A tale of two cities: the trauma of the Karabakh war as told by both sides


By | Rachel Brooks

December 16, 2020 


“File:Agdam-nagorno-karabakh-3.jpg” by Joaoleitao is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

In recent events, westerners have risen to condemn the conflict in the Karabakh region. A strong emphasis has been levied against the Azerbaijani stake in the conflict. The western world poorly understands the conflict, in a region with only vague U.S., European, and Australian influence. 

Called by so many names, labeled both religious and ethnic war, the western misunderstanding of the Karabakh war shows a deeply flawed logic in foreign intervention for normalization. The war in Karabakh has always been one of territorial dispute.  

People from both sides of the war have since weighed in on the human toll of the conflict. As the west squabbles over punishment for war crimes, they failed to acknowledge those who had suffered them. Those who had survived them. 

Between those who live in the Nagorno-Karabakh, though, the conflict is known as a mutually devastating one. It is a war unwanted but forced to continue by political narratives. For over a century, the issues of the Karabakh conflict have been forefront in the thoughts of both sides. 

From the Azerbaijani perspective of the war, an artistic analysis gives perspective. The famous Azerbaijani playwright, Jafar Jabarli, described the conflict and the social ills surrounding it in his plays. A complete volume of Jabarli’s work appears in Eserleri or  “Works”.  


The above footage shows a performance of the “In the Year of 1905”. 

Jabbarli’s play “In the Year of 1905” which has been captured on film in live performance, depicts two former neighbors of the Karabakh, fighting on the Armenian and the Azerbaijani side of the war. Before the war, they had been neighbors in Old Bakhshi. One neighbor was Azerbaijani and the other Armenian. They are described in the newspaper print of the synopsis as having “common cause, common joy, common grief, common aspiration, and common labor.” 

During the conflict, they hear each other’s voices. They call out to one another to confirm their worst suspicions. Upon the discovery that they were once neighbors, they decide together to lay down arms and stop fighting one another. 

Further works, both of fiction and documentary, depict the struggle between neighbors, and the pain of both sides. The 1993 film Feryad or “The Cry” depicts the sorrows of the war from the Azerbaijani perspective. This film was created using the testimonies of those who had witnessed the war. Feryad is the last feature film with actor and producer Jehyoun Mirzayev The film won several national film awards in Azerbaijan for the best screenplay, best actor, best director. It was produced by Nazim Abdullayev. 

As the ravages of war still shake the people of Karabakh, Armenians and Azerbaijani alike expressed their grief that the war between neighbors continued into 2020. Ethnic Armenians described, via social media, how their families were torn apart when ethnic Armenian wives were forced out of Azerbaijani homes over the bitterness the war provoked between the two people groups. 

Despite this fact, nationalist rhetoric has likewise continued into the present day. Via social media, an Australian ethnic Armenian college student called out an Armenian Twitter-user for stating that Armenian nationalism was just as dangerous as the pan-Turkic movement. 

At the same time, both sides, feeling deeply embittered toward each other for the crimes committed during the war, and mutually blaming one another, are also calling for peace. On October 19, the Armenian newspaper Epress.am posted an anti-war statement analysis that was oddly contrary to the ethnonationalist rhetoric that was the common course of the conflict. The statement still focused on the Azerbaijani side as bearing culpability but was a step in a positive direction that had not been echoed frequently by counterpart narrative. 

This film regarding the horrors of the Khojaly Massacre of 1992 during the Soviet fall war era, depicts brutal warcrimes by Armenians against Azerbaijan and reminds the public that the issues of this war cannot be told from a one-sided perspective. 

However, this war is the predictable continuation of the war that was frozen in 1994, but that never brought peace, as well as decades of vain and confidential negotiations. It is also the continuation of the long process that went on because of the prioritizing of class/economic interests, chauvinism and political expediency over human lives by Azerbaijani and Armenian political elites, as well as the isolation of the societies from one another, which has created a vacuum, and the uprooting of the vision of peaceful coexistence.

We need to admit that neither the socialists nor the liberals were able to counter the xenophobic language that made it impossible to have substantial negotiations. Kocharyan’s nonsense about the genetic incompatibility of Armenians and Azerbaijanis was presented and, by many, perceived as an undeniable fact.

The text acknowledges that “genetic incompatibility” between the two ethnicities is “nonsense.” The statement likewise continues to denounce Pashinyan’s influence by propaganda machines: 

Were Nikol Pashinyan and his Civil Contract party, who came to power as a result of the 2018 mass popular movement, “Velvet Revolution”, not affected by the product of the propaganda machine that had been working for decades? Of course, they were. A vivid example of that is the statement by Nikol Pashinyan from Stepanakert: “Artsakh is Armenia, period.” We are convinced that through substantial and transparent negotiations, mutual concessions, and a negotiating process led by the imperative of seeking justice and lasting peace, it would have been possible to avoid this tragedy. However, history does not know the word “if” and does not go back to the starting point, but once again leaves the choice between peace and war.

In perhaps the hopeful outlook of the statement, which proceeds to provide a solution to the continued conflict, the author acknowledges that modern Karabakh dwellers, and the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan alike, do not wish for the war to continue among a new generation: 

In the context of war, a new discourse is created, that spreads both in Armenia and Azerbaijan: “We will not leave the war to the next generation”. This is what both Armenian and Azerbaijani volunteers and conscripts say. 

The mythologized history textbook, the personal and collective grief, and trauma, the provocation we see in the media that is always made by the other, as well as the horizon of events that exist in the dimensions of the nation-states are pushing to choose the path of war, destruction, and self-destruction. 

We consciously choose peace.

While the citizens of Armenia may seek peace, as expressed above, political narratives, fueled likewise by the leftist opinions of foreign-born Armenians, will not allow this transition to happen smoothly. For every Armenian national who speaks out against the fruitlessness of the war, there is a foreign-born ethnic Armenian who promotes the idea that the war is one of genocidal intent. This diaspora does not understand that Armenians and Azerbaijani alike have intermarried in times past, and were divided brutally by the local war over land.