My article on recent Khojaly commemorations published on Caucasus Edition on 3/1/2012
The conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh has been proclaimed ‘frozen’ but it can be more accurately compared to a volcano. It can appear quiet but it is alive and there is an imminent danger of eruption. Everyday life tends to push the sentiments and worries about the unresolved conflict to the background. Anniversaries of tragic events of conflict are times when all grievances, frustrations and hurt become renewed. For Azerbaijanis, this time is in February, which marks the anniversary of Khojaly events.
The tragedy of Khojaly – a killing of hundreds of Azerbaijani civilians in 1992 by Armenian forces, represents the brutality and ugliness of war in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Perhaps the most emotional and important event of the conflict for Azerbaijanis – it is remembered every year and has become a symbol of Armenian aggression towards Azerbaijanis, a dark picture of what enemy is capable of.
Azerbaijanis all over the world organize and hold public awareness raising events, protests, and lectures as well as publish articles and op-eds on the topic. For ordinary people who join and organize these events, achieving recognition internationally is also about getting recognition for the on-going and frustrating status quo, for the losses of the war and the plight of displaced who are not able to return to their homes.
This year commemorations of Khojaly reached an unprecedented size and scale both domestically and around the world. Public presentations and lectures organized by student organizations and diaspora groups in the capitals of Eastern and Western Europe as well as the United States have already been happening every year. This year added a number of events and a large public awareness campaign funded by Azerbaijani Government sources. In addition to the protests in front of the Armenian Embassy in Washington, DC and United Nations in New York, which are organized by grassroots groups – a diaspora group called Azerbaijani American Alliance launched a large public awareness campaign, which covered the advertising space of metro stations in Washington, DC and New York with ‘Justice for Khojaly’ posters. Washington Post ran a story but also a large advertising page devoted to Khojaly. The expansive public awareness campaign in the United States shows the increased effort by the Government of Azerbaijan to exert pressure on Armenia and to counter the influence of Armenian lobby in Washington.
Most significantly, the commemorations took a new turn, when thousands of Turks joined Azerbaijanis on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara in solidarity for Khojaly and against Armenia. The protest which according to organizers brought out 100,000 people, included members of labor unions, nationalist groups and Turkish-Azerbaijani Associations. Minister of Internal Affairs of Turkey made an appearance in the rally and gave a speech. Most likely initiated by groups in Baku, Initiated by Baku, protest was organized through various organizations as well as with the use of public awareness campaign on Khojaly in Turkey. The event capitalized on the recent passage of the bill in France that bans the denial of Armenian Genocide and that has angered many Turks.
The commemoration is a reflection of the grim situation with conflict in the region. The mobilization of thousands of people in Turkey shows how interlinked the conflicts of Armenia and Turkey and Nagorno-Karabakh are and will remain. According to analyst Nigar Goksel, it is partly a reaction from those groups who resent the empathy to Armenians that has been demonstrated in Turkey. It is also a portrayal of solidarity to Azerbaijan, meant to deter the normalization process with Armenia. Moreover, it also reflects a backlash to perceived Armenian hostility and lobbying of resolutions against Turkey in third countries.
In Azerbaijan, the increased scale and size of commemorations is a sign that the frustration with the status quo is alive and remains important. International efforts of Armenian lobby groups in Europe and the United States with their grievances against Turkey exacerbates the perception of injustice Azerbaijanis suffered from Armenians. On societal level this strengthens the sympathies between Azerbaijan and Turkey and on state level it intensifies lobbying battles internationally. All of this further complicates the peace process on all tracks of the conflicts in the region.
For the Armenians such display of alliance between Azerbaijanis and Turks adds to the sense of insecurity as well as confirms the stereotypes they hold of aggression of Turks and Azerbaijanis. Armenian National Committee of America called the protests in Turkey “the determined actions of pre-genocidal Turkish society that is angrily lashing out at its imagined enemies”. Such statements will only infuse the enemy image among public and intensify the support for lobbying efforts.
In this already grim picture of the conflict in the region, another complication is how various groups utilize commemorations. Radical individuals and ultra-nationalist groups use these events to spread the messages of hatred and violence. Throughout the protests there were a number of racist slogans that portrayed Armenians as murderers. These are only to add to the animosity and enemy image on both sides – one of the obstacles to peace process. These also make it easy for Armenians to dismiss the issue of Khojaly. For politicians on both sides, these events present an opportunity to mobilize people in support of their politics and delay committing to solving of the problem.
