These two blog posts by Scary Azeri and Global Chaos were originally published as part of a series for an online project giving space to alternative voices on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh. (They are posted here in order of their publication.) The project is managed by British journalist Onnik Krikorian, the Yerevan-based Caucasus editor for Global Voices Online. "Sometime in My Lifetime" By Scary Azeri
The first time I saw an Armenian name in the comments of my blog I was confused. Who was this man, why would he be so friendly to someone who called her blog Scary Azeri? He turned out to be a journalist working in the region. Very shortly after his first comment, I noticed that he linked to my blog posting. Sure, I was grateful for the exposure.
However, it was a slightly controversial topic, about restoring virginity back home.
‘Why would he choose that particular piece?’ was my first reaction. ‘He might want to portray my home country in the worst possible light! What if he is using me to laugh at Azeris?’ Pretty soon I realized that all he was trying to do was bring the two nations closer, in whatever way he could, by getting people to communicate.
Since then, over a year ago, Scary Azeri is being read by quite a few Armenians. In fact, at some point, there were days when my blog would receive more hits from Armenia than from Azerbaijan. I was not sure if it was a good thing- I still wanted to be allowed to visit Baku without getting into any trouble!
If you think I am exaggerating, you simply don’t have any idea just how paranoid some Azeris are about any association with the “enemy”. A little while ago, when I mentioned my Armenian readers to my friend, she was sincerely concerned. She told me that she closed her Odnoklassniki account after a few of her Armenian ex-classmates from Baku added her to their friends.
She was worried what might happen if she keeps in touch with them. She was concerned someone might be watching her every move online.
I thought she was losing it, to be honest. But she blamed me in becoming too western. Too relaxed and unaware of the reality back home. Perhaps it is understandable she was so paranoid. I did hear of people in Azerbaijan being questioned by the authorities after voting for Armenia during the Eurovision. I mean, seriously?
But I wonder if things are changing too rapidly for anyone to control or stop them. Yes, a lot of my Azeri friends, people I love and respect, still shock me with their reluctance to consider the possibility of a friendly future with Armenians ever again.
Yet, the more I look around, the more I realize that there are plenty of people, mostly the younger generation, who are more than happy to communicate. People who just want to talk to each other, without dwelling on the same issues and throwing them in each other’s faces over and over again.
One Azeri friend said that, even though he understands the sentiments, he could never forget or forgive what happened. ‘You have not been personally touched by the war’, he added. He was there, in Karabakh, loading the corpses into the truck.
Maybe. I was thinking about what he said, and wondering if that is why there are so many young people amongst those who are happy to be friends again. Maybe they are too young to remember.
But what about us? People who were there when everything happened?
Okay, I have not been personally touched by the conflict. I did not lose a lover or a relative; I did not even know anyone who died. Even so, we all suffered from being at war. The damage to our lives, to our countries left us crippled for years. But, besides remembering the time when it all changed so tragically, I am also old enough to remember what it was like before.
In my class at school, half of us were Azeris. The rest were other nationalities. I did not even register the fact that some of my classmates were Armenian until people started to leave. Did I suddenly start hating them just because they had an Armenian name? Of course not. Does my mother hate her university friend who had to flee from Baku, but then, years after, having found my mum on Facebook, got in touch? I watched them talk on Skype, laughing, sharing their memories. Nothing had changed between them. Nothing ever could.
My blog is never political. Well, almost never. I talk about cultural stuff, funny or peculiar things we, Azeris do that seem bizarre to the rest of this world, and the other way round.
What has become apparent from the year of blogging and comments I get from the Armenian readers is that we are very similar in a lot of ways. I am not sure why we should be surprised about that. We were part of the same country for an awfully long time. It isn’t just the war that we share but so much more. Our mentality, cultures and backgrounds are interlinked and the similarities come through in our music, food and customs. The internet opened the doors in the virtual world that have been shut by the war in the real life.
But, in the real life, how far does this conflict stretch across the borders? What happens abroad, far away from the conflict zone?
Well, I would argue that it fades away.
In Moscow, Bakuvians hang out together. And when I say Bakuvians, I don’t mean only Azeris. Just like in Tbilisi, on the neutral territory, a lot of Azeris and Armenians happily co-exist. They share toasts, laughs and happy memories. They date, make friendships and forget the problems they left behind.
In the UK, I occasionally run into Armenians, too. Once at work, in London, I was introduced to a new temp. Her name was Natalia and there was something awkward in the way she looked at me when I said I was from Azerbaijan that made me realize she might be an Armenian. It was not a hostile look. It was the look of confusion, embarrassment and discomfort.
She turned out to be an Armenian whose parents immigrated before she was born. She did not know much about Azeris (or Armenians for that matter) and she did not know how I would react when she told me she was an Armenian. Once we established that neither of us was going to kill the other, we could relax and chat, laugh at the awkward moment we shared, and enjoy talking about the problems in the region, cultural aspects and things we both wished were different.
And that is what it feels like to someone living outside the conflict zone. Of course I remember what happened. But I also remember the good parts of the past. Every war eventually comes to an end. And I sincerely hope there is going to be peace in the region sometime soon. Sometime in my lifetime.
Scary Azeri blogs at http://scaryazeri.blogspot.com.