Freedom of Choice


Our birth does not depend on our will. We are never free to choose where and when to be born. So when I appeared in this world I was already given several facts about myself in the following package:

1. Nationality: Armenian

2. Place of Birth: Baku, Azerbaijan

3. Year of Birth: 1988

In 1988, I could not imagine that the first two facts were actually about to be incompatible. And it was not me to decide that at the age of one I would have to leave the city, where my life had started, without a right to ever go back. Anyway, it had to happen and it happened.

My family left for Yerevan, where life restarted from an absolutely new page. I was growing and with time understood who my mommy meant when she repeated from time to time: “I wish I could have any news from Jamal Mekhtiev” (Jamal was her favorite student in Baku). I learned what a strange word “Montino” meant (it is the name of the neighborhood where we lived). I was actually told so many different stories about my family’s peaceful life in Baku and the tragic events we turned to be engaged in, that it was really difficult for me to define what I exactly felt about all that.

Many years passed and I chose political science as my major at university. On the one hand, I realized that I was truly interested in that field of study. But on the other hand, I could notice that my profession was making me a hard-hearted person. I started perceiving events mostly in the light of tough politics. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for me was less about compromise/dialogue and more about fighting till the end. Though if you asked me, I certainly was totally unaware where that “end” had to be….

More years passed and I got a chance to participate in a project called “Model Caucasus Parliament” aimed at creating a platform for young people of the South Caucasus to develop cooperation for positive political change in the region. It was the first time when I met Azerbaijani guys. To tell the truth, I had mixed and uncertain feelings and expectations from the upcoming meeting. The first day of the program confirmed my thought on a slim possibility of both a dialogue and even a simple communication. But the second day was already totally different. It started from the moment when an Azerbaijani guy who seemed to be the most intolerant and impolite (shame on me for that thought about him!) came up to me and introduced himself. We shook hands and started talking about so many similar things about us. That was only the first step and a perfect start to the program, my acquaintance with Azerbaijanis and finally a future global change in my perception of Azerbaijani-Armenian relations.

And then… effective parliamentary coalition building; an unforgettable cruise of the Bosphorus; presenting gifts to each other in Istanbul; a bright photo shoot with the flags painted on our faces in Crimea; exemplary teamwork on planning a political campaign and discovery of new friends in Telavi; singing “Wind of Change” as a hymn; absolutely useful debate skills; cheerful outdoor activities in Gudauri and many other warm memories from the time when we worked on building mutual respect and trust. Every new task/discussion/interactive game within the frameworks of those projects was challenging us to find out whether we were ready to listen to and hear other participants, draft any proposal on the basis of universal human values, and realize an utmost necessity to unite in order to solve a lot of our essential issues concerning civil society, free media, parliamentarism, and conflict transformation. My experience revealed that not only were we ready to face those challenges but also could succeed in most cases.

Today my major is still political science. And the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is still frozen. The policies of the Azerbaijani and Armenian governments did not change almost anything at all. However, something very important changed in myself. Now I clearly see that none of our countries will become developed unless we live in a peaceful region. Otherwise, the whole world will further avoid starting any projects here, because we do not recommend ourselves as a sustainable region, which other countries can trust and rely on. So the fight till the end, which I mentioned above, has to be directed against endless hate, vengeance, and malice for our compatriots who did not yet have a chance to realize that they are on a wrong way.

Well, our birth indeed does not depend on our will. However, it is always us who decides how to live further. We are always free to make a choice between war and peace, hate and love, destruction and creation, death and life. Taking into account the facts of my life one can notice that I was actually too close to devote myself to the negative feelings. But my parents as well as Armenian and Azerbaijani friends did not allow it to happen. And I am most grateful to all of them for that.

P.S. The birth of our children also doesn’t depend on their will. And neither will they be given a chance to choose the circumstances to be born in. So if each of us takes responsibility to bring and keep peace in the region, our children before their birth might be confident that there is something in this world they must be born and live for.

Leave a Comment

What are your thoughts on the subject?


Artashes Karapetyan

19 Jan 2011

While at CEU, I myself have made wonderful friends with Azerbaijanis. I come myself from a conflict region, that was bombed by Azeri air force shortly after you were born (Kapan, 1992). Nevertheless, your thoughts send a shiver down my spine. Shnorhakalutyun hetakrkir hodvacneri hamar!

Onnik Krikorian

16 Aug 2010

But true, every person has the right to choose their own identity, and for some people this means wanting to consider themselves first and foremost as a member of an ethnic group. I just don't think this is very productive and it is precisely this that meant that minority groups feel discriminated against and in the case of the Caucasus has been the reason for ethnic conflict. So, shall we thank the Soviets for that? I'd rather not, especially when all of the three South Caucasus countries have ethnic minorities to varying extents and need to resolve this issue. Should a Yezidi born in Armenia feel less part of the country than an ethnic Armenian? Should an ethnic Azerbaijani or Armenian born in Georgia feel less part of it too? Same goes for minority groups in Azerbaijan and in a sense, we have the context of the problem of the three frozen conflicts in the region. Yes, let everyone determine their own ethnic identity, but strikes me that in this region this results in less rights that what little actual citizens of the majority ethnic group have. Moreover, this is usually reflected in the attitudes of the respective governments too. So, let individuals choose to be whoever they want, but society and governments should frame nationality in the form of citizenship with the added protection of minority rights regulated by law. This is the South Caucasus I want to see, although it's true, it's going to take several generations before the inherent nationalism in majority ethnic groups, and even in minority ones, disappears. Of course, it also means that the rights of citizens is even observed and respected by governments even in majority groups. Alas, there is no sign of that happening either. It is just like the "good old Soviet days" after all...

