1 Apr 2020
Conflicts and Militarization of Education: Totalitarian Institutions in Secondary Schools and in the System of Extracurricular Education in Azerbaijan (Part 1)
*This article is the first part of the co-authored piece Conflicts and militarization of education: Totalitarian institutions in secondary schools and in the system of extracurricular education in Azerbaijan and Armenia, Ukraine, and Russia by Sevil Huseynova, Jafar Akhundov, Eviya Hovhannisyan, Ksenia Babich, Katya Myachina.
**Read the second part of the article on Armenia here. Read the third part of the article on Ukraine here. Read the fourth part of the article on Russia here.
The influence of the army has been increasing rapidly in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia, and Ukraine. A wide variety of youth associations related to this total institution, militaristic volunteer organizations, and groups of nationalists that propagate far-right ideals become more and more vocal (Goffman 1961, 1–124). Militaristic institutes, discourses, practices, and rituals gain momentum and become increasingly more visible in the public spaces. One of the reasons behind these developments are the armed conflicts lingering for years and decades.
In all the studied countries, despite some differences, the army is built around mandatory conscription. Thus, a significant part of youth, especially men, find themselves within the authority of this total institution “where a large number of like-situated individuals, cut-off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time, together lead an enclosed, formally administrated round of life” (Goffman 1961, XIII). However, for many years now militarization of the society is not limited to mandatory army service.
The institutes of secondary education that are under near complete control of the political regimes in the four countries of focus are an ideal channel for dissemination of militaristic practices, military-patriotic discourses, and rituals. As rightfully noted by Seth Kershner and Scott Harding in reference to the United States, “schools are a primary site for socialization into societies that support war” (Kershner and Harding 2019, 191).
All the societies examined in this review have gone through the process of similar “socialization,” although to a varying degree and at different times. Despite some differences, there are many similar trends and strategies of the militarization of the societies in these countries. The strengthening of the army or the increase in military budget is justified by the necessity for defending the homeland. The instigation of the conflict, and the inability to prevent it or reach a resolution, are always blamed on external forces with no introspection. Each political regime insists on own rightness and attempts to divert criticism by labeling it as “antipatriotic.”
The conflicts that persist as a result of this militarization and militarypatriotic propaganda lead to the death of the own citizens of the states: both as military personnel and civilians. Even in the case of conflicts that are considered “frozen” for a long time (for example the NagornoKarabakh conflict), the constant causalities along the line of contact have become the expected norm. The killed citizens then become a “resource” that fires up the revanchist and patriotic sentiment and supports further militarist rhetoric and mobilization.
Secondary schools are the most important institutions of primary socialization for all future citizens of a given country. In a conflict context, these schools are turning into institutions that produce militarist and revanchist-minded patriots, future soldiers, and officers who are ready to sacrifice their lives for the theoretical future of their state. Military education, a legacy of the Soviet Union, is a standalone subject that has been reintroduced to secondary schools in one form or another. In each of the four studied countries, new strategies for educating “future patriots” from children and teenagers are being developed and put into practice.
Secondary education, which is one of the most important periods of primary socialization of an individual, once militarized can deprive societies of the chance for successful peaceful transformation of conflicts. This review of the situation in the four post-Soviet countries will not only draw readers’ attention to the obvious general trends around this issue but will also enable them to see the specifics of the process of militarization of societies in each country.
Military-political discourse and state youth policy in Azerbaijan
The April 2016 escalation and militarization of rituals
The April 2016 escalation resulted in substantial changes in the measured flow of education in Azerbaijani schools. Students of middle and elementary schools were gathered during breaks and class sessions and sometimes even after school to participate in military-style drills as well as recitation of patriotic poems and the national anthem. During these activities, the participants were dressed in military or militarystyle uniforms. Some of the participants held imitation machine guns in their hands. During two weeks of intensive activities, the most popular motto was “The martyrs are immortal; the homeland is indivisible!” During these improvised mass activities, teachers told students that another Armenian attempt to seize their land completely failed and they were crushed with responsive measures. Also, students were taught that the duty of each Azerbaijani as a real patriot, regardless of age, was to be ready to sacrifice everything, including his own life, for the homeland. That was something that the martyrs—the heroes of the April war—had already done.