Most if not all international claims as well as the citizen protests organized by Armenians and Azerbaijanis are done with animosity. While this is predictable and even expected in the current situation – what’s troubling is a lack of alternative actions that are collaborative and resolution oriented. There are people on both sides who both acknowledge the tragedies of this conflict and want to see a different future. But the current environment that is dominated by uncompromising war narrative on both sides leaves no space for those individuals and groups to express themselves.
Taking responsibility for crimes of war and recognition of losses and pain of conflict between the societies are crucial for the reconciliation to occur. Khojaly must be acknowledged for sustainable peace to come. Honoring the dead and the victims are important rituals, which should help realize the terrible cost of war and inspire peaceful future where everyone can feel safe. The question is how to do this without making the conflict worse and creating more fear and anger on both sides? This is a discussion Armenians and Azerbaijanis should be engaging in both internally and jointly. Commemorations and acknowledgements must be means to peace and cannot be the ends on their own which fuel the conflict. Otherwise, we will remain in endless cycle of conflict and violence.
Tens of Thousands Remember Victims of Khojaly Massacre in Istanbul, Today’s Zaman, February 26, 2012 http://www.todayszaman.com/news-272526-tens-of-thousands-remember-victims-of-khojaly-massacre-in-istanbul.html
They say women have complicated relationships with their mothers and that last thing you want to hear is ‘you are like your mother’… There were times I adored my mother and could not live without her, there were times I was angry at her and did not understand and times when I made a full circle to come back to see and appreciate her for who she is as a person and as a mother!
For some time now as an adult, a mother myself and a woman I realize what extraordinary mother and woman my mother is…. I would be proud to be called ‘just like her’… How she managed to raise us the way she did in the circumstances that she did is amazing….. She has given her children (and many others) the most important things (for me at least): self esteem and confidence to take on challenges and to always have perspective to appreciate the real treasures of life and by doing that always be a good and happy person.
I am my mother’s daughter!!! I have found it in a lot of big and little things: the way I parent my son, in traditions created by her and carried on in my own family, in my approach to people and life, in the flavors of my meals… The most important thing she taught me is parenting in her own example. I have been able to trace all the wonderful things in my life, my successes and happiness to what she did as a parent. I only hope I can succeed in living her example.
Mama, thank you for everything ! Love you very much!!!!
Happy Mother’s Day to all wonderful mothers out there!
*********************************************** Azerbaijan dilində***************
Deyirlər qadınların anaları ilə münasibətləri mürəkkəb olur və heç kim istəməz ki, ona “sən eyni anan kimisən” deyilsin… Vaxt olub ki, anamı dəlicəsinə sevib ondan bir ayrı qalmaq bilməmişəm. Vaxt olub ki, ona qəzəblənib anlamamışam və vaxt olub ki, bütün bu mərhələlərdən keçib onu insan, ana və qadın kimi anlayıb dəyərləndirə bilmişəm!
Artıq bir neçə vaxtdir ki, və xüsusilə də ozüm ana olandan sonra, bir ana və qadın kimi onun necə qeyri-adi qadın və ana olduğunu dərk etmişəm! Mənə “sən eyni anan kimisən” desələr fəxr edərəm! Anamın yaşadığı çətinlıklər içində bizi böyutdüyu kimi böyütdüyü mənə möcüzə gəlir! O, öz qızlarına (və bir çoxlarına) ən dəyərli dərs verib (hər halda bu mənim üçün ən dəyərli dərsdir): həyatın çətinliklərini baş əyməyərək qarşılamaq üçün özünə-inam və həyatın ən vacib nemətlərini dəyərləndirmək bacarığı və bunu bacarmaqla yaxşı və xoşbəxt insan olmaq.
Mən anamın qızıyam!!! Bunu həyatımın kiçik və cox vacib aspektlərində aşkar etmişəm: oğullarıma valideynlik edəndə, öz ailəmdə yaratdığım və davam etdiyim adət-ənənələrdə, insanlara və həyata yanaşmamda, bişirdiklərim yeməklərin dadında… Mənə öyrətdiyi ən dəyərli dərs budur: sözlərinlə deyil, öz hərəkətlərinlə və həyatınla valideyn olmalisan! Həyatımın ən gözəl anlarını, bütün uğurlarımın və xoşbəxtliyimin mənbəyini nə vaxt axtarmışamsa onun ana və valideyn kimi etdikrlərində tapmişam….. Ümidim yalnız odur ki, onun kimi valideyn və ana ola bilim….
