The recent war in the Nagorno-Karabakh region has had some unexpected outcomes, with many on both sides asking, after all the death and destruction, where do we go from here?
One of the biggest issues underlying this formerly “frozen conflict” is the similar freezing of any interaction between ordinary Armenians and Azerbaijanis. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is suspicion on both sides of anyone who would have communication with “the enemy.” Though social media has been full of hatred and propaganda, some Armenians and Azerbaijanis found each other through the noise, seeking to understand the roots of the conflict via each other’s perspective.
One of the platforms that grew from this is “Bright Garden Voices,” which was organized by people who met each other in discussions on Twitter as a result of the war.
The centuries of co-existence between Armenians and Azerbaijanis have largely been obscured by the past three decades of bitter conflict, even though members of the older generation can still speak the other’s language and enjoy aspects of their cultures. Track II diplomacy between private citizens from Armenia and Azerbaijan was severely limited to meetings facilitated by nongovernmental organizations, mainly in Georgia. However, at the outbreak of the war, Armenians from those circles found their former counterparts for peace suddenly awash in an enthusiastic war fever, while they themselves were feeling pressured to stay silent at home.
Paradoxically, the outbreak of war gave Armenians and Azerbaijanis something to share for the first time in so long – loss and pain. With thousands of soldiers killed on each side as well as civilians, this shared tragedy in a way gave insight into and even curiosity about who these people are on the other side. While it might sound counterintuitive, many young people who might not even remember the first war have remarked that despite everything, it was the pain of this recent war which helped them see the opposing side as human for the first time.