The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict told from an Armenian and an Azeri perspective

by Michela Grasso, Viola Zuliani, Massimiliano Sfregola

Post editing: Gianmarco Girolami

Nagorno-Karabakh, one of the most heated territorial disputes of the century, leaving behind death and destruction. And as with most conflicts, everyone seems to have a different opinion on it, making it harder and harder to distinguish truth from fiction. For this reason, we decided to ask two native women, their opinion on the conflict. One is from Azerbaijan, the other is from Armenia, both of them live in Europe and are well-educated.

To both of them, we asked the same questions, and we are reporting the answers without filters. Our task now, it’s simple to understand by listening to both sides of the story.

ANNA, Armenian woman living in Italy.

Could you briefly explain to me why Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war, and why the conflict suddenly re-started?

Well, this topic takes a long time to explain, but I will try to be brief. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the result of an irresponsible and disorganized foreign policy carried out by the Soviet authorities. At the start of the 20th century, Joseph Stalin created the region of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), an autonomous region of Soviet Azerbaijan, although the majority of the population had Armenian ethnicity. Artsakh is important for Armenia since it is part of an ancient Armenian cultural heritage. During the years, the authorities of Azerbaijan tried to gradually eliminate any trace of Armenian culture: they destroyed monuments, stopped teaching the Armenian language, tried to take on the government of the region. Of course, when we saw that we were losing our identity and culture in our land, local Armenians started to protest. This was the 1990s, and as a response, Azeris authorities used force, committing massacres in Maraga, Sumgait, and Baky. The armed conflict started because we wanted to save our lives, we freed Artsakh by Azeri violence and reached a peace agreement with Azerbaijan. After the fall of the Soviet Union, when all the states started to regain independence, Artsakh proclaimed its right to autonomy and independence. The conflict right now started again probably because of the increased tensions in Azerbaijan against their dictator, Aliyev, who is trying to defer public attention from domestic problems. The second reason is the pan-Turkic policy of Erdogan, such as the extermination of Armenians and the destruction of our country to create an empire. Many international journalists have proved that Turkey is involved in the conflict.

What is your earliest memory of the conflict?

I was only 4-5 years old when Azerbaijan started the war in the 1990s. I remember the women crying and praying for their sons, brothers, and husbands that were on the line. I cannot forget the destroyed city and the constant sound of the sirens warning us of upcoming bombings.

(If you have been in NK) How is the country? How would you describe it to someone who has never been there?

Artsakh is a beautiful land with a wonderful nature. It is the heart of the Armenian plateau. It’s a land filled with mountains, water springs, monasteries, and ancient Armenian monuments. It’s an incredible place where past and present, old and new, coexist. Well, if we look at history, Azerbaijan is a young country. It was born in the early years of the 20th century. While Artsakh is part of ancient Armenia, with monasteries that are a thousand years old. As I said before, this conflict is not only the result of irresponsible policies from the Soviet authorities. Azerbaijan does not have the right to claim anything from Artsakh.

Do you have any Azeri friends?

Yes, I have an Azeri friend. Even if I was born and brought up in Artsakh, and of course I saw a lot of cruelty from the Azeri authorities, I don’t believe that this is a reason to hate or ignore a good person simply for his nationality. We are human beings, we were born with the same feelings and need. I am very sorry for those Azeri citizens that are the victim of the Armenian-phobic policies of their country.

Have you ever discussed Nagorno Karabakh with an Azeri person? Would you do it if you could?

To be honest, for me is always interesting to constructively discuss with Azeris the issue of Nagorno Karabakh. With my Azeri friend, we talked about it plenty of times, and since he is smart, he accepted the truth.

Does the population support the conflict? How many are personally involved?

I don’t think any human with a conscience would ever want a war. It’s a hostile element, taking innocent people from both sides. But we never started a war, we are fighting for our right to exist, for our peace and security, for our freedom and right to auto-determination.

How important is the cultural difference between the two communities?

I would say that the main difference between the two communities is religion, since Armenia is a Christian country, while Azerbaijan is a Muslim one. But since I am an optimist, I want to believe that the conflict will end soon and we will all live in peace. I don’t think it only depends on Armenia or Azerbaijan, this conflict is a crossroad of many geopolitical interests and actors.

KHATIRA, Azera, living in The Netherlands

Could you briefly explain to me why Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war, and why the conflict suddenly re-started?

The current conflict started in 1988 when the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh asked for that territory to be transferred from Soviet Azerbaijan to Soviet Armenia. The conflict escalated into a large-scale war at the start of the 1990s. Nagorno Karabakh and the seven surrounding districts are controlled by the autonomous Republic of Artsakh. But they are internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. To understand how this conflict started, there are plenty of articles from international institutions.

What is your earliest memory of the conflict?

I was born in Shusha, in Azerbaijan, in 1980, and the war started, Shusha was occupied. I was a 12 years old child, I was a “war child” that lost her happy childhood and had to move to Baku (Capital of Azerbaijan). The bombing of Shusha was permanent, so we had to leave in an anti-atomic bunker. Shusha was and still is, part of the cultural heritage of Azerbaijan It’s the city that gave life to many poets, writers, and composers. The city is described as a pearl of Azeri culture. The landscape is green, surrounded by mountains, wood and it was a very popular spot for tourism. Nagorno Karabakh was an autonomous region inside Azerbaijan and it was populated both by Armenians and by Azeris. There were not ethnic issues among the two until 1988. Radio stations and newspapers were in both languages, and the capital of the region was Stepanakert, dedicated to the Armenian and bolshevik soldier Stephan Shaumyan (Before it was called Khankendi).

Do you have any Armenian friends?

As I said earlier, before the war of 1992 I had a lot of Armenian neighbors. Right now, I, unfortunately, don’t have any Armenian friends.

Have you ever discussed Nagorno Karabakh with an Azeri person? Would you do it if you could?

if the war will stop, we will have to get back to how we lived before: together and in peace. We don’t want the war, nobody wants the war!

Does the population support the conflict? How many are personally involved?

Nobody supports this conflict. the population will end under the rules of international law, which defines Nagorno-Karabakh as a territory of Azerbaijan, without Armenian soldiers occupying the territory and the other 7 occupied regions, that have nothing to do with the conflict. All of the displaced people have to go back to their own country, which has been occupied for 30 years. there are around 1 million displaced people only from 20% of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan and 250,000 displaced from Armenia.

How important is the cultural difference between the two communities?

As stated earlier, there used to be no problem between the two communities, but the conflict was started by imperialist countries and Armenian nationalists (Like Dashnaktsyutun, Asala, Hinchak with their base in Siria and Lebanon). Now, they are trying to pain this conflict as a matter of religion, because Azerbaijan is Muslim and Armenia is Christian. One important thing: Azerbaijan is and will always be a multicultural country, secularised and Muslim, and in Baku only there are more than 20 ethnicities between Russians, Ukrainians, lezgini, Slavs, Kurds, Tatars, Georgians, ingiloy, Talysh, Avars, Meskhetian Turks, Europeans and mountains jews, Georgian jews, germans, and greeks. Generally, these communities live peacefully together. With the aggression from the Armenian Republic, with the support of Russia, there was an escalation and of course, the cultural difference between the two countries has increased.

Do you think the conflict could end soon?

We have been waiting for thirty years, but as you probably know from the media, the two countries are at war and this time is particularly intense. If Armenia wants peace, they have to respect the decision of the UN Security Council, and immediately withdraw their troops from the 7 occupied territories; only after that, Azerbaijan will be ready to talk of the status of Nagorno Karabak, this is the only solution!


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