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Armenia-Azerbaijan: Time to live together peacefully again

2 September 2010 No Comment

“How can you learn Turkish?” my five-year-old cousin asked when he saw my Turkish text-book and asked what the book was for. “They are our enemies, he went on to exclaim. “Turks and Azerbaijanis are bad people… and I hate them!”

Of course, I’m used to hearing these kind of reactions from people when they find out that I study Turkish. More often than not their reaction is “how can you learn ‘their’ language?” It’s either that or questions such as “isn’t it ugly?” (!)

And this is only because, I suppose, ‘their’ language is that of the ‘enemy…’

But what upset me most was my little cousin’s reaction. Even at such a young age he already had that ugly feeling of hatred. Probably it shouldn’t be much of a surprise when they hear stories about “cruel enemies” on TV, radio, in kindergartens, and at school.

Even in families the word “Turk” is a used as curse, and it usually implies both Turks and Azerbaijanis. On the other hand, the expressions “Ermeni” (Armenian) or “Ermeni dölü” (Armenian descendant) are used as insults by Turkish and Azerbaijani people.

Whenever there is need to defame someone, finding any connection or relationship between that person and Armenians is the simplest way. This simply proves once again that state propaganda functions perfectly in our countries.

 

Governments, mass media and some other institutions and individuals are so obsessed with maintaining an image of the “enemy” among their people towards the other side, that they use every possible opportunity to slander this “enemy.”

As a result, we witness propaganda everywhere and sometimes in the most ridiculous of forms. “I hate TV, I don’t watch it,” I remember one of my Azerbaijani friends telling me. “There is anti-Armenian propaganda everywhere, even in soap-operas!”

Yet, propaganda only prevents the peaceful resolution of the conflict. Both anti-Armenian and anti-Azerbaijani propaganda only increases the feeling of hatred towards the “enemy” in our societies and undermines any possible trust between the two nations.

And the fact is that there will not be the ultimate peace if the parties don’t trust each other and maintain an image of the “cruel enemy” in their minds. This is even the case if the two governments sign a peace agreement tomorrow.

A fierce struggle continues to be waged especially by historians from both countries even though their accounts of history strongly contradict each other. What is more important for them is to merely represent the other side as the historical enemy.

And what we see in history books is only a collection of events when the two nations were in conflict with each other. There is not a single mention of when we were cooperating, fighting a common enemy, or were partners in trade and handicraft.

But if we can’t find such accounts in the history books, we can read examples of those close ties in some works of literature and poetry. Usually, however, for obvious reasons, they are generally ignored or not spoken about.

Yet recently I was told about a short novel by the outstanding Armenian poet and writer Avetik Isahakyan (1875-1957) called “Bayram Ali.” In it the author speaks about Armenians and Azerbaijanis living together and fighting against “the common enemy who took their territories and water”.

And in another novel by Aksel Bakunts (1899-1937), “Nut-trees of brotherhood,” the story is told of a strong friendship between an Armenian and an Azerbaijani during the clashes at the beginning of 20th century.

Only a few people have probably read these works even though both of the mentioned authors are very famous in the Armenian literature. Even so, I am not surprised that these stories aren’t very popular and certainly not included in the school curriculum.

The same is true for other Armenian icons such as Sayat Nova, the 18th century troubadour, and Sergei Parajanov, the internationally renowned filmmaker. While the first wrote most of his songs in Azerbaijani, the second used an Azeri folk story for his last film, Ashik Kerib.

Both were men of the Caucasus and embraced all of its culture, but why do we need to know that we used to live in peace with our “enemy”? Really, why?

There are also similar examples in Azerbaijani literature too.

Two famous Azerbaijani poets, Nizami (1141-1209) and Khagani (1120-1199), speak with praise about Armenians in their works. “Some time ago when I came to Armenia l was lonely and desperate. But now I go back being highly honored,” wrote Khagani1 .

These are only a few examples, but I’m sure there are probably even more, telling of a time when there was friendship and cooperation between our nations. Even today they still live side by side with each other elsewhere in the world.

Tragically, however, many years of war, enmity, and negative propaganda have resulted in the current perceptions of the ‘other’ in each of our societies. Without a doubt it is now time to break the stereotypes Armenians and Azerbaijanis have of each other.

The idea that Armenians and Azerbaijanis are “ethnically incompatible” is certainly nothing but pure fallacy.

We used to live together in peace and still do on neutral ground which means we can also do so here – in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. What we need to do first, however, is to end the propaganda wars on both sides.

We also need time.

Time for both societies to learn to live together peacefully again.

Marine Ejuryan

1 Хагани. Избранные произбедения. Баку, 1965; Литературный Азербаиджан, октябрь 1960. С. 4

 

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