Military-patriotic education as part of the academic and educational process has a special place within the overall nationalistic discourse (cultural, political, and ideological). The militarization of education discourse at the middle school level is the organic continuation of memory and history politics carried out by the authorities. One function of history politics is to represent the ruling regime as the only competent actor in interpreting national history that also holds the monopoly over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement. Thus, on the internal and foreign policy level the military-patriotic education has the following two main goals:
- In the historical, cultural, and national-ethnic aspect, it refers to identity, contrasting Azerbaijanis with Armenians and representing Azerbaijan as a bastion that for centuries has resisted the aggressive claims of the “historical enemy” constructed through ethnic, cultural, religious, and even biological categories;
- On the side of domestic politics, this education is aimed at contrasting the government with the opposition and representing the ruling political regime as an uncontested and competent force that can protect the interests of the nation and state.
Institutes and agents of power
The Azerbaijani government’s repressive approaches augmented by the lack of unity within the opposition have stripped the latter of any type of wider respect. The opposition’s attempts to play military-patriotic games on the same field with the authorities are strictly curbed by the regime. The authorities have also not been in favor of allowing the development of any large youth organization, even a militarist-patriotic one, as it could hypothetically transform into a significant political actor. Considering the absence of any significant non-state actor in the field, this section is focused on the official governmental politics of military-patriotic education.
The authorities carry out the military-patriotic education through centralized state structures and different actors within the civil society (through so-called “GONGOs”). In general, there are three major institutes and/or agents of power that implement the policy of militarypatriotic education:
- The educational institutions where one of the central pillars are the secondary schools;
- Different NGOs that are focused on working with youth (including only youth organizations and NGOs that work with veterans);
- Specialized ministries, local executive authorities, and other state structures.
It is difficult to overestimate the key role of schools as one of the most important institutes of state propaganda in Azerbaijan. The school has a huge emotional impact not only on children. The scope of information outreach includes teaching staff, technical staff, parents, and other close relatives attending various school events. In essence, it is the school that is the most important institution of collective memory generation. The military-patriotic education curriculum is realized through the utilization of the following resources:
- Specific textbook content that represents national-moral categories, identity criteria, enemy images, and the history of confrontation in the past and the inevitability of repetition of the confrontation in the future;
- Inclusion of the teachers, especially those representing the field of humanities and military instructors. Their efforts make the pages of textbooks come to life, narratives are visualized and are overlaid on each other, which significantly enhances the effect;
- School rituals related to holiday and mourning dates with the obligatory inclusion of military-patriotic rhetoric that call to remember the losses and heroes, as well as to be ready to continue the heroic struggle of the ancestors.
In addition to school rituals, students are included in numerous state programs and projects ranging from cooperation with museums to different military-sport competitions and military-patriotic camps. Local executive authorities and specialized ministries usually manage the organization of these activities.
The “real citizen” and the “real patriot” has to know his enemies and his roots, as well as be a person who remembers. These criteria are reflected in the National Curricula—a conceptual framework document adopted by the Ministry of Education in 2006. The document defines the learning outcomes and standards of narratives in the field of general education (General Education Concept [National Curriculum] of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2006). The rationale for the course on “History of Azerbaijan” presents the following requirements for this academic course:
Delivery of this subject ensures mastering of systemic information on Azerbaijan as one of the most ancient human settlements, statehood traditions of Azerbaijan, origin and development of Azerbaijan people and its national, social, moral and spiritual values, position and role of Azerbaijan in geopolitical location, contribution of Azerbaijan into development of the world civilization, interventions experienced by Azerbaijan and fight against these interventions. (General Education Concept (National Curriculum) of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2006)
Separate attention should be paid to the content of history textbooks. The historical narrative presented at schools tells the students that hundreds and thousands of years ago their direct valiant ancestors protected their native lands, and they inherited not only heroic glory but also the eternal hostility of aggressive neighbors, which determines the need for constant readiness to defend “native lands” with weapons in their hands. For example, in the fifth-grade history textbook in the section dedicated to the heroic epic “Book of Dede Gorgud,” the necessity to be always armed and vigilant is expressed by the words of the main character—the old man Dede Gorgud: “An old enemy can never be a friend.” The same passage explains who should be considered as an enemy. These are the Georgian and Armenian feudal lords under the auspices of the Byzantine Empire who are called “the infidels in black.” At the end of the section, the authors construct a myth about the direct connection of times and generations, portraying the theme of the never-ending struggle with the enemy.
