon. Sometime in my lifetime.
A second guest entry by the Armenian Global Chaos echoed the same message and particularly focused on the need to think in regional, not national terms.
[...] it is much easier to apply the “nation” label (i.e. straightjacket) and manipulate the minds: the lack of a better alternative and the diverted focus of attention might, after all, fuel sufficient “courage and dedication” for a conflict…
Why not realize that over centuries – before we were even aware of our “nationhood” as such (since the latter is, quite surprisingly, a very modern concept) – we have evolved as a region, sharing land and culture? Why not admit that we are not that different, after all, and that we truly can get over the endless and pointless political debate and continue the process that was so abruptly interrupted with the creation of the mostly artificial borders?
Why not focus all that energy and effort toward sharing, rather than dividing and alienating? Why not realize that we are human beings – first and foremost – before we are assigned a “national” label?
Writing in the blog section of the newly launched Caucasus Edition, Veronika Agajanyan, says that attitudes shaped might simply be determined by an accident of birth.
Our birth does not depend on our will. We are never free to choose where and when to be born. [...]
In 1988, I could not imagine that the first two facts were actually about to be incompatible. And it was not me to decide that at the age of one I would have to leave the city, where my life had started, without a right to ever go back. Anyway, it had to happen and it happened.
Well, our birth indeed does not depend on our will. However, it is always us who decides how to live further. We are always free to make a choice between war and peace, hate and love, destruction and creation, death and life. Taking into account the facts of my life one can notice that I was actually too close to devote myself to the negative feelings. But my parents as well as Armenian and Azerbaijani friends did not allow it to happen. And I am most grateful to all of them for that.
The young Armenian refugee from Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, also takes the time to recount her own experience after being inspired by another guest post by ethnic Azeri refugee Zamira Abbasova who also fled her home in Armenia during the war. Global Voices has put the two in touch.
Finally, in another guest entry on The Caucasian Knot, popular Armenian blogger Ianyan also notes the importance of using new and social media in opening up lines of communication, overcoming stereotypes and placing human values over national ones.
The more I wrote, the more it was evident that all of us – Armenians, Turks, Azeris – shared more than we were led to believe. In the simplest of terms, we became humans – a notion we had forgotten for way too long. The most rewarding element of this entire incredible experience was realizing that we had all become agents of change right in front of our eyes.
“There are no nations,” said Isaac Asimov. “There is only humanity. And if we don’t come to understand that soon there will be no nations because there will be no humanity.”
And while the change will come gradually and slowly and we will still be exposed to those who prefer to spread intolerance and misunderstanding, the tides are turning and the momentum is big. Taking a step to understand a fellow human being beyond the politics, territorial lines and propaganda isn’t hard at all – you just have to take the time to try.
This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices.