Getting to know your neighbors outside of your neighborhood
Today in the midst of war that gets uglier as it takes more lives, I keep thinking about the universality of the experience of a human tragedy and how people react to the same event under different circumstances with different and even opposite stances. This thought on different perspectives makes me think about how it would feel like being on the Armenian side and eventually brings back the memories of the very first time I have ever met someone from Armenia. It was more than ten years ago during a peace project in the Netherlands. I remember, before the training, when we- me and my friend who were the only participants from Azerbaijan - were on the plane, I told my friend that “I am sure I will recognize Armenians without them introducing themselves.” She was a bit surprised and asked what made me to think so. At that moment, I had almost no idea about cross-cultural studies, researches on co-existence, but I had a feeling that people who lived in the same region for a long time enough to share not only lands but also culture should have so many in common. With this feeling, I answered my friend that at least their manners, behavior, and even appearance would tell a lot. So, on the first day of the training, that long-awaited introduction session came. Before the official opening, I have already had a chance to observe the participants, and two of them looked very familiar: big eyes, dark thick hair, a bit melancholic look, shyness mixed with curiosity was all I needed to make a guess. To the surprise of my friend, I was right when two Armenian girls introduced themselves. Now that I have also convinced myself, I have started to go further with my “research” and decided to talk to them. The organizers of the event had asked us to bring samples of national cuisines to share with the participants. So, me and my friend offered them some sweets that perhaps every Azeri who ever visited abroad proudly made the foreigners to taste. One of the Armenians immediately said, “oh pakhlava” with such a “native” accent that no foreigner would be able to imitate.
I remember one of the first questions I asked them was about the way Armenian girls are treated at home, especially in comparison with their brothers and male family members. Maybe because I was always obsessed with feminism or putting it differently, I always believed that the way societies treat women is something so deeply rooted that can somehow unite and divide them. The Armenian participants’ answers to my questions made it clear that these two nations are so similar to each other in so many ways that perhaps this mirror reflection made them hate each other. Towards the end of that peace training, if there were five participants among more than thirty participants I was mostly talking to, two of them were Armenians… Over the past years, I had many chances to meet Armenians in different countries. Among those Armenians, I found amazing people who are not only talented and skilled in their professions but also very kind and helpful.
Growing up in Azerbaijan, I have already known that Azeri people genuinely do not care about religion and are naturally secular and, over the years, have developed their own organic “religion” comprised of a complex mentality and unwritten social norms. But I didn’t know that there was a Christian version of this unique “Azeri religion,” and it is called Armenian, and they both based on a simple rule: What people would say. This “what others would say religion” unfortunately at the moment seems no effective considering how these two nations got themselves in an unfortunate situation by letting the others intervene in the issues that only they two should sit around a table and solve.
Unfortunately, As the current war continues, I get extremely disappointed to see progressive, open-minded people on both sides to turn out to be ultranationalists who prefer to disregard the fundamental human values and chose to submit to their national sentiments. It is equally saddening to see the widespread hate speech which is the result of long-term populist, militarist propaganda backed by both governments.
Despite all that is now happening, I still don’t think Azerbaijanis and Armenians need to learn to live together, all they need is to remember.
I believe that patriotism is about loving your own country, not hating someone else’s. You can be even crazy in love with your country, but there is no any moral, ethnic, legal base to deny the existence of another nation, to justify dehumanizing rhetoric and hate speech. If there is only one thing that I learned in this life, it is that you can not stop any negative thought or action by spreading it.
I believe that there are only two types of people in the world: good and not good enough, and I hope one day, at least the majority of these two nations will decide to be good enough to eliminate hatred to save the future.