“Oghuz Turk brave men vowed to avenge the blood of the deceased Shahid. This tradition of the Oghuz Turks eventually spread among the entire Azerbaijani people. The Azerbaijani people even now swear that they will not leave the blood of martyrs without retaliation.” (Mahmudlu, Jabbarov, and Huseynova 2016)
At the same time, Armenians are those, who are described by “hypocrisy and Armenization of Turkic-Azerbaijani place names/toponyms” (Mahmudlu, Jabbarov, and Huseynova 2016). Textbooks for higher grades expand and deepen this historical discourse.
The special role of narrators was briefly discussed above. Due to the charisma and credibility of those who narrate story, the patriotic narratives vividly reflect in students’ consciousness. Although the Ministry of Education urges all teachers to engage in this kind of educational work, undoubtedly, the teachers of humanities and military instructors take the lead role. Military instructors teach the course “Premilitary training of youth.” They are reserve officers and are appointed on the recommendation of the State Service for Mobilization and Conscription of the Republic of Azerbaijan. They can have a significant influence on students. At the same time, they can use their credibility to marginalize teachers of other disciplines in case those have more moderate views towards propaganda of enemy image and militarization. Students who possess and express an alternative point of views can also be ostracized. They can have their grades lowered. Also, these students lose the support of their classmates who don’t want to be criticized for lack of patriotism.
In addition to specialized military classrooms at schools, separate educational corners for military-patriotic education are established with the support of the leadership of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense. These facilities house poster presentations, documents on the history of the development of the army, and manuals for pre-military training (Azertac 2008). In 2015, a pilot project was launched in Baku that later could be expanded to other cities and the regions of the country. Per the agreement between the Ministry of Education and the Space Instrument Engineering Experimental Plant of the Ministry of Defense fifty schools will be equipped following the latest standards. The military classrooms have already been equipped with training machine guns, handguns, grenade, and landmines as well as with different electronic equipment (Ministry of Education of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2016). We can learn about the classroom atmosphere during these classes, for example, from the article published by the military instructor of Baku school No. 80 Reserve LieutenantColonel Mursala Gurbanov (2015): “Military-patriotic Education of the Youth: What Aspects Should be Emphasized?” The author starts his article with a quote from Heydar Aliyev: “Everyone must promote and educate patriotism, loyalty to the motherland, and willingness to sacrifice life for it.” Gurbanov directly ties patriotism with the readiness to self-sacrifice. Later he lists historical figures from different historical times and with a diverse background as an example. This list simultaneously can include the leader of the anti-Islamic uprising of 9th century and the founder of the Safavid state in the 16th century, shah Ismail Khatai. Within the national-patriotic discourse both of these figures are considered Azerbaijani whose selfless struggle for the motherland has to be an outstanding example of pride and an ultimate goal. Gurbanov stresses that Azerbaijanis are heroic people that have educated resilient youth, the proof of which are the martyrs that battled with the “Armenian thugs” to the death.
The author also touches on the issue of identity. The historical and educational discourse includes an axiomatic statement about the Turkic foundation of the Azerbaijani people, their ancient roots, and rights to the lands of their ancestors due to their ancient origin and the constant struggle for independence. Due to such an approach, certain historical periods have ambiguous interpretation. On one hand, the Soviet period is presented as an era of total imperialism and colonial oppression. Gurbanov interprets the internationalism characteristic to the Soviet period as an integral part of the anti-Turkic policy of genocide. But even against this bleak background, the period of Heydar Aliyev’s leadership stands out as a time of unprecedented growth in all areas.
