This article undertakes a retrospective investigation of the multi-layered nature of human relations in the former Soviet Republics of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Written in a style of life writing, the article analyzed social phenomena of friendship and hatred in the contexts of interethnic conflicts, with a focus on those who rescued the vulnerable. A number of controversial issues will be touched upon in the context of post-Soviet conflicts, in particular the Georgian-South Ossetian and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts, which have shown us patterns in behavior of the human face that rejects the sinister language of enmity, hate, and violence.

How do ordinary people behave during a period of political violence, ethnic cleansing, and other inhumane practices? Why do they choose to take part in the process of ethnic cleansing and massacres? Hannah Arendt has proposed an answer to this question: because evil is, in essence, banal and trivial; people are more ready to follow the orders of the repressive system than to bear the burden of thinking. They submit thoughtlessly to charismatic figures, unwilling to think for themselves (Arendt 2008, 126).

The following question sounds a lot more optimistic: why do others resist violent tendencies and choose to help the victims, saving them from death? What kind of acts of rescue had taken place and how should we define them?

The collection of oral histories in various locations, following the armed conflict in Tskhinval/i and nearby villages, the pogroms in Sumgait and Baku, and acts of violence in Armenian villages and towns, have shown the multifaceted nature of the phenomenon of rescue.

At the site of the Jewish Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, one may find the definition of the “righteous” person who saved one or many Jews from death, putting their own life at risk. These people are awarded the honorable title of “Righteous among the Nations” and are considered to be supranational, not belonging to any nation in particular. Over the past few decades, social philosophers have deliberated over the sacralization of identity and global or, as some put it, transnational morality (Gushee, 2011; Klempner, 2006; Hellman, 1999; Oliner and Oliner, 1988).

The disintegration of the Soviet Union plunged the former soviet republics of the South Caucasus into political chaos and civil war. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which saw brutality and violence in abundance, was one of the bloodiest conflicts of the independence movements across the Soviet Union.

The mass movement of Azerbaijanis from Armenia to Azerbaijan and of Armenians from Azerbaijan to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh started in 1988. During the pre-war period of 1988-1991 there were incidents of violence and massacres on both sides (Huseynova, Hakobyan, and Rumyansev 2012) that affected people motivating them to fight. After mistreated Azerbaijanis of Armenia started to move to Azerbaijan, the idea of friendship, neighborhood, and brotherhood declined. It became dangerous for minorities live in Armenia and Azerbaijan, in the country they considered their homeland.

Another area of conflict in the South Caucasus was South Ossetia, an autonomous region within Georgia during the Soviet period and the scene of a bloody conflict in the period 1989-92 (Ezez 1996). In South Ossetia the conflict started in 1989 and eventually progressed into armed conflict, which took part during three separate timeframes: 1991-1992, 2004, and 2008. After 1989, more than 3,000 people died from both sides in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict, most of whom were civilians. As a result, tens of villages were destroyed, thousands of houses were burned, and tens of thousands of people were forced to flee from their homes and became displaced persons or refugees.

Communities having almost the same traditions, familiar words, and cuisine have now been isolated from each other for a few decades and rarely talk about peace. They are, however, considering that 31 years ago, the people lived peacefully and sat at the same table side by side in their classroom, shared their food, water, and their homes. While coexisting peacefully together in the Soviet Union for more than 70 years, it is essential to understand how they reacted to this new violence and separation.

Being human and having a sense of humanity created some courageous stories of people helping one another in those hard times. This idea is illustrated from one of the interviews where Azerbaijani mother A., who moved from the village Sayat Nova in the vicinity of Masis, Armenia to Baku, Azerbaijan said: “We do not have to agree on anything to be kind to one another.”

In the Soviet Union similar to other nationalities, despite some incidents, particularly related to stereotyping and name-calling, the overall relations were harmonious, and Azerbaijanis and Armenians had good neighborly relations, with kirvə (godfather) traditions, mixed marriages, and economic ties. These friendly ties existed not only in Baku or Yerevan but also in rural areas and villages.

Some Armenians alerted the fleeing Azerbaijanis about the impending danger presented by Armenian nationalists and protected them from violence by providing refuge and security in their homes and gradually assisting in their safe passage across the border, sometimes even providing them vehicles. Many Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan who arrived in Armenia before Azerbaijanis moved to Azerbaijan were instrumental in helping those fleeing to find a job or housing to the place to which they were moving to. The cities in Azerbaijan that were later subject to pogroms were characterized by friendship and night-time gatherings outside in the neighborhoods (məhəllə), which became the focus of informal interactions.  The neighborhoods would have gazebos (besedka) and branches (skameika) in front of the high-rise buildings. There were many cases where the Azerbaijanis demonstrated a will to save their neighbors and friends. Centuries-old cultural exchange among the various peoples of the South Caucasus fostered intimate cultural interactions. Ethnic Georgians and Ossetians also helped each other to avoid violence at the hands of nationalists.

