1 Oct 2010
Artificial Stereotypes and Agitated Misperceptions About the ‘Enemy’
The conflict of ideas and words, then a brutal war over Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijanis and Armenians, did not only “produce” tens of thousands of deaths on each side, but also bad memory and hurt feelings and emotions about each other. The slogans and talks, along with thousands of articles and books written and narrated about the friendship of peoples, brotherhood, and a “United Family” promoted in Soviet media and literature, suddenly disappeared, almost over night.
The early years of the conflict are long behind. A ceasefire lasting over 15 years has not smoothened the “impressions” and “views” about the “other.” Actually, they have only deteriorated in recent years and turned into “firm beliefs.” With the advance of new social media tools such as Facebook, such “views” are more visible among ordinary Azerbaijanis on this side of the trench. Any personal contact or friendship with Armenian fellows, even online ones, is disapproved. The verdicts are strict. The “guilty” are taken into public blaming and discrediting exchanges. Common slogans out there include, “Armenians are thieves and liars,” “They have stolen our lands, have exterminated us,” “They continue stealing our music and our cuisine,” and “There cannot be a good Armenian and there cannot be any exception.”
The sarcastic and belittling comments of Armenian users on the patriotic or nationalist (depending on which end you are standing on) posts and videos of Azerbaijanis only worsens the situation, ending up with mutual cursing and argument sessions on the pages of YouTube or third-country websites.
As an observer from this side it can be noticed that the age, education, and social background of Azerbaijanis expressing such positions do not play a major role. It can be a Western educated woman, currently working abroad somewhere in Europe or the Americas, or a young, wealthy man working in an international environment in Baku. For example, the new video called “Armenian Plagiarism” is very popular on Facebook these days, and according to unconfirmed sources, it is produced by the famous TV host and filmmaker, Orkhan Fikret-oglu. It portrays an Armenian priest who is visited by an Armenian woman. She confesses her sin in stealing… yes, an Azerbaijani song. The priest after listening to her confessions says that he used to like those Azeri songs, too and ends up forgiving her “sin,” then telling her how many more Azerbaijani songs are out there to steal. The entire conversation, which is in Armenian, is supposedly filmed at the St. Gregory the Illuminator’s Armenian Church in Baku and dubbed into Azerbaijani.
But the situation regarding what to think about the adversary has not always been so gloomy in this region. There is a long history of a “giving hand” relationship with the help Azeris and Armenians rendered to each other — to their closest neighbors regardless of what was happening in the streets. Banine (1945), a granddaughter of two prominent Azeri oil barons from the early 20th century Baku who moved to France after the Bolshevik empire was established in these territories, described in her memoir how her family saved Armenian neighbors from the ethnic clashes in Baku in 1918. It is an irony because Banine’s own mother died when she delivered her in a remote village of Baku. Pregnant with Banine, she had to escape from Baku in those winter days of 1905 — during the first ethnic clashes between Armenians and Azeris (Tatars then), and the doctors did not make it due to a snowstorm.
The Soviet empire quickly healed the wounds of nations who fought with each other viciously. However, another common “enemy” quickly filled in the scene. In September-October of 1941, the Soviet Union was at war with Germany and the German army already made it deep inside the USSR. The death toll of the Soviet Army reached the hundreds of thousands, which included thousands of Azerbaijanis. The entire ethnic German population of the USSR living along the Volga River, as well as in the Caucasus, particularly in Georgia and Azerbaijan, were subject to exile to Kazakhstan, Siberia, and other non-frontline territories in a matter of a few days according to the USSR Supreme Soviet Decree. Vine specialist N. Ibrahimov (1997), who was a child in those days, remembered how Azeris of Ganja and Shamkir, where Germans lived for more than a century, were shattered by this act. He recalls that Azeris with tears in their eyes and food in their hands rushed to the railway stations to say goodbye to their neighbors, friends, and co-workers who shared the same ethnicity with the Nazis that a few hundred kilometers away were killing their brothers and sisters — Azerbaijanis, Georgians, Armenians, Russians, and Ukrainians. Despite the official propaganda and discrimination of Germans for their ethnicity, people realized that the Nazi war and policy had nothing to do with their neighbors and friends.
The official Soviet policy on the “German issue” during World War II was not one-sided, either. On one hand, there was a deportation of ethnic Germans within the USSR, with militia and security officers labeling them “Frisian,” “Fascist,” or “Enemy.” On the other hand, the policy carefully chose the words in official documentation and agitation, especially in newspapers and literature. The Soviet news machine aimed not to discriminate the Germans as a nation. Aliaga Vahid (1982), a truly popular Azeri poet in those days who versed several satiric pieces on this issue and like many of his colleagues traveled to the frontline to cheer up the Azerbaijani soldiers, made sure that not the German nation, but “Hitler,” “Nazis,” and “Fascists” were the targets of his edgy poetry. He repeated over and over how German people too suffered from Hitler’s bad policy.
