1 May 2010
I am an Azerbaijani who has been living in the U.S. A few months ago, I was invited to participate in an Azerbaijani–Armenian workshop. It was a 12-day event, and it was conducted between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in an isolated house in nature.
The beginning of that venture was difficult for me, as I faced a dilemma: Do I attend a workshop with Armenians, come face to face, eat, sleep, and spend 12 long days together? Or do I reject the invitation right now and forget about the existence of such a dialogue? For me, it was either I decide now or refuse to be broken in the middle and leave the dialogue by showing my weakness. It was also about my family. My father, who was a volunteer during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, was absolutely against my attending the dialogue. Despite these difficulties I made my decision to attend the workshop. I said to myself, “You studied the field of Conflict Analysis and Resolution; it is now time to prove that you have really understood what you have studied and are ready to apply it.”
The workshop was divided into a number of phases. One of the phases composed discussions about the past, present and the future of Nagorno-Karabakh from the perspective of the conflicting sides: Azerbaijanis and Armenians. The purpose of the discussion was not about arguing with or persuading opposing parties on each other’s positions. Rather, it was about sharing views and opinions concerning the issue. Discussions on the subject, nevertheless, led to a number of high tension debates among participants.
During one of the heated debates an Armenian participant and I blew up at each other on the subject. We could not hear each other, nor were we willing to understand each other’s points from opposing perspectives. We both tried to prove the point that was so essential for both of us. We desperately wanted to persuade each other on how much Nagorno-Karabakh is part of our respective identities. We would not be so desperate or anxious to explain if it would not have been so crucial for both of us. The question remains whether we were able to eventually understand each other’s views or not!
After few days I became a good friend with that same Armenian participant. Because he was older than me and had witnessed the Nagorno-Karabakh war, he shared his stories about his Azeri friend before the war. He explained how tragic it was for him to lose his friend due to political discrepancies between two neighboring states that were closer to each other than any other Soviet state. Not only are we neighboring states, we have always been confused because of our physical appearances that looked so much alike. I also shared my story about my father’s experience as a volunteer during the war.
When the workshop was about to end he gave me a gift. It was a key chain with one of Armenia’s largest churches on one side and “Armenia” written on the other. It is a very valuable gift for me. I was chosen among many other fellows to receive that gift. I value and hold it today. But again, as before attending the workshop I face a dilemma. I went to the workshop to apply my skills and experience in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. But I came back with another conflict inside of me, a conflict that has been splitting me apart ever since:
“Do I attach my keys to the key chain and be a betrayer to the people of my own country, my nation, or do I just keep it in the drawer and be a betrayer to my friend?”