Rituals at schools
At the end of the above-mentioned article, the author stresses the need to strengthen/intensify work with children. There is a need to introduce children to poems and other literary works related to military topics, underline the importance of mass/collective visits to the graves of martyrs and other memory places, and so on. All these steps are an integral part of school rituals that take place on holiday and memorial days in the form of theatrical performances attended by parents. Occasionally, these events are accompanied by school patrols when students are dressed in military uniform and stand on guard with training weapons in their hands on all the floors. Gurbanov concludes his ideas of military-patriotic education with a thought that the bloody history of Khojali intensifies the sense of revenge towards the enemy. At the same time, World War II veterans who saved the world from the Nazi plague cannot be forgotten either. The introduction of veterans in this discourse is not a coincidence. They participate in the majority of events on the military-patriotic topic organized by schools or state structures at the schools. They represent the link between generations and the past. The stories about German Fascism are inevitably compared with “Armenian Fascism,” and not in the favor of the latter.
The more recent school rituals, which gained additional reinforcement after the April 2016 war, include the participation of 5th to 10th graders in combat marches during school parades held at some schools shortly before the celebration of Victory Day on May 9. Yet another school ritual that is not connected with any specific event is the campaign “Letter to the Soldier,” as part of which students write letters to soldiers serving on the contact line. This campaign was launched right after the April war on the initiative of ASAN (Azerbaijan Service and Assessment Network) (ASAN 2016).
The new wave of militarization
The four-day war of April 2016 showed that militarization course adopted by the regime is yielding results. The military escalation of the conflict that immediately followed the economic crisis diverted society’s protest mood in the direction necessary for the authorities. In April there was an increased number of young men volunteering to be sent to the front line. Within this context, the statements made by school students about their readiness to take the orders and participate in military actions do not seem far-fetched or exaggerated (1news.Az 2017).
The April events signaled a new round of militarization and an ambitious campaign of military-patriotic education. New narratives and new places of memory appeared. Now it was possible to be proud of not only the heroic and selfless struggle of the martyrs and ghazis during the unsuccessful actions in Karabakh in the early 1990s but also of new victory and display of public solidarity as many had long been waiting for. This meant an increase in the number of commemorative events with a strong militaristic pitch.
The impressive intensity of events included seminars, conferences, roundtable discussions, visits to places of memory, different military-sports games, and military-patriotic camps. These activities were held either at schools or with the participation of students and were implemented under the auspices of local executive authorities, the Ministries of Education, Defense, Internal Affairs, Youth and Sport, State Border Services, and the State Service for Mobilization and Conscription.
Post-April 2016 events
The first large-scale events held throughout the country in April 2016 were the lavish funerals of soldiers killed during the fighting. Funeral processions accompanied with a special escort drove along the city streets with music, and groups of teachers and schoolchildren ushered them along the route. The schools in which the deceased officers and soldiers studied or those schools that were located in the districts where they lived were renamed after them. The names of new places of memory—Lele Tepe, Chojuk-Marjanly, and Seysulan—were just introduced to the discourse (in 2018 they were included in the History of Azerbaijan textbooks for the 11th grade). The most visited places of memory became the Ally of Martyrs in Baku and Guba Memorial. The latter was created to honor the victims of the genocide committed by Armenian Dashnaks and Bolsheviks against Azerbaijanis in early May 1918 (Azertac 2017). From mid-April 2018 Heydar Aliyev centers across the country hosted events organized by the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan, YAP) party and the local executive authorities. In addition to teachers and schoolchildren, veterans (gazi) of both the Karabakh war of the early 1990s and World War II, as well as parents and other close relatives of those killed in battles for the Nagorno-Karabakh region, were necessarily invited to them.
Almost all such events followed a standard plan. After laying a wreath to Heydar Aliyev’s memorial a speech was made by the head of the local executive authority who never failed to mention the April escalation. The April events were presented as symbolizing an outstanding victory that became a part of the history of the Azerbaijani army. Within this discourse, it is always underlined that this victory, like all other achievements, is a result of successful policies laid down by Heydar Aliyev and carried on by Ilham Aliyev. Such events were also organized in the areas of relative proximity to the context line. The most frequent location for such events became the village of Kuzanly, the municipal center of the part of the Agdam region that is under the control of Azerbaijan.
The speeches made by the relatives of deceased soldiers are also not very diverse. All of them emphasize the sense of pride and joy that their sons had fulfilled their duty to the motherland and reached the heights of martyrdom. And it could not be otherwise because they brought their sons up as real patriots. As a rule, all relatives confidently state that all young men should be ready to scarify everything for motherland. The fight should continue, otherwise all the sacrifices would be in vain. This type of unity is possible only as a result of “correct” military-patriotic education of youth before they are drafted into the army.