Mama, hər şey üçün çox sağ ol!!! Səni cox sevirəm!!!
Bütün anaları Analar Günü münasibəti ilə təbrik edirəm!
My recent article on how, the factor of external enemy – Armenia – influences domestic politics and Diaspora and is used to manipulate public attitudes. Here I am also adding this Soviet poster of WW II. Full text below:
“The best way of preserving a state, and guaranteeing it against sedition, rebellion and civil war, is to keep the subject with amity with one another, and to this end, to find an enemy against whom they can make a common cause”
Jean Bodin (1955, 188)
The conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, being the largest external problem for Azerbaijan, plays a significant role in shaping domestic and foreign policies ranging from allocation of resources for persons displaced during the conflict to its energy policy. The conflict is also an important issue for the Azerbaijani public — a factor used to justify unpopular policies and to distract from social discontent with domestic issues. In the Azerbaijani Diaspora as well, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a priority issue and has influenced if not shaped the agenda of the organized Diaspora.
What I call the “Armenian factor” in this article can be overall characterized as the influence of the conflict with Armenia on Azerbaijan’s domestic political life, foreign policy, Diaspora activities as well as its influence on all levels of society, from politicians to regular citizens (and Diaspora members). The conflict impacts people and the political processes differently in Azerbaijan and throughout the Diaspora, so I discuss it separately outlining unique specifications for each. Despite the differences, one thing is common: not only does the conflict have impact on most if not all processes, but its importance and existence of the “external enemy” is used to manipulate public attitudes and justify unpopular policies domestically and to create a homogenous message and agenda in the Diaspora. This in turn has negative side effects, not just for the development of an internal debate on key issues but also from the conflict resolution’s point of view.
‘Armenian Factor‘in Domestic Politics
The Armenian factor in Azerbaijani society and politics plays out in two ways: one is the public’s shared attitudes and beliefs that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and the continued threat of Armenia is the biggest unresolved challenge to the Azerbaijani nation. The second is how the existence of the conflict is used by politicians to manipulate public attitudes and delegitimize their competitors and enemies. On the attitudes level, many including political activists are divided over the approach to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict vis-à-vis Azerbaijan’s domestic problems. Most oppositional groups and activists consider the current status quo and Azerbaijan’s inability to change the situation to its advantage a direct result of the current and preceding administration’s policies. According to this thinking, Azerbaijan’s ability to emerge as a winner in the conflict is tied to overall democratic reforms and development, which are not currently happening. Those in the opposite camp view internal challenges to the current government as destabilizing and weakening Azerbaijan’s position, distracting from its main problem of conflict with Armenia. This background of divergent views, combined with the public frustration with the dead end in the negotiation process, and prevailing adverse attitudes towards Armenia create a fertile ground for the use of the external enemy to manipulate public attitudes, silence criticism on human rights violations, and distract from internal problems. Given that collaboration with Armenian individuals and organizations is equated with compromising Azerbaijan’s interest, it has also become a popular tool for public smearing, discrediting of one’s internal political enemies, and in some rare cases, prosecution. The actual prosecution of individuals as a result of “collaboration” with Armenians is highly disputable, and aside from reported cases of questionings by officials, no single case of imprisonment or even charges exist making this more of a perception rather than a reality. The only case that comes close is that of Eynulla Fatullayev, who was sentenced to eight and a half years on charges of terrorism and incitement of ethnic hatred, among others. But even in Fatullayev’s case, the charges are widely believed to be a justification but not the real reason for his imprisonment. The dropping of these charges by Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court in November 2010 showed just how these types of accusations can be used or dropped, depending on the circumstances. Whether a reality or not, even a perception that one can be questioned or detained by authorities creates a cautious environment regarding contacts, connections, or associations with Armenian organizations and individuals. This environment, combined with overall unfavorable public opinion on cooperation with anything and anyone Armenian, makes association with the enemy a convenient and effective tool for intimidating and discrediting individuals in the eyes of the larger public.
