Pathways to peace: “you can’t solve a political issue by force”

"File:Berdzor060.JPG" by Ліонкінг is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

By | Rachel Brooks

December 30, 2020 

Above image credit: “File:Berdzor060.JPG” by Ліонкінг is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Karabakh conflict has caused a great deal of animosity in South Caucasus and Diaspora geopolitical discussions. Republic Underground news interviewed the Armenian-Azerbaijani Diasporan Marat Grigoryan earlier on December 30 to gauge the pro-Armenian perspective of the war, and what Armenians believe is the path to peace. 

Later on December 30, we interviewed Savalan Erdebil, the author of the South Azerbaijan Blogspot “The Question of Ethnic Marginalization in Iran.” Erdebil shared opinions of how the pathway to peace is possible between Armenians and Azerbaijani. 

The opinions expressed are those of the guest, and may not reflect the entirely documented facts of this regional issue. For more information on the facts of the Karabakh conflict, visit the Republic Underground Caucasus column or the Caucasus Exchange network, to hear the expressed research of geopolitical experts from multiple disciplines. 

What are your opinions about the issues in the Karabakh, the pathways to peace?

I think these conversations between Armenia and Azerbaijan (on different levels; between governments and politicians, activists, journalists, academics) are very important and necessary if we want to see peace in Karabakh and between two countries. They need to talk to each other, and I think they can do that.

However, the problem is that if they really want this. Because in the past 30 years, the Armenian side was happy with the status quo and did not bother to seriously engage in any negotiations or dialogue. They wrongfully thought that they would win the war, and the situation was in their favor. I follow the Armenian news outlets and still I see the same old discourses at play. 

Our guest shared this interesting bit of political discussion about Turkey’s role in Caucasus politics. 

The Armenian side should catch up with the realities of today. The reality is that Armenians and non-Armenians inhabited Karabakh for at least hundreds of years and Karabakh is an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan. The root cause of the Karabakh issue was the exclusivist ethno-Armenian nationalism and the use of violence and force to achieve its separatist goal. And it went beyond this. It was not a civil war between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis, but Armenia as a country fighting against Azerbaijan and occupying its territories, ethnically cleansing its people, and committing massacres. Now that the Armenian occupation is over, it is expected from Armenia to end its territorial claims against Azerbaijan. 

It is already proven that this problem cannot be solved through war. Because Armenians live in Karabakh and with the return of internally displaced people of Azerbaijan to their homes they will live again in the same region. The choice we face is whether a political process or continuation of animosity approaches. I do not think the animosity worked out anywhere. Because you cannot settle a political problem with force. Instead of treating one another as enemies they could see each other as parties of a conflict and work on causes of conflict. In seeing each other as enemies we do not give a chance or imagine coexistence. In defining Armenians and Azerbaijanis as each other’s inherent enemies we are naturalizing wars, conflicts, and dehumanization. 

We need to acknowledge the wrong actions of the past and learn from them. For this, it is necessary to establish an independent truth and reconciliation commission. In this commission, people from both sides and the international community can come together and conduct research on this conflict, interview victims of this conflict from both sides, refugees, internally displaced people, survivors of massacres, research the destruction of cities, and villages, hold accountable war criminals (from both cases). This is a necessary step. But again, for this, there must be genuine will and trust from both sides. Conflicts erupt (between countries and communities) because of our inability to address them. Through a political process and dialogue, we can achieve a peaceful co-existence.

Do you have any ideas of how the dialogue can influence genuine trust on both sides? How can both sides educate a path to normalization?

So, the current kinds of these discourses usually are products of chauvinism and ethnic nationalism. They are produced to justify and serve nationalist political agendas. 

The idea is that Armenians and Azerbaijanis cannot live side by side in Karabakh and these communities should be separated from each other. This is just wrong. The point is that we can live in peace if we recognize each other’s humanity, rights, linguistic, cultural differences, and believe in coexistence. 

There are more common bases and similarities for Armenians and Azerbaijanis of Karabakh to focus on, acknowledge, and appreciate than the thing that divide these communities. Peaceful coexistence is not something unachievable or idealistic, it is the only solution for the region. Because in the absence of peaceful co-existence we are left with confrontation and hostile relationship. 

The dehumanization of others is not just limited to Armenians against Azerbaijanis. In Azerbaijan too the occupation and war turned Armenians into inherently evil enemies. All kinds of prejudices and stereotypes are used against Armenian people. This is a sad reality and outcome of the war. The point is that we should eliminate conditions of war and hostility that enables the emergence of these discourses. 

If we have a war between two countries, the hateful rhetoric, prejudices, and “us” and “them” binary will live on. There should be a normalization of relations and then society will change too. This will not be an easy process, but it is achievable over time. The truth and reconciliation commission is important because it can prove that both sides are genuinely interested in finding out what went wrong and are ready to commit to the recommendations of this commission for future co-existence and relations. 

The dialogue between the two sides can challenge those prejudices, stereotypes, and dehumanization that were produced to separate and confront two ethnic communities and countries. 

They can create a space for people to hear from each other about their fears, needs, and ideas for the future. 

In this direct dialogue, they will have a chance to talk with each other. And acknowledge the need for having such a channel to communicate. Through dialogue hopefully, you go beyond your stereotypes and prejudices and start to see those that you are in dialogue with as humans that are equal to you, as communities that we cannot ignore anymore. Instead of letting our prejudices inform us about the other side, we can just learn about it through engagement and conversations that we have. These conversations are not going to be easy but are necessary.

 In discussing different issues, we can hopefully think of solutions to them. So, through open and honest dialogue we can show that we are not afraid of talking, we are serious about finding solutions for our problems. This act of engagement and commitment to dialogue and conversation can enhance genuine trust on both sides. 

In this process local and international media, education, civil societies, and international organizations can play an important role. Both societies should have conversations in their media outlets about the importance of normalization of relations.

The aim is to educate public opinion and change perceptions. This is important for denaturalizing settled ethnic hatred and prejudices within the broader societies of Azerbaijan and Armenia. They should stop using the language of insult and hate.

Because words matter, they influence public opinion and become the basis for our relations and understanding of each other. That hostility cannot be the defining character of our relations as countries and communities. We live in this region, we are neighbors, we had wars, but we must move on and normalize our relations. Both sides will benefit from this normalization process.