Later, similar events were scheduled at schools as well and took place throughout the entire year almost non-stop. A scientific-practical conference and training on the “Role of the April fighting in the promotion of military patriotism” conducted as part of the project “Advocating Patriotism among Adolescents and Youth” serves as a good example of the nature and atmosphere of such meetings. An event with the participation of party officials and representatives of local executive authorities with the financial support of the Youth Fund took place at the Gabibbek Makhmudbekov Technical and Humanitarian Lyceum No. 2 (Azerbaijan Youth Foundation 2018).
The framing of the overarching theme of the speeches relied on Heydar Aliyev’s words uttered at the Youth Forum: “Since part of the territory of Azerbaijan is occupied, national-patriotic principles of education should be instilled from childhood, should become a way of life, the life charter of every citizen” (Aliyev 1996). Thus, military-patriotic education should begin in childhood, and it should include all levels of education, military service, and family. The youth is getting completely absorbed by this process. These types of events usually conclude with a presentation of certificates, diplomas, badges, and various gifts.
Military-sports games and military-patriotic camps
Military-sports games (MSG) and military-patriotic camps (MPC) play an important role in the process of military-patriotic education. According to the head of the Department of Preschool and General Education of the Ministry of Education Aydin Akhmedov, in 2014 there were plans made to introduce children to life in the military units, real weapons, and participation in the military oath ceremony (Ministry of Education of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2014).
The very first MSGs were organized at the end of the 1990s. For example, from 1998 to 2014 MSGs called “Cəsurlar” (in Azerbaijani, “The Brave Ones”) were organized. The goal of these events was to strengthen the military-physical shape and get youth ready for the army. Students from grades 7-9 participated in these activities. This was a nationwide competition with a separate district and city stages with the participation of over 35,000 students (Ministry of Youth and Sports of the Republic of Azerbaijan n.d.). Competitions included overcoming an obstacle course, passing a minefield on a cable, crawling under electric wires, throwing a grenade, building tents, and so forth. The opening ceremony of the games took place in April of every year at the Jamshid Nakhichevanski Military Lyceum and the closing ceremony (after 2003) was preceded by a visit to the grave of Heydar Aliyev and the Alley of Martyrs (Azertac 2014).
The current MSGs called “Şahinler” (“Hawks”) follow the same pattern. The main goal of these activities is the readiness to repeat feats of heroes and martyrs. Teams are formed of students from grades 9-11, and each team includes 10 boys and 4 girls (Ministry of Education of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2019). During four competition rounds (school level, city/region level, district level, and national level) students compete in their skills of correct handling of weapons, protection against chemical weapons attacks, removal of the wounded from the battlefield, and so forth. Children from schools assigned to areas occupied by Armenian troops are also involved in the games (Azertac 2015a).
In recent years an MSG organized by the State Border Services called “Sərhəd” (“The Border”) is gaining popularity (Azertac 2015b). For example, in 2015, 680 students from 136 schools of 28 border regions participated in these activities. In 2018, the numbers increased to 890, 178, and 34, respectively, and climbed to 1035, 207, and 36, respectively, in 2019. Furthermore, each summer a separate MPC called “Sərhədçi” (“Border guards”) is organized for students from grades 7-10 (Armiya.Az 2018). In addition to the ideological and educational program, the students are trained in assembling and disassembling machine guns, chasing and detaining, providing first aid, the art of camouflage, and drill training.
Since 2014, each summer the local authorities together with the Ministry of Defense organize MPC “Gənc Heydərçilər” (“Young Heydars”) in the Qusar district. Children of military personnel serving on the contact line, children of martyrs, and students with outstanding academic and sports achievements are included in this camp. In contrast to other camps, this one is open only to boys who vacation here and learn about the everyday life of soldiers, learn to use weaponry and other skills. The number of boys each year ranges from 150 to 180 (Azertac 2015d; Azertac 2015c). The ideological component plays a significant role in all these processes and it is aimed at strengthening the cult of personality. All speeches made by the high-level officials and the organizers of such events emphasize the great care and concern displayed by President Ilham Aliyev and his wife, the first vice-president Mehriban Aliyeva towards the families of the martyrs (Azertac 2019a; The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2019).
