15 Jun 2010
A Politically Charged Discourse: Identity and Conflict
That language constructs our reality is a postulate confined not only to social philosophy but also widely adhered to in political science. Identity plays a central role among various elements or constructs within this social reality. What forces define individual and collective identities? How do they define them and why? Various schools of thought within political science answer these questions differently, but many agree that language is a crucial tool in these processes.
It is difficult to underestimate the importance of discourse in shaping constructs such as identity, national interest, and foreign policy. The power to produce this discourse, however, in developing countries, where media is government controlled and civil societies do not have much of a voice, is largely confined to the couloirs of the state apparatus, or the political elite.
The construction of the new post-Soviet identities of the Armenian and Azerbaijani nations was tailored along the historical and cultural trajectories but also through war and, therefore, largely in opposition to each other. What is, however, troubling is the fact that after the war this process as well as the over-securitization of the conflict was virtually “privatized” by the politicians to beef up their political dividends.
The case of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is ideal for analyzing how over the years a discourse around the conflict can be extremely politicized, over-securitized, and significantly shaped by the politicians.
In Azerbaijan, the discourse around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is dominated by anti-Armenian propaganda, shaping and cementing the perception of the people that Armenia and Armenians are eternal enemies. In Armenia, in the discourse around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Azerbaijan, the word “Turk,” for example, figures prominently, referring to Azeris as Turks, and thus injecting centuries-old distrust and painful history existing between Armenians and Turks.
Civil societies in both countries still do not have enough leverage and power to resist the politically charged discourse. It is obvious that today, the war continues on cyber space, in print media, radio, and TV, and the primary tool of this warfare is language. Azerbaijani warfare is offensive, Armenian is defensive, but both are saturated with over-politicized and over-securitized discourse, continuing to shape hostility towards each other’s identities.
It is interesting to note that by articulating this kind of discourse, politicians politically trap themselves. If this politically charged discourse is reduced, it would help those politicians to actually talk about concessions not as failures but as the means to reach a peaceful solution. Therefore, by reducing the politicization of the discourse and increasing its humanization, we increase the significance of constructive peaceful and not the currently destructive processes.
Those Armenians and Azerbaijanis who choose to define their identities not through a hostile perception of each other, but a conscious and constructive understanding of the benefits of peace and neighborly relations, must gradually take control of this hostile “textual warfare” and move it into a positive stream. Much like the authors of this website are doing.
6 Sep 2010
Nikki, thank you very much for reading my post and thank you for your comments. Sorry for getting back so late, I didn't see it until now. My intention in referring to the painful history between Armenia and Turkey was solely aimed at trying to separate that history from the Armenian-Azerbaijani more living and more immediate history. We should not be mixing the two into one pot. And I absolutely agree with you about the concept of victimization. I don't have the room here to go into the depths of the concept of victimization (which is an utterly destructive phenomenon both on personal, societal and state levels) but to reference - I would highly recommend reading L. Abrahamian's "Armenian Identity in A Changing World", it's a wonderful book, and in Ch. 12 he dwelves into the analysis of victimization of Armenians and Azerbaijanis from both anthropological, sociological and political points of view. All best
18 Jun 2010
Agree with the post but would like to point out a nuance... When the author talked about disentangling the emotions around Armenian-Azerbaijani relations from the popular narratives, I would have hoped to see a parallel between the sentiments in Azerbaijan regarding their loss (which, along with other factors, fuels the public discourse) and the strong feelings in Armenia surrounding the events of 1915. By referring to the latter as "painful history existing between Armenians and Turks," the author makes it seem more legitimate and worthy of preserving than the painful history existing between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. It seems to be obvious to me that in any conflict, a side that is feeling more victimized (through de-facto "loosing the war") has a harder time letting go of its image of the victim (which necessarily comes with the image of the other side as a villain). Until both sides come to the acceptance of the need to part with national myths that promote hatred toward the "bad guy that's done'em wrong," the tendencies outlined in the post, unfortunately, are likely to continue.
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