Onnik Krikorian

16 Aug 2010

Richard, and you want to continue the old Soviet practice? We are now in the 21st Century and it's been two decades since the Soviet Union imploded. I would at least like to see the old mentality of considering nationality to mean ethnicity to be gone by now, and especially among young people. However, tragically the old mentalities live on...

Onnik Krikorian

15 Aug 2010

BTW: As for your comment about post-Soviet countries being unable to value human life, you're right, but that's only going to continue until the concept of citizenship is embraced, understood and respected. If anything, not realizing this is not going to resolve anything. What is actually necessary is for citizenship to take precedence, but with minority rights and the right to forming an individual identity respected and protected. Of course, that neither exists in Armenia, Azerbaijan or Nagorno Karabakh, but it really has to if there is to be hope for the future.

Onnik Krikorian

15 Aug 2010

Veronika, I totally disagree. The problem quite simply is that in the South Caucasus there is no concept of citizenship and the rights of citizens. Meanwhile, you say that Jews remain Jewish and Armenians stay Armenians, but that simply isn't the case except for in non-democratic countries where nationalism based on ethnic and religious identity is the norm. Simply put, a Jew is not a Jew first and foremost in the U.S. or Europe, for example, and nor is an Armenian. They are American, French, British, whatever, and are equal under the law. Then they have the right to their own ethnic (as opposed to national) identity. What is the problem in this region, and the reason for so many conflicts is a) the inability of governments to accept that equality and b) outdated notions of ethnic identity that take precedent over citizenship which can only lead to conflict. Sorry, did I say "can?" I meant "have" and will continue to do so until this mentality is changed. That, however, is unfortunately going to take many, many generations...

Veronika Agajanyan

11 Aug 2010

I guess Onnik is certainly aware of that system but his approach is close to the one which denies any national ID, since the latter cuases ethnic conflicts and very often among the citizens of the same country as it happened in our case. However ethnic and cultural diverstiy is not only natural for the humanity but also necessary for the dynamic development of the history. So Jewish stays Jewish, Armenian stays Armenian regardless of the country they live in. And people (and there are a lot of them) who consider this trend as something negative or destructive are either influenced by stereotypes or do not see the problem itself. And the problem, as I mentioned it in a previous comment, is rooted in post-Soviet countries' inability to truly value HUMAN LIFE and make everyone equal before the law. This is why I do not understand why we have to percieve the concept "nationality" the way the Western countries do or vice versa. It is not the point, is it?


5 Aug 2010

Perhaps Onnik doesnt know that in Soviet times all Soviet citizens were assigned a "nationality" in their internal passports. For example in the Soviet Union a Jew living in Russia would have "Jewish" as his nationality. An Armenian born and living in Georgia would have "Armenian". Likewise for any number of different ethnic groups.

Veronika Agajanyan

2 Aug 2010

Onnik, thank you for putting a piece of this text in "Global Voices" as well as for the feedback. The problem is definately less about terminology but much more about the lack of democracy, true civil liberties, equality and other issues you have mentioned above. "All citizens should be equal as nationals of the same country", not much will be changed if I say "All people should be equal as citizens of the same country", while the exciting problems can be considered to be solved in none of the brought versions. So my nationality/ethnicity/WHATEVER one would call it caused the case described in the post. And the sad thing is that today, when 20 years passed from those days, literally nothing has been changed on that matter. I still cannot visit Azerbaijan or host my friends from Baku in Yerevan. Thus yes, Ibrahim, thanks for your interest and I agree that governmental organizations have to take initiative to make the improvement in Az-Arm relations deeper, wider and more serious. However since the governmental organizations are not the independent ones, it complicates the situation. Nevertheless for the present I am happy to watch the slow but obvious trend of youth's willingness to make that first step.


24 Jul 2010

I have read whole text up to down. Most of us(Azeri&Armenian) thinks that peace or war till the resulted solution are necessary.So what the reality? I think as a first step dialogue between youth started should be furthered by governmental organizations. Thanx btw to Veranika(montinio)

Onnik Krikorian

21 Jul 2010

Veronika, nice post, but I am struck by reference to your nationality as being Armenian whereas in Western terms it is actually your ethnicity. Of course, I understand that ethnic origin is used for "nationality" in these parts rather than citizenship, but it shouldn't be and is actually the main problem facing countries such as those in the Caucasus region. All citizens should be equal as nationals of the same country, but with respect and protection of their ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic rights. In fact, I can't help but think that a lot of this boils down to the need for democratization, equality, tolerance and human rights in all three countries, but sadly, I don't see much change happening in this respect, hence why so many internal "ethnic conflicts." This is even more depressing and just a little ironic when you consider, as you point out in the post, that this is very much an accident of birth.