Pro-governmental NGOs and State Policy towards youth
In an environment of an almost complete absence of independent civil society organizations in Azerbaijan, this section will focus on so-called pro-governmental NGOs. Few opposition youth organizations, including their headquarters often represented by opposition parties, do not put forward any alternative ideas regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Moreover, they are also involved in the deepening of the popular revenge discourse. Members of such NGOs can offer an even more radical assessment of the conflict and criticize the government for the lack of effort and unwillingness to resolve the Karabakh issue by force and for the lack of proper patriotism among the authorities. As a result of their criticism towards the authorities, they are deprived of direct access to schoolchildren and students. The activities of pro-government NGOs is strictly dependent on government allocated grants since there are no other sources of funding available to them. This automatically sets the agenda within the official national-patriotic discourse. Thus, the activities of these NGOs are not much different from the youth organization of the ruling party YAP, which is considered the largest. According to official data it has about 250,000 members.
The authorities never underestimated the youth’s potential and always were very strategic in using this resource. The roots of the official youth policy go back to the Heydar Aliyev’s decree on the establishment of the Ministry of Youth and Sport. On February 2, 1996, the First Youth Forum official opened where Heydar Aliyev made a speech. A year later, February 2nd was declared Youth Day. Since then the number of youth NGOs started to grow. Currently, there are around 300 youth NGOs among almost 3000 registered NGOs (Ministry of Youth and Sports of the Republic of Azerbaijan n.d.). Among them, for example, is the Society of Young Patriots, which was established in 1998.
In 1999, the Cabinet of Ministers of Azerbaijan issued a decree to establish a program on “Strengthening Patriotic and Civic Feelings among Youth” (Cabinet of Ministers of Azerbaijan 1999). Later, the President’s decree on “State Youth Policy” was issued (President of the Republic of Azerbaijan 1999). These documents provided for an action plan that included the creation of a Center for Patriotic Education, conducting thematic games and contests in kindergartens, instilling a spirit of patriotism in children, creating a children’s encyclopedia, installing thematic advertising stands, and so forth. These development vectors were supported by the 2002 “Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan on Youth Policy.”
During Ilham Aliyev’s presidency, the work with youth structures gained new impetus. Several new government programs for youth were introduced. Among them, the one that presents a particular interest for the current analysis is the State Program “Azerbaijani Youth.” It has been adopted three times: for 2005-2009, 2011-2015, and 2017-2021 (Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2017). The program entails civil and patriotic education, introduction of students to the heroes who made a contribution in the Karabakh war, improvement of the quality of military education (this subject was renamed to Pre-military training of youth), improvement of the quality of the military-sports games, creation of thematic animated movies and cartoons, and organization of seminars and conferences. After April 2016, the implementation of this program became more intense and non-stop. The Youth Fund (Azərbaycan Respublikasının Gənclər Fondu) that was established in 2011 became one of the main grant allocation sources for programs initiated by the government as well as those suggested by the grassroots. Authorities paid even more attention to youth policy, especially considering the possible negative backlash due to the socio-economic crisis, which was reflected in the creation of new specialized structures. Within the Presidential Administration, a new youth department and a corresponding committee within the Parliament (Milli Mejlis) were created in 2017.
The number of NGOs working in the military-patriotic field constantly increased due to serious support, including financial support, shown by the state. Among the most active NGOs, “Revan” Public Association stands out. Within the framework of the project, “Learning about the national heroes and propaganda of their activities,” the movement’s activists organized several seminars at the schools in Baku and some regions of Azerbaijan (Teleqraf 2014). After the events of April 2016, this association organized a new project with similar goals, called “Azerbaijani Hawks in Karabakh,” that told the story of officers and soldiers who participated and died during the April fighting (Koordinat 2017). According to the provided information, the mission of the association is to support the defense policy and the unequivocal and definite activities of President Ilham Aliyev to liberate the occupied territories, as well as the teach children how to follow the example of the heroes (Metbuat.az 2016).
