I had never been a person with prejudice. When I was a very young boy, I learnt from my grandmother stories about the coexistence of Azerbaijanis and Armenians in the late Soviet times. My grandma worked with Armenians and even learnt the spoken Armenian language, including songs. For me, Armenians were just a nation – with culture, country and history. Thus, I escaped the traumatic image of the threatening and de-humanized Other. Of course, it was a kind of privilege – I did not come from an IDP or refugee family.
In school, I was told completely different stories: the Armenians massacred us several times during the last century. I believed in these stories, at the same time, I felt that in spite of all these historical tragedies, it was possible to live together: my grandma proved that.
First time I met Armenian people in OneCaucasus music festival in a small Georgian village Tserakvi. I was 20 – young, a little bit depressed due to personal reasons, was looking for new experiences and decided to be a volunteer at the festival.
There I met them – the musicians from the ‘Bambir’ rock band, and they performed during the festival. Their style was close to Armenian folk music, and I enjoyed it a lot. I felt similarities between the musical tones: their sounds are similar and at the same time different from the Azerbaijani music! We spent nights together, talking about our nations, Nagorno-Karabakh and the possibilities of mutual coexistence there. The band members were highly welcoming, warm and talkative: my depressive mood had gone during our night talks and toasts.
However, when I shared our photos on Facebook, I faced with rather a critical reaction from my compatriots. It was before the April 2016 clashes, and, maybe, for this reason, the hostility did not go too far.
The second group of people whom I met there were rather different and unexpected: the Armenian anarcho-feminists and activists helped me to discover philosophy and work that is critical to the existing reality. During our intellectual exchange, I heard the name of Michel Foucault.
After five years, I am doing a PhD in political science. Foucault is one of my primary sources of inspiration. Now I insist that only proper reading of critical theory may change our stereotypical beliefs and emancipate us from the knowledge that has been constructed by repressive power over the years. Besides personal experience, we need to read and to question our identities, our fantasies and our knowledge. We entered a dangerous, depressive stage; however, we can still find strength in theory and spread it.
When I returned to Baku after OneCaucasus 2015, listening to ‘Bambir’ with my headphones on, I felt the same: strength and power of empathy.