The Armenian factor came into play in the days leading up to March 11, 2011 — a day of protest against violations of freedoms in Azerbaijan named “Great People’s Day,” organized by youth activists on Facebook. What seemed to be an organized effort to bring ‘Armenian factor’ into the picture involved a number of interviews and publicly made comments by members of ruling political groups and media that linked the organizers of the Facebook protest to “external forces”, enemies and specifically ‘Armenian forces’ which seek destruction of Azerbaijan. On March 3, the pro-government Web site, Qaynar.info, published an article and posted pictures of well-known journalists, political activists, and academics that have Armenian friends on Facebook stating that the mentioned individuals are befriending enemies on Facebook[i]. Only a few days prior, the Executive Director of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party (New Azerbaijan party) said in an interview with Associated Press that there were a lot of Armenians signed up on Facebook to participate in the events and that “…the radical opposition is ready to work with Armenians against Azerbaijan.” Abel Maharramov, Rector of Baku State University, also said during the televised interview that those participating in the protest were lured into it by the Armenians via the Internet. Another affiliate of the ruling party, chairman of the Youth Union of New Azerbaijan Seymur Orujov, said in an interview to his party’s Web site that the campaigns on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter are being backed by foreign-based forces that dislike Azerbaijan, which include first and foremost Armenians.
In reality, these accusations had little to do with the actual situation. For example, the number of Armenians who showed as “attending” on the Facebook page of “Great People’s Day” was insignificant among the 4,800 who signed up.[ii] Most of these individuals were most likely sympathizers with the human rights cause (also a problem in Armenia) that ‘liked’ the page to show support for the cause. Most youth movements in Azerbaijan and activists who speak up against violations of human rights have minimal contact with Armenian organizations and groups. The linkages made to Armenia, aimed to get the message across that those expressing discontent with the internal situation and challenging the current order, are those of the external enemy trying to weaken Azerbaijan and are not genuinely dissatisfied citizens of Azerbaijan. The accusations also aimed to discredit activists in the eyes of the public as well as to intimidate the youth who started the Facebook campaign and those planning to participate in street protests.
Thus, in internal politics, the Armenian factor, or in other words the external enemy, is used as a manipulative tool to suppress the voices that speak up or challenge the current government and order of things. Such misuse of this factor also has implications for conflict itself as it discourages emergence of new peace building initiatives.
Azerbaijani Diaspora and the ‘Armenian factor’ in the United States
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been one of the most influential factors driving Azerbaijan’s foreign policy and organized Diaspora activities in Europe and the United States. In the last decade or so, Azerbaijan has made an effort to catch up with well-organized, strong Armenian Diaspora and lobby groups by improving its diplomatic corps and encouraging organized Diaspora-based activities. The passing of Section 907 — legislation that banned foreign aid to the Azerbaijani government in the early 1990s and desire to balance out the abundance of information on the conflict coming from Armenian diaspora organizations in the United States — made the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict a top priority issue in the Diaspora’s agenda to generate favor of the international community on Armenia. At a grassroots level, as many Azerbaijanis immigrated abroad for work and education since the early 1990s, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict also became one of the motivators for the communities to organize and promote the Azerbaijani perspective on the conflict in the United States. Consequently, the goals and thinking of formal Diaspora-based groups and regular Azerbaijanis living abroad coincided when it came to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenia. The commemoration events for Khojali; presentations; talks: discussions at universities, with international organizations, and on Capitol Hill; and petitions on various issues concerning Azerbaijan and Armenia, have been part of the routine Diaspora-based organizations’ activities in the United States.
In the environment where the majority of organized Diaspora-based activities are focused on legislative and information wars with the external enemy, the Armenian factor played out in two ways: First, up until the last few years, it led to a shortage or lack of outspoken criticism by Diaspora-based communities and victims of domestic problems, such as human rights and democracy violations in Azerbaijan. Second, the nature of the work discouraged Diaspora-based members in engaging in confidence building measures and conflict resolution oriented activities with Armenians. It should also be noted that the goals of Armenian Diaspora organizations, which are on the opposite end, equally contribute to the difficulties of initiating and organizing confidence-building measures in Diaspora-based communities.