In recent years the NGO “Ireli!” (“Forward!”), established in 2005, has been gaining popularity. The declared mission of the organization is to support the implementation of the state youth policy and comprehensive development of the youth, development of civil society aimed at protection of national interests, and education of well-intentioned citizens. On that point, this organization was one of the many such organizations working within this field. After April 2016, on the wave of patriotic sentiments, the organization organized a series of events that resulted in their wider popularity. In December 2016, the members of organization visited the Lele Tepe Heights that fell under the control of Azerbaijan after the April fighting. The area became not only a new place of memory but also a new symbol of victory (İsmayilov 2016). During summer 2018 the organization organized a military-patriotic camp “Marsh Ireli!” (“March Forward!”) in the village of Kuzanly in the Agdam district (Azertac 2019b). The first camp brought together 100 people aged 18 to 20. In 2019 the second camp was organized in the border Geranboy district with the participation of 150 people aged 17 to 25 (1news.Az 2019). The participants engaged in a special social and sports program featuring extreme conditions, participated in meetings with civic activists and veterans, and visited military units and posts. The camp program included various simulation games such as overcoming an obstacle course as part of reconnaissance, jumping from a height, launching an attack on combat positions, obtaining fire and food, shooting, topography, and tactical training.
Mir Hasan Seyidov, the chairman of “Ireli!”, spoke about the importance of preparing the youth to take part in the information war as well. According to him, the youth is another military unit. There is a significant number of young people who need to be trained and prepared accordingly and who need to expand their information base. Seyidov stated that “Azerbaijan has a strong army, the state and the people are united, and our project is aimed at the further development of youth, the exploration, and realization of their potential in the military-patriotic sphere. The country should be protected not only by the military but also by the entire public, especially young people. Our youth is the vanguard of the country, devoted to their homeland, its values, traditions, and ideals! We must always be ready to free our lands from the Armenian occupiers” (Novosti.Az 2019).
What was routine life like at the typical military camp? What influence did it have on young people, and what drew them to participate in the camp? One of the participants, Ahmet Hasanov, 18, agreed to answer these questions (the name has been changed to respect the privacy and confidentiality of the respondent). The simulated military environment of the camp was the main reason he decided to attend the camp. He wanted to expand his knowledge in the military field, learn about military structure, and find his passion so that when the time came for military service he would be ready for it.
Ahmed revealed that the wakeup call was at 6 am, after which everybody needed to get ready for the drill. According to the military regulations everyone needed to be clean shaved every day; however, the participants had to shave using only ice-cold spring water. The same water was used to wash the dishes after meals. This was uncomfortable, but it boosted the sense of responsibility. Ahmet believed that they would never lose their sense of responsibility after having this camp experience.
The camp participants also met with veterans—the participants in the April 2016 fighting. They spoke about their combat experience, military operations, and their perception of Armenians. At the same time, they didn’t speak about Armenians in a derogatory way. The enemy should not be underestimated and treated as weak. There are smart and skillful soldiers among Armenians as well. The main criteria used to judge the lack of intellectual development among both Armenians and Azerbaijanis was the cruelty and torture used towards the wounded. Excessive use of violence was an indicator of a low level of education. Highly professional and skilled soldiers prevent suffering and kill fast.
Besides, veterans and other professional service members conducted trainings on assembling and disassembling machine guns, martial arts, and sniper shooting. There were also competitions in shooting at a moving and standing target, throwing knives, overcoming an obstacle course, pulling a cable and other competitions. The camp program also had a built-in time for acting. As part of practical sessions, participants had to stage and act out some scene from a military movie. Day and night there were military drills, fire drills, and mine shelling drills. Participants were taught how to overcome such situations with minimal losses.
By the end of camp, it became clear to Ahmet that his understanding of military service was completely different. He stressed that they had to obey orders, but he never clarified what type of orders. “The orders are not questioned. We understood that. We also developed a sense of unity. When somebody is not feeling well, the rest rush to help him. The trainings were so intensive and took place under such a blazing sun that every day around 20 out of 150 participants would faint. This became a routine thing for us, and in such situations in the future, I think, we will be able to maintain our composure and come promptly to the rescue. We also learned how to work as a team and developed self-control and patience.”
Based on the analysis of methods and ideological forms of work with youth in the area of military-patriotic education we can identify three main vectors of its implementation.
