“I’m really glad I got to know you, because you’re one of the most outgoing people I’ve ever met. I had the coolest time with you laughing and singing….”

Before sitting down to write this post, I thought for a while as to where I should start. I thought of my encounters with Armenians, our conversations, and what not. Luckily, it didn’t take me long to remember a diary I kept between 1999 and 2000 during my stay in the US. I was 16 years old then and I was attending the FSA/FLEX exchange program.

Her name was Susanna and we both were exchange students in the same state-- California--but in different cities. We met during our first student gathering and we bonded straight away. The quote above is what Susanna wrote into that very diary during one of our trips.

Susanna was the same age as I and we had so much in common. I remember us walking in Chinatown in San Francisco, singing, laughing and telling each stories of our childhood. I remember the moment we met. We didn’t think of where we were from, we didn’t think that our countries were at war. For us, all that mattered was to spend the time we had together and enjoy it.

A year later, I returned home, back to Azerbaijan, hoping that perhaps one day I would see Susanna again. I never did, but without knowing it, I began a long journey of meeting new people, making some new Armenian friends among them.

Five years later, I met another girl from Armenia--this time, in London, where I was doing my masters degree. She had a vibrant personality and warmness. Once again, it didn’t matter where we were from. Our friendship, our similar attitudes mattered the most. Her name is Isabella. And we are still friends, following each other on Facebook.

Since then, I have met many young, bright Armenians, sharing the same values and ideas, wanting same things as peace, stability, freedom and democracy.

For this, I consider myself lucky, because I have had the chance to meet people from Armenia and talk to them, see how similar we are and how much we look alike. I have had the chance to work with them and get pleasure from working together, playing games together, talking and laughing together and most importantly, becoming friends.

And now, I truly believe that dialogue between the two countries is possible. One must only find the right way, the right approach, and make the first step. You see, things like stereotypes and comfort zones are tricky things. Once you step into the comfort zone and adopt a certain stereotype, you find yourself sucked into a surreal world, made up of false premises, wrong judgments, overstatements, and lack of trust. You start looking around you and frantically search for the look-alikes, and that’s when it all ends. Unfortunately, many in Azerbaijan as well as Armenia live in these “worlds of surreal personal existence,” detached from any means of possible communication, collaboration or anything along these lines.

We built high walls around ourselves, feeding ourselves as well as our children on at times unsubstantiated norms and values, turning into robots. We shut down at a time when we should all be turning on and looking for a better, brighter future.

It is time to wake up, it is time to start breaking the stereotypes and leaving our comfort zones.