While analyzing the interviews, it became evident that some Armenians helped their Azerbaijani friends and neighbors and Azerbaijanis helped Armenians. The same was the case with Ossetians helping Georgians and vice versa. These stories are mostly forgotten, or very few of them have been passed on to the next generation. Due to the severe polarization caused by ongoing conflicts and the widespread nationalist discourses, many rescue stories have not been told until now.

Method and statement of intent

To some extent, the mystified notion of friendly (Derrida), romantic (Barthes), and especially neighborly relations is imbued with a plethora of colors, manifestations, and meanings, and requires a specific lens through which to investigate specific incidents. These relations are related to the human’s everyday life, the here and now, face-to-face communal relations. As neighborly relations constitute one of the most important components of people’s routines, neighborly interactions, on the one hand, cover one’s everyday needs of social interaction to a certain point. On the other hand, they can become the key mechanism of (non)rescue at a critical moment in a situation of a force majeure. One objective of this article is to present the reflection of the human face in an environment of all-encompassing violence.

We used a collection of ethnographic and oral history methodologies for this joint research. Microhistories allow for the collection of memories, excerpts of individual memory, and personal commentaries under one umbrella. These types of microhistories all have their historical value. They shed light on how geopolitics and political crises have an effect on the lives of ordinary people, just as relations between states are intertwined with the fate of individuals.

Rescue story interviews from Armenians who used to live in Azerbaijan were conducted in the framework of biographical narratives in more than five countries. It was challenging to persuade people to talk on the topic that required recollection of the painful past. Some Georgian-Ossetian stories were collected in settlements of Georgians displaced by the war in a very trying situation. For many, even three decades after the conflict, life is still not normalized. In Azerbaijan, all the stories were collected anonymously as the respondents feared for their safety as well as putting their jobs and livelihoods at risk. Therefore, the setting of interviews for the authors in all sites was testing to say the least.

Another challenge faced by authors was the access to interviewees that would agree to share their rescue stories from South Ossetia. To fill the gap, authors recourse to two books, “The other picture of war” edited by Megi Bibiluti (2012) and Dina Alborova’s (2016) “Cost of Conflict: Untold Stories” that collected oral stories from South Ossestia, which include testimonies on rescue of the other.

A number of unorthodox issues will be touched upon in the context of Georgian-Ossetian and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts, which have offered us patterns in human behavior that reject the sinister language of enmity, hate, and violence. The literature on the discussion of rescue provides us with a fragmented comparison of some types of rescuers, namely neighbors, relatives, friends, and strangers.

Considering the message given by both countries for peace, the stories supporting peace should be collected and brought to light. These stories happened when entire villages were exchanging their homes between each other (Huseynova 2019) in the two countries while both Azerbaijanis and Armenians were subjected to discrimination. In an atmosphere of hate speech and hostility some brave people on both sides dared to help the so-called “enemy” disregarding their own safety.

The idea of rescue in our cases provides an analytical description of the actions of social agents who take the “uncomfortable” decision to “go against the crowd.”

Neighbors helping victims: Like one big family

In the analysis of social processes in situ, anthropologists are often required to take into account that the evaluation of a particular event or incident may be perceived in a polarized manner among the representatives of various social, political, and religious groups who have lived together side by side for a long time. The perception of the physical environment and interpersonal relations often ends up with the formation and preservation of a stereotypical image of the “other,” from whom one must dissociate with both tangible and imagined barriers. During the separation of communities into two antagonistic camps, these barriers become ever more pertinent especially following an armed conflict. For this reason, we have chosen to focus on the terms neighborhood and neighborliness since they are imbued with the idea of spatiality and are basic units of social interaction.

According to the testimony given by D. from Sumgait (b. 1930), neighbors would provide strategically vital information that would then facilitate the escape of victims: “During the pogroms we switched off the light in the flat and tried to be unnoticeable, but our neighbor told us that we should, on the contrary, switch on the light, because dark windows were an invitation to attack.”

There were cases where those Azerbaijanis who demonstrated a will to save their neighbors were punished by thugs. In such circumstances victims were driven to the corner. The sheer pressure on local residents rendered it too difficult for some to take moral responsibility for the lives of their neighbors. M. from Sumgait (born 1941) recounted the events of February 1988:

I looked on at the Street of Friendship. Something was going on and it wasn’t possible to cross the street. An enormous crowd was passing through. Some taxi drivers were standing there and one of them shouted at me telling me not to go there… I then returned to Lenin Street and somebody ran up to me telling me not to go there and that people were walking around with rocks. I then ran to my neighborhood and somehow got home. I gave the keys to my neighbor and he took out the car to the parking lot. I stayed overnight at my Azerbaijani neighbors’ place on the 27th. My neighbors didn’t let me go out in the morning of the 28th. They hid all of my family—me, my wife, and my son. I have four sons—three were in the army at the time. Then we heard that some Azerbaijanis went to our neighbors’ flat, knocked on the door, and shouted: “If there are Armenians here then tell us and show us where they are. If you don’t tell us and if you’re hiding them then we will kill you, too.” I thought to myself: “Why should they suffer for my sake…?” Then a police car came and the soldiers gathered the Armenians from the homes and took them to the club. We also went there.