- Ideology: The real patriot has to know his roots (history, culture, religion, national-moral values) as well as know the enemy forces that oppose them. The education system and various commemorative practices are used to promote this education. In recent years religious rhetoric has also gained popularity, which is facilitated by the cult of dead heroes, popular in the Shiite branch of Islam. This could an important topic for a separate article.
- Sacralization: There is a tendency toward sacralizing the image of the homeland in general and its symbols in particular. This concept materializes in the form of unaccountable, almost religious devotion and love towards the motherland. At the same time, the motherland is certainly associated with the state, which in turn means the ruling regime. The discourse introduces the concept of trinity: state power, army, and people.
From early childhood, a true patriot and well-intentioned citizen should be brought up with the best human qualities, has to feel connected with his roots, accept that there are no of alternatives to the ruling regime, and be ready to give his life for holy state symbols and ideals. The images of martyrs and heroes represent the highest form of patriotism. In this regard, the Karabakh conflict remains a powerful consolidating force and an inexhaustible source for the preservation and development of conflict discourse.
- Practical training in military-patriotic education: Military competence is becoming an integral criterion of a properly educated patriot.
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Armiya.Az. 2018. “Завершилась Смена Военно-Патриотического Лагеря «Серхедчи» [The Current Session of Military-Patriotic Camp ‘Border Guards’ Concluded],” July 20, 2018. http://armiya.az/ru/news/135346/.
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Azertac. 2008. “В Средней Школе Номер 239 Сабаильского Района Созданы Уголок Военно-Патриотического Воспитания И Военный Кабинет [Military-patriotic education corner and a military classroom are established in the secondary school N 239 of Sabail district],” March 12, 2008.
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Azertac. ———. 2015d. “Səbail məktəblilərinin yay düşərgəsində istirahəti mənalı və məzmunlu keçib [The rest of Sabail district schoolchildren in the summer camp was meaningul],” August 31, 2015. https://azertag.az/xeber/Sebail_mekteblilerinin_yay_dusergesind e_istiraheti_menali_ve_mezmunlu_kechib-881128.
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Azertac. ———. 2019a. “‘Şücaətə görə’ medalı şəhid Aqil Omarovun ailəsinə təqdim edilib [The family of Shahid Agil Omarov was given the medal “for Bravery»],” June 2, 2019. https://azertag.az/xeber/Sucaete_gore_medali_sehid_Aqil_Omar ovun_ailesine_teqdim_edilib-1290378.
Azertac. ———. 2019b. “‘İrəli’ İctimai Birliyi ‘Marş İrəli’ layihəsinə start verib [The project ‘March Forward’ of the Public Association ‘Forward’ has been launched],” July 2, 2019. https://azertag.az/xeber/Ireli_Ictimai_Birliyi_Mars_Ireli_layihesin e_start_verib-1301719.
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The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Republic of Azerbaijan. 2019. “Əmək və Əhalinin Sosial Müdafiəsi Nazirliyində Aprel Döyüşləri Şəhidlərinin Ailə Üzvlərinin və Bu Döyüşlərdə Iştirak Etmiş Hərbi Qulluqçuların Bir Qrupu Ilə Görüş Keçirilib [The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection Held a Meeting with a Group of Soldiers, as Well as Family Members of Those Killed in the April Fighting],” April 4, 2019. http://sosial.gov.az/post/2136.
 Different parties to the conflict carry a different level of responsibility for conflict escalation. For example, even with all its complexities the conflict in Eastern Ukraine never would take such a large-scale and bloody turn without Russia’s direct military intervention there.
 Including related extracurricular education organizations and practices (summer camps and others).
 Armenia and Azerbaijan reintroduced the subject many years ago. In Ukraine, the subject “Protection of Fatherland” was introduced at the high school level during the presidency of Petro Poroshenko. In Russia, while there is no mandatory subject present called military education, the network of “cadet classes” becomes increasingly popular (see below).
 The collective literary image is presented in textbooks as a real historical figure.
 A standalone school subject on military education starting from the 9th grade has also been part of the Soviet education system. Many schools had special classrooms dedicated to the topic. The subject was usually taught by teachers in military uniform.
 Heydar Aliyev’s cult is an integral part of a larger national-patriotic ideology. In 2019, at various government agencies all across the country, events dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Heydar Aliyev assuming power are held.
***The featured photo by kyo azuma on Unsplash.
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