Similar to views inside Azerbaijan and given the Diaspora’s more important role in the “information wars” with Armenia abroad, the predominant view has been that publicizing Azerbaijan’s internal problems, such as human rights violations, would undermine the agenda of generating support for Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Yet so long as the Nagorno-Karabakh issue was not solved, the Diaspora could not afford to concern itself with internal problems. Recently, this picture has been changing. Although smaller in numbers, alternative voices have emerged from Azerbaijanis abroad that aim to bring attention to violations of human rights and lack of freedom in Azerbaijan. The referendum that lifted the limits on presidential terms and later the arrests of bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada resulted in waves of protests by Diaspora members in Washington, DC, New York, and several cities in Western Europe, as well as organized petitions to politicians and international human rights organizations. These individuals and groups in the Diaspora place responsibility for lost territories and a stalemate in the conflict with the current government and see democratization as the path toward strengthening Azerbaijan, which will then put it in a better position to solve the conflict to its benefit. According to them, silence about lack of democratic progress and freedoms hurts Azerbaijan and its development in the long-run.
While the emergence of these alternative views has created a livelier debate on the internal issues vis-à-vis the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict among the Diaspora, critics of the government’s domestic policy still shy away from engaging in debate and/or activities about the conflict, resulting in limited or no confidence-building measures among Diaspora-based groups. The reasons for this are complex — among them are a lack of faith in the usefulness of confidence-building measures and harsh rhetoric from Armenian Diaspora-based groups. The environment itself is not conducive for collaborative efforts: joint events involving both communities are confrontational and full of positional harsh rhetoric from both sides. The events organized by one side usually come under the attack of numerous representatives from the other, which try to delegitimize the event and the presented information. Recent examples include the book presentation organized by the Washington Center for Azerbaijani Studies at George Washington University where German scholar Heiko Krueger, whose book “The Nagorno Karabakh Conflict: A Legal Analysis” book on the legal analysis of the conflict was not liked by Armenians, came under severe personal attack by Armenians in the audience. A few days later, Robert Avetisyan, a representative of the Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh was harshly questioned by a group of Azerbaijanis while presenting at George Mason University. Such an environment reinforced by both sides sets an exclusively confrontational tone and hinders emergence of a more civil debate that could be could be happening parallel to more traditional Diaspora activities with engagement of those members who are in academic and scholarly settings. But similar to the internal situation, a stigma of associating with the enemy is also present among Azerbaijanis abroad. This is reinforced by categorical, black and white views and attitudes as well as harsh language prevalent in a number of listservs by which Azerbaijanis abroad communicate. In a number of situations, those voicing alternative opinions have been ruthlessly attacked and silenced and any peace-building initiatives were renounced as compromising Azerbaijan’s interests.
The above-mentioned elements of the Armenian factor have a twofold impact: they discourage those with moderate views or alternative approaches from engaging in internal dialogue within the Diaspora on domestic issues and on Nagorno Karabakh conflict. It also stifles much needed internal debate preventing the emergence of new ideas and thinking on both of those issues
Implications for Conflict Resolution
Much can be said about the value of diverse opinions and internal debate on domestic issues and on the conflict with Armenia. The protracted conflict and external enemy, amid other factors, create a dynamic that hurdles such debate on the issue and creates pressure to have a united front that has negative implications for Azerbaijan.
From a conflict resolution perspective as well, the existence and misuse of ‘Armenian factor’ has negative implications. While one might argue about possible risk versus perception of risk in getting involved and maintaining contacts with Armenian individuals and organizations, the government’s use of the Armenian factor to discredit and intimidate activists and intellectuals also inadvertently affects cross-border processes, reducing the potential impact greater involvement of such youth might have on conflict transformation.
First, it suffocates the debate on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict internally and between two societies and their Diaspora communities – a process that can contribute to improved analysis and understanding nuances of the conflict by the public in and outside Azerbaijan. Second, it undermines the emergence of larger scale and higher quality public diplomacy and Track II diplomatic efforts, which many experts have repeatedly said Armenia and Azerbaijan need in order to move towards a peaceful resolution.
Domestically, misuse of the Armenian factor steers away most talented and well-educated youth and intellectuals (though not all) from engagement in peacebuilding initiatives and projects. For example, most if not all youth movements in Azerbaijan (AN, Nida, OL, Dalga, etc.) do not have Nagorno Karabakh issue on their organizations’ agenda and stay away from the topic. While part of the reason is the lack of attention by the youth leaders to the issue, another reason is also the additional liability such involvement creates for those operating in already difficult environments. As a result, most youth movements outspoken and critical of government in other issues avoided opinions and criticism on domestic and foreign policies on Nagorno Karabakh conflict. In addition to human rights and youth political activists, amongst larger public, young people shy away from engaging in such programs as they fear consequences for future potential employment with the government or that it may impact family members.
