In December Imagine Dialogue organized a DVC (discussion & video conference) in Yerevan and Baku. While lately I have been rather sceptical about peace initiatives in the Southern Caucasus, especially after the notorious extradition case of months ago, I think discussions like this can be very useful, so I would like to tell a little about how it went.
It was a 2-day seminar:
Day 1 — Yerevan-team would try to discuss and better understand the basics of conflict resolution and to make up a list of “concerns and hopes” for the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.
Day 2 — We would have a video conference with the Baku-team and introduce each others what our concerns and hopes are.
The goal of was simple: interaction & understand the other side. The participants were mostly students and young professionals. One of them was a student from Stepenakert, there was also an exchange student from Belarus. For me, it was the first time to attend to an event like this, I didn’t know the organizers or the other participants, except for — as I soon discovered — one: although I knew him only by his nickname, years ago I met him in the Armenian-Azerbaijani “wars” in the talk pages Wikipedia. It was very interesting what brought this recently repatriated diaspora-Armenian here.
I want give peace a chance, was his short answer.
And me? I was there just because I was curious and because I wanted to make use of the chance to have a chat with my eastern neighbours (something that is mostly impossible even on social media).
I was too sceptical to hope for more than a chat. But during the discussions of Day 1, when we tried to identify what needs are and to distinguish them from ambitions, peace making seemed at the moment easier than ever, at least it seemed possible. The only condition is to trust each other. Too bad that we, Armenians and Azerbaijanis, are doing the opposite. We trust each other less and less..
Anyway, after a lot of discussion and argue on the first day we, members of Yerevan-team, had two lists
- Possibility of a new war
- Destruction of cultural heritage
- Violation of ceasefire, skirmishes on the line of contact
- Lack of interaction between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, a lot of hate speech
- Lack of trust
- Maintaining peace
- Recognition of Karabakh independence
- Open of borders
- Dialogue between the two people
Not everyone completely agreed with everythinng. For instance, one girl thought that listing “Possible new war” in our concerns would mean for Baku-team. that we were “afraid” of Azerbaijan, or that we thought our army was not strong enough to defend us. Also, apparently I was the only one who thought that “Recognition of independence” is not the best diplomatic formulation of what we hope. I thought it would be better to tell Azerbaijanis that we hope they will accept that the people of Karabakh have the right to decide on their future, or something like that.
Anyway, on Day 2 we were very curious about the Concerns and Hopes of Baku and it was time give them a Skype-call. I have to admit that we were all nervous: after the strict security measures of the US Embassy (where we were) it was more like we were going to make contact with aliens from a distant and hostile planet. But as it appeared, they were humans like us. Most of them were students, they were very friendly and very kind. Frankly I was surprised how warmly the Azerbaijanis greeted us.
So it was time that we would introduce ourselves and our lists of concerns and hopes. It was prearranged that we would not start a debate (our goal was only to understand the other side), we could only ask clarifying question if necessary and never challenge each other.
The concerns and hopes of Baku-team were like a reflected image in the mirror compared to our lists.
- People don’t believe that the resolution of the conflict is in their hands
- Influence of a third state, e.g. Russia, on the conflict resolutions
- Azerbaijani mosques and monuments in Karabakh are unsafe/destroyed
- Mutual living of 2 nations in Karabakh
- Resources outside Nagorno-Karabakh, e.g. Kelbajar, being illegally used.
- The losses of Karabakh war, including Karabakh itself
There were a lot of “clarifying questions” from both sides. Like:
Yerevan: Can you accept Nagorno-Karabakh to participate to the peace talks?
Baku: In that case Azeri IDP’s should participate too.
Baku: Do you want Russia in the peace talks?
Yerevan: As part of the Minsk-group only.
Baku: Would you accept Turkey as moderator?
Yerevan: No, because unlike France, USA and Russia, Turkey is not neutral about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, besides Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Armenia.
The Baku-team, then, added that they don’t want any country which has any kind of interest in the conflict of is influenced by lobbies, to be involved in the peace talks: neither Russia, France, USA, Turkey or Georgia.
Also, Yerevan-team was surprised to hear that Azerbaijanis had concerns about Azerbaijani monuments being unsafe or destroyed. A young student from the Armenian side very kindly reassured the Azerbaijanis that he had been everywhere in Nagono-Karabakh and he didn’t see destroyed Azerbaijani monuments there.
Baku-team was also surprised to hear that we had the same concern about Armenian monuments in Azerbaijan. There is only one Armenian monument in Azerbaijan, was the answer, the Armenian church and graveyard in Baku which are completely safe, so don’t worry guys!
When we introduced our concern about ceasefire violations, Baku-team replied that they shared this concern.
And now finally the hopes:
- Change of political system in both countries: real democracy in both countries
- IDP’s can return to their homelands and get their homes back
- Dialogue between the two nations
- Decrease of aggression
Of course, the Baku-team wasn’t really happy to hear that we hoped for the recognition of Karabakhs independence. I don’t think it makes ant sense to name the arguments of our and their side. But then I had the chance to say the last word: what matters for me, I said, is that people of Karabakh must have the right to make a choice since I consider it a fundamental human right to choose the state you want to live in. An then, I also added, what matters most is that we must be able to make our region a place where we can life together peacefully and be kind to each other as we are today.
Hopefully one day this won’t be an unrealistic dream.
P.S. I don’t remember the names of the participants from Baku, but if anyone reada this, please find me on fb/twitter/diaspora: I would really like to keep in touch and maybe see you again 😉