The top hierarchy, too, had not lost their minds entirely. In 1943, in the midst of the horrors of World War II, the Institute of Philosophy of the USSR’s Academy of Sciences published a three-volume history of philosophy that was almost entirely dedicated to the so-called Classical German philosophy of the 18th to 19th centuries. The entire academic team, composed of four scholars, was awarded the Stalin Superior Honor Award by none other than Joseph Stalin himself Even though, according to the same academy’s internal discussions, the award was later retracted in May of 1944 “for mistakes in misinterpretation of the German philosophers’ views,” the fact itself shows how cautious the highest leadership of the Soviet Union was in differentiating the German army in the trenches and the German philosophical thoughts of pre-World War II.
Questions remain on what could be the cause of ethnically biased rhetoric among the people of modern days who were so much against ethnic segregation, bias, and prejudice some 40-50 years ago. As we saw in previous examples, neither the totalitarian empires that controlled peoples, nor the brief independence and self-governance of 1918, could force Azerbaijanis to put aside humanism and common sense. Even 20 years ago the situation was far better. In the early years of the recent conflict between Azerbaijanis and Armenians, a collection of essays called “Bejentsi” (Refugees) were published in Baku in 1992, portraying the difficulties and tortures ethnic Azerbaijanis endured in the Armenian SSR during the uprooting between 1988 and 1989. The book that hosted many popular names of those days (and even today) — poets, writers, and historians, some of whom were born in Armenia — went back to collective memory, personal stories, and history to portray the clashes between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in 1918-1920 and Soviet-era deportation of people during 1948-1952. In these essays, along with tragic stories, there are also small remembrances of ordinary Armenians who, risking their lives, went to the neighboring Azeri village in 1918 to warn them about the rampage that was expecting them the next morning by Dashnak gangs. Another story tells how an old Armenian fellow would shut up a younger one, when he called an ethnic Azerbaijani a “Turk” and an enemy in the 1970s, when everything seemed to be so calm and joyful.
However, things are different today. Many experts try to explain the current situation of negative rhetoric on ethnicity by citing the need for “divide and rule.” The everyday remembrance of the “guilty” for the failure in strong nation-building, along with human and territorial losses in history and today, distract the masses on both sides from daily social problems unassociated with the “enemy.” Others try to justify the aggressiveness of Azerbaijani rhetoric due to territorial gains of Armenia and conspirations that the latter wants to build peace based on the current status-quo, which in turn explains why Armenian takes more peace-oriented approach in its rethorics.
However, none of the above justifies negative coverage in the media and prejudice about the entire nation – in this case Armenians, which in official rhetoric is applied to the future or current citizens of Azerbaijan. There is a need for intellectuals, just like in the past, to step up, break all stereotypes, and have the courage to speak in public and to the media and criticize the approach of aggressive language about another ethnicity – to prevent us all from falling back into the times of the Nazis. These intellectuals are writers, both Soviet-era and post-modernists, some of whom still enjoy great trust among people in Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, they can also include filmmakers and actors, journalists, and bloggers who can make things more visual — like a new video on YouTube about how people on both sides suffer and share the same good values. Instead of trying to keep the neutrality and blaming the extremists from both nations, they need to show the true and right path, which does not ask “an eye for an eye.” Only after these efforts on both sides — in Armenia and Azerbaijan not linked to “popular diplomacy and mutual visits” dictated by officials — can we talk about a long-standing and stable peace that is around the corner.
Banine. (1945). Jours caucasiens. Paris: R. Julliard.
Ibrahimov, N. A. (1997). German pages of the Azerbaijani history. Baku.
Vahid, A. (1982). Selected works. Baku.
Hidayet (1992). Refugees B. Vahabzade, (Ed.). Baku.
 On shortcomings and deficiencies in highlight of German philosophy at end of 18th beginning of 19th centuries (In Russian) Historical journal (Istoricheskii’ zhurnal), No. 5-006, June 1944, page(s): 10-14 http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/7193840
Philosophical Discussion of 1947 – Public and scientific discussion of the Soviets’ philosophy. Wikipedia in Russian http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A4%D0%B8%D0%BB%D0%BE%D1%81%D0%BE%D1%84%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D0%B4%D0%B8%D1%81%D0%BA%D1%83%D1%81%D1%81%D0%B8%D1%8F_1947_%D0%B3%D0%BE%D0%B4%D0%B0