“My enemy, my friend”


At first the screen is blank. Then there is a voice, starting to tell a story, there is mellow music in the background. The stories are clips of life stories of war survivors. The war is the Nagorno Karabakh war. Survivors are Armenians and Azerbaijanis now living in Karabakh and across other currently under occupation surrounding regions. The stories are funny at times but bitter and sad at most. Funny, because people find humor healing. Bitter as its upsetting to hear what people remember and what they have been through. Sad, because when we all need to look into the future, most of us are stuck in the past- a dark, unforgiving and bloody past.

These stories are part of a series of documentaries produced by Conciliation Resources, an international non- governmental organization registered in the UK. The initiative was launched in 2006 and called “Dialogue Through Film”( http://www.c-r.org/our-work/caucasus/dialogue_through_film.php). The idea was to “build some bridges across the conflict divide [and] give young people in Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh a chance to talk directly to each other by helping them make short films about their lives”.

Documentaries are all available online here (http://www.youtube.com/InternewsArmenia#p/a/f/2/GdZ85odBCzE) and here (http://vimeo.com/dtfcr).

These stories offer a glimpse of every day life of people left behind during and after the war. The survival and life after the war of both communities is portrayed through memories- whatever bits and pieces that are left of the past.

In a documentary “Tough Nut” (http://vimeo.com/12583944) an Armenian woman tells the story of her husband who was taken by Azerbaijani soldiers, tortured and later returned home with the help of another Azerbaijani man whose own relative was taken hostage by the “enemy”. It hits one pretty hard, as the woman describes in detail what her husband went through but she manages to stay positive saying that neither communities wanted war. That all of it was orchestrated and innocent people had to pay a very high price.

Another documentary called “Shusha under Canvas” (http://vimeo.com/12393527) tells a story of an Azeri man who owned a tea house in Shusha. Despite everything he saw and was through, he also remained positive, saying “I haven’t lost hope and I am 100% sure that we all be back to our lands. And we will live together because we have always lived together”.

There was a story that particularly stood out. Perhaps it was the name- “My enemy, my friend” (http://vimeo.com/12368719)- or maybe people who were in it. There was simply something different, something really strong about it. This documentary tells the story of prisoner exchange taking place between 1992 and 1994 with prisoners themselves going back to those days and remembering the fear and stir of emotions they individually had to take in. How a father and son were separated in prison, how a solider was wounded during combat and was treated at a hospital and the pain he was caused, how mother was afraid of not being able to recognize her own daughter during an exchange…

Unfortunately, the documentaries didn’t receive much attention online, nor when they were screened both in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Perhaps considered crucial in showing both sides how the war felt in both communities, the documentaries are yet to reach thousands of people directly or indirectly affected by war. And it is also heart wrenching to see that a time when both countries need to learn more about each other through such documentaries, their state media and television are focused on fostering deeper scars and building stronger stereotypes of the other.

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Onnik Krikorian

10 Sep 2010

CORRECTION: True, the videos ARE NOT embeddable [...]

Onnik Krikorian

10 Sep 2010

You know, it's been kind of disappointing for me to see that even with this post as well as my own for Global Voices Online, interest in these videos remain low. Actually, ridiculously low. True, the videos embeddable (I had to request that be permitted for GV), but it's more than that, I think. i) It appears as though Facebook and peer-to-peer recommendation is the best way to disseminate media online. As an example, the Eurasia Foundation's Last Passenger is receiving several hundred views a day: http://vimeo.com/14736639 (well worth watching, btw, but not available in English. It's Armenian and Azerbaijani with Russian subtitles) ii) I think people prefer to focus on personal opinions of the "man (or woman) on the street." We're not yet ready for direct engagement with the Karabakh conflict itself. On the other hand, it could be simply a matter of needing to strategize outreach. On YouTube, for example, one video, Citizenship: Refugee, from the series has had just 375. On Vimeo it is just 7 (seven). Yet, when someone else took the first part of the video and uploaded it separately onto their own YouTube channel, it managed 27,942. True, the continuation -- linked to -- only received 624. Nevertheless, it is a huge difference. But, all that said, it's such a pity as some of these films really should be getting more exposure. So even when online, what is preventing that? Type of content? Personal recommendation? It's something worth analyzing to work out a new/social media strategy for the dissemination of information.