There are negative implications in Diaspora as well – members are by large discouraged from participating in collaborative conflict resolution projects and initiatives that would involve civil discussions and joint problem solving among the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities. Changing the current discourse and allowing for a more tolerant environment to emerge that would accept and engage individuals and groups with agendas of engagement rather than confrontation could contribute to the conflict transformation process much needed between societies. While the agendas and activities of government-funded lobby groups or Diaspora-based organizations on either side are not likely to change, such an environment would allow for more civil debate between the two communities in neutral academic settings. Such initiatives and collaboration could greatly benefit both sides as more scholarship, research and thinking could emerge on the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.
My article published in Caucasus Edition on February 15, 2011 looks at youth in Armenia and Azerbaijan: http://caucasusedition.net/analysis/youth-in-south-caucasus-agents-of-peace-or-future-soldiers/
The year 2010 was a troublesome year for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. With the public on both sides increasingly seeing war as the only way out of the stalemate, the South Caucasus is starting to feel like a time bomb waiting to explode. The youth in Armenia and Azerbaijan stand to inherit the conflict and possibly be the determinants of the direction the conflict will take. They have a potential to become catalysts for peace and reconciliation or continue the cycle of hatred, blame, and intolerance that prevails in the region. Whatever the direction, young people are the ones who will determine and implement it. Yet today, they sit on the sidelines without a voice and watch their governments and “elders” make decisions that will determine their future.
Youth make up a significant portion of the population, accounting for approximately 30% in Armenia (“In Armenia,” 2010)  and 35.6% in Azerbaijan (“State of Youth,” 2007, p. 1). Furthermore, one out of every three persons in these countries is under the age of 35. Having such a sizable population of youth constitutes both enormous potential as well as a challenge for the region in the context of social, economic, and political development as well as when considering implications for the existing conflicts.
The growing population of youth in the developing world has motivated researchers to study various factors surrounding youth participation in violence. While not one factor was found to be a single determinant of youth violence, some studies found that a combination of factors such as large youth cohorts, autocratic environments, economic stagnation, unemployment and others create fertile ground for the youth’s engagement in conflict and violence (Sommer, 2006, p. 6). Research shows that youth who are rebellious and ideological by nature when unemployed are more likely to engage in violent activity. Employed young people on the other hand are less likely to engage in violent conflict due to the risk and costs at stake (considering the cost of job and income loss, etc.) (Urdal, 2004, p. 4). Interestingly, education does not necessarily alleviate the risk of violent conflict as youth with higher levels of education also have high expectations for employment (Collier, 2000). Two other factors, strong collective identity (Huntington, 1996, p. 117) (e.g., ethnic identity) and lack of peaceful avenues to express frustrations and grievances, were also found to be preconditions for young people to act violently (Goldstone, 2001, p. 95).
This scenario concerning the youth is not foreign to the South Caucasus. Youth in Armenia and Azerbaijan are facing many challenges in all areas of life, among which are access to quality education, transitioning to the job market, and finding employment and opportunities in becoming active and engaged citizens in the society and community. Attitudinal surveys show that young people are not satisfied with life in their countries with 76.8% of Armenians (as cited in Navasardyan, 2010) and 66% of Azerbaijani youth saying they want to go abroad in search of better opportunities (as cited in Qarışqa, 2010). A high unemployment rate is a contributing factor with 51% of youth unemployed in Armenia (World Bank, 2007) and 69% of those under 35 unemployed in Azerbaijan (UNESCO, 2007, p. 15). Many among the unemployed youth have higher education, which points to the long-term unemployment problems stemming from flawed educational and labor policies. Youth unemployment alone does not warrant a new war, but the environment of economic stagnation and dissatisfaction among youth will decrease the cost of violent conflict for youth who will have less to lose. Cohorts of idle youth especially in the current environment of hostility are more likely to support war or at least resist it.
