How to prepare the people for peace in a conflict where there is no peace at all?

shushaIt feels that the societies of Azerbaijan and Armenia have gone a little farther from the situation 3 years ago. While both people cannot come into serious contact with each other, positive examples also exist.

If we look at the political steps taken by the conflicting parties in recent years, it looks obviously clear that Azerbaijan side has been consistently demonstrating not to be interested in keeping status quo in its current status since 2016.

Azerbaijan aims to achieve progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the background of its increasing economic capabilities and initiatives in the projects of international importance. Regardless of the contours of this progress, the Azerbaijan side also expresses its interest in achieving peace in the region.

After the recent change of power, the Armenian side has changed its firm position mainly to mobile position. The Armenian side also understands that there is a need for at least a clear peace plan, as the long-term freezing of the conflict does not satisfy the structures of the European Union, which have political interests in the region. The Armenian society does not discuss possible dividends to be gained from the peace, however, there are attempts to describe it.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s meeting with President Ilham Aliyev in Davos, in fact, is the third meeting of the heads of state, taking place during various events. However, it should be taken into consideration that these meetings of heads of state are not organized under special purposes, but in the background of general events, except for the meetings of two country foreign ministers. Reactions to the organized meetings show that the parties have started to give importance to such contacts.

Meanwhile, I started to review comments under the statuses on social networks shared by the Azerbaijanis and Armenians. A striking first impression was that although social network users’ accusations and insults do not go down, their tones feel softened. Until 2010, the mainstream of polemics or abusive correspondences between internet users was taking place in the forums. After the Facebook social network has become popular, the main “fight” platform of internet users moved here.

The fact is that now the “train” of the community’s peace-building has become activated.  And what about the impressions of the people in the peacebuilding processes?

“Change the Territories to Peace”.

Interview and comments given by Armenian Prime Minister Nicholas Pashinyan show that people in Armenian society do not tend to think over returning the territories unconditionally, as we expect, to achieve the peace.  As the struggle of Pashinyan against the “Karabakh clan” becomes aggravated, the protests of soldiers in Nagorno-Karabakh will increase. Therefore, the formula for “transforming the area into peace” remains a fantasy mainly for some media representatives and experts.

“First economy and then peace”

The scenario, in which Armenian side and the world community were most desirous of, was towards the parties to restore economic relations among them and thus to facilitate the pace to peace. Even in Azerbaijan, they think “if Armen from Asgeran sells potatoes from his yard not in 300 km far Yerevan market, but in Barda market far from 50km, it will change his attitude to the conflict.” At the same time, it is believed that by rendering economic assistance to Armenia, we will free it from the impacts of neighboring states. In Armenia, they also think that if the population of Azerbaijan goes on economic cooperation, people will forget about the Nagorno-Karabakh problem over time, “because they are not interested in Karabakh and the occupied territories.” What is obvious is that Azerbaijan is not interested in eliminating economic blockade without seeing progress in the liberation of the territories.

The people will decide. “No step will be taken out of the will of people”.

This formula is often referred to in official circles. It’s the formula we mostly have heard in Azerbaijan and Armenia. If we base on the logical sequence, the will of the Armenian people is “to see Nagorno-Karabakh independently”. The will of the Azerbaijani people is, however, “to see Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan”. Hence, the will of the people will not allow bringing the positions closer. However, if there is a common denominator, it will be possible to persuade people to correct their positions.

“I will not sign any document without your knowledge”

This is a new formula. Nicholas Pashinyan frequently has addressed this message to the crowd in his speeches after his election as a prime minister. The fact is that the information given to the population about the negotiation processes has only generalized nature. When the parties to the conflict give general information to the population, instead, Russian experts share the concrete dates referring to the reconciliation reached during the “negotiation processes” in Azerbaijan and Armenian media. If to believe in them, the parties even have discussed the liberation date of the regions or the day when the borders are to be opened. Now it makes wonder who wants to convince the population about this disinformation and what is their purpose?

“They will incite peace”

It’s a matter of recent debate. In case the parties cannot reach an agreement between them, they may be incited to sign a peace document by the European Union, Russia, and the United States. No one can deny this option, though it seems less persuasive. If the attempts to reach peace by the parties and the interests of the powerful states in the region intensify, this can be considered as an option.

“First status, then peace”

The main desire of the Armenian side is that it is impossible to accept any of the peace processes without getting consent over the status of NK territory.  That is to say, two documents, “package” solution and “phased” solution options were proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group. The “package” solution did not satisfy the Azerbaijani side and the “phased” solution was rejected by the Armenian side. Then, the “Madrid Principles” were set out as a mixture of these two options. Since 2007, the negotiation processes run around those principles. Now, it does not look promising to return to the previously offered options.

“Let’s make peace and forget about everything”

Naturally, it would serve to the interests of Armenia, which is interested in maintaining the status quo today, to normalize the situation by slightly changing the current outcome of the conflict. However, as the situation in the conflict does not depend on the wishes of the actors to the conflict, this formula comes to be relatively applicable. The Azerbaijan side also demonstrates to be interested in this formula after changing the result.

Both nations have been deprived of direct contact for 30 years. In the meanwhile, the gap is filled with mutual hatred and anger. The information war has deepened, and slanders among these two nations have reached to such an extent that every word intended to normalize relations is irritating.

Identification of Azerbaijan with Turkey and steps taken to give a political assessment to the events of 1915, as well as, the propaganda of Azerbaijan side about the Khojaly tragedy dissuade people to reach reconciliation efforts among them.

The doors of Azerbaijan are closed to Armenians and Armenians for Azerbaijanis. Even the citizens of other nationalities with Armenian origin face hundreds of obstacles to visit Azerbaijan. The same thing happens in Armenia as well. It is impossible to travel there with Azerbaijan surname. Of course, in both cases, special consent is required.

For 30 years, the press has been filled with hatred materials to each other and formulated a generation that has no adequate imagination on the opposite side. They only hear the propaganda advocated inside the country. In the meantime, they are experiencing difficulty in getting or are not interested in having alternative information or in obtaining information from the opposite side. The propaganda is set up so that the observer wants to believe that only he is justified in his assumptions showing the opposite side guilty.

Discussions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan Telemedia demonstrate mostly people’s displeasure and irreconcilability. The news on Armenia is mainly focused on showing that they are economically underprivileged. The Armenian broadcasts on Azerbaijan, however, aim to create an image of a country where the corrupting system is dominating and human rights are violated.

In Azerbaijan, there is an idea that Armenians are starving in their countries. In Armenia, there is an idea that only wealthy people live well in Azerbaijan, while the rest of the population is “begging.” Myths are inexhaustible in both societies. These myths arise from the lack of real news and are particularly provoking.

Now, if the parties are willing to start preparing their own people for peace, it should take its start from the elimination of the myths I have just mentioned above, because the myths that the societies have been creating for many years will have the most serious obstacles to real peace in the future.

Avaz Hasanov 

Humanitarian Research Public Union

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