Two other factors mentioned in current youth and conflict research must also be considered in the Armenia-Azerbaijan context. First, in both countries strong ethnic identities exist in relation to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and negative attitudes prevail as a result of the fruitless peace process, propaganda, and lack of communication between societies. Second, both countries are ruled by undemocratic regimes and lack free avenues for engagement of youth and expression of grievances. The latter continues to enforce the negative attitudes.
Many experts have noted the predominance of negative attitudes and an enemy image between Azerbaijani and Armenian people, not only as a factor that continuously fuels the conflict but also one that will become a roadblock once the peace settlement is reached. Youth opinions are not only easier to influence but they are also being targeted doubly in two countries. Youth are not only routinely exposed to propaganda pumped through media, but they are also recipients of information in schools and universities that further reinforces the enemy image through history classes and discourse on ethnic cleansing. A recent attitudinal study conducted by the Caucasus Resource and Research Center showed the level of intolerance that exists in the societies. One question revealed that 70% of Armenians and 97% of Azerbaijanis surveyed disapprove of friendships with the “other” (Sonya, 2009). Recent video interviews done by a project of the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation showed that young people in Armenia and Azerbaijan have either no knowledge about each other’s culture and literature or consider it false and stolen (from their own). Perhaps the most disturbing fact is that hostile discourse in the two countries has created a belief among young people that the conflict can only be solved through resuming war as peaceful options are no longer viable.
In the environment where the enemy image and inevitability of war is reinforced, there are limited opportunities for internal dialogue within each society and scarce mechanisms for engagement in cross-border and solution-oriented initiatives. This has a two-fold impact: first, lack of dialogue about different ways to resolve the conflict prevents exposure to diverse opinions and reinforces the idea that war is the only way out of the conflict. Second, it prevents young people from engaging in finding peaceful solutions to the problem. Some who do face the stigma of a “traitor” befriending the enemy receive pressure from their parents, friends, universities, and jobs to stop. With low levels of social and political participation (for example, in Azerbaijan only 5% of youth are enrolled in civic or youth organizations), youth are not likely to have opportunities to shape their own opinions about the conflict and will blindly inherit the opinions of current politicians and opinion-makers (As cited by OSIAF, 2010).
An examination of factors linked to youth violence in the South Caucasus illustrates that preconditions exist for youth in Azerbaijan and Armenia to view war as the only “solution” to the conflict. The current economic environment and high unemployment rates among the youth show that young people do not, and in the near future will not, be living in economic prosperity that might serve as a motivation to shy away from disruptions a war may cause. If the current situation of hostilities and negative attitudes continues, the youth, who live in undemocratic environment, are not likely to engage in peace-oriented pursuits but will choose military intervention as a way out of current deadlock. At the very least, they will stay passive in the face of the status quo that is hindering progress and security in the region.
Despite the challenges facing the youth, it is important to note the enormous potential and resilience youth have to become the generation that could find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Studies done on youth all over the world show that early investments in youth in the areas of education, employment, life skills, and civil participation pay off by enabling them to grow and fulfill their full potentials, turning them into productive and active citizens (World Bank, 2006, p. 1). As recent events in Egypt have shown us, youth can become a powerful force for change. In the South Caucasus, young people have been among the few groups of citizens engaging in cross-border projects and dialogues, embracing technology and new media to contribute to change both on human rights and conflict-related issues. Even with the decreased number of public diplomacy projects in the last five years, young people including students, professionals, and NGO activists continued meeting and working across the conflict line and have formed a cross-border group of individuals committed to dialogue, communication, and a peaceful solution to the conflict. Smaller groups of youth have also become active in human rights and political life by staging demonstrations in Armenia, holding protests, and mobilizing with the use of social media, which lead to the arrests of bloggers in Azerbaijan.
The current situation affecting youth and youth demographics must be carefully considered by policy-makers, international development agencies, and local and international civil society organizations. The governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia have already recognized the importance of addressing youth issues by developing youth policies and, in the case of Azerbaijan, carefully monitoring and “managing” youth activism through controlled structures in universities. Projects organized by international and local organizations are beneficial, but their limited resources and outreach are not enough for significant and large-scale impact on youth. If the deliberate targeting of youth with messages of intolerance, hatred, and war is not stopped, Azerbaijan and Armenia might find themselves dealing with a powerful force, but one that is calling for violence, not peace.
References (see the article for references on http://caucasusedition.net/analysis/youth-in-south-caucasus-agents-of-peace-or-future-soldiers/)