In most of the interviews, Azerbaijanis from Armenia expressed that they did not believe that one day they would be forced to move. Interviewees shared that, after living in Armenia in Vardenis region their whole lives, it was hard to think about leaving their homeland. One of the interviewees, an 80-year-old man, T. from Cakhirli village, said:

My dear child, imagine that you are living in your home all your life, that you have fond memories of your first day in school, your first classroom, your friends, celebrating birthdays, everything that is important to you. It’s where I got married and have all my wedding memories. It is where my first child went to the local school. The huge part of my identity is tied to my homeland [Armenia]. And then one day, unexpectedly, my friends advised me to go away for my own safety. I had to leave everything behind and take my family on a hard and unknown journey in order to escape. Others around me were also forced to collect their belongings and leave. How would you respond to leaving all your childhood memories behind? I remember when my Armenian neighbor Bahruz came to talk to me about a serious matter. It was for me to leave. This was the first time I heard the words “running away” and it hit me hard. We spent all our childhood together. But now? Running away? Where? How?

T. was crying while remembering his friend and youth. He added that: “Armenians were not bad people, they were our kirva (godfather), brothers, sisters. We had a different religion, ethnicity, and ideas, but in the end, we were sharing salt and bread. It was a provocation, made-up stories. It was not them, not even Bahruz.” T. added how Bahruz helped to find ties in Tartar (a region in Azerbaijan) and to pack up valuables.

A 58-year-old Azerbaijani mother called A., who moved from Sayat Nova village near Masis, Armenia, described the events as follows:

belongings. I left my elderly mother behind as she was unable to travel back and forth. I didn’t know where I would be staying while I searched for a suitable house in Azerbaijan, which was very troubling for me. My mother had excellent friendships with Armenians. After 3-4 weeks, I came back with good news about buying a house. On the way, I was anxious about her safety and hoping and praying for the best. When I returned, she was safe and well. She told me she was terrified of going out even to buy food so her Armenian neighbors brought her food at night. I was very grateful for the risk they took in helping my mother during my absence. They kept her alive and safe.

23-year-old P. added that before leaving city, “Armed Armenians were everywhere looking for Azerbaijanis. Therefore, her mother and the family went to hide in the chicken coop. When Armenian armed men arrived, their neighbor Anush came in front of the house and screamed at them: “They are not here. They went to Baku. Go away! Don’t disturb us!”

Cases from South Ossetia echo with the Azerbaijani stories. M., 45, from Tserovani, recounted the following story:

Only my mother and I were at home when my mother saw from the window how armed gang members were pointing to our house [to indicate] that Georgians live there. Being a young girl with only my mother by my side we felt very threatened. Some Georgians had already gone; perhaps they had more information, maybe they had a gut feel of impending danger. Armed people walked in the streets or drove military cars. There was a feeling of complete lack of safety.  We lived in a high-rise building and had less chance of escape. We went to my neighbor’s home which was 200 meters away. The host family was Ossetian. They gave us shelter and I felt more secure. I spent several nights there. When I recall this story, I have a strange feeling as if it happened with somebody else. I don’t have the feeling that this is my story. It seems to me that I’m telling someone else’s story. During the shootings, I remember how we hid in the bathroom where we felt secure from stray bullets. In the middle of winter at night, when we were afraid to stay at home, we used to go into the basement. We spent a few days there like one big family. Finally, we realized that it was impossible to stay in those conditions and we had to escape the city.

T., 58, a woman who lives in Gori, shared the following account:

Many Ossetians fled from Tbilisi, Gori, and other cities to join relatives in North Ossetia. They were afraid to stay here [in Georgia]. My husband and I changed our surname to a Georgian surname, but this didn’t help my husband to keep his job—he was fired. I remember how our 17-year-old boy came home all beaten up. Some Georgian youngsters confronted him and told him that Ossetians were no longer welcome to stay here. They accused Ossetians of fighting against Georgians and that’s why they beat him as a sign of warning. We were very scared. Some days we were afraid to leave the house. Then one night we sent our son to my sister’s in Vladikavkaz and he lived there for several years until the situation became stable here.

The only Georgian friend that never left me during this time of [Georgian-Ossetian] turmoil was my neighbor, Nana. Back then it was not easy to find a job, as factories were closed. We started trading in the Tbilisi market. We used to sell beans, fruits, and dairy products. On the road armed youths stopped the bus and demanded money or goods. Nana always tried to protect me even though it was dangerous for her as well. I was scared that if I spoke in Georgian they would realize from my accent that I was Ossetian. While we were selling in the bazaar I asked Nana to talk to customers on my behalf, because I was afraid I would be treated badly. She helped keep me calm all the time. I used to feel safe next to her. This situation continued for years. When Gori was bombed during the war in 2008 and the Russians came into the city, the first thing I did was run to Nana’s house. I knew that this time it was now my turn to help Nana. Luckily in the end everything went well. Nana passed away two years ago.

Neighborhood, as a social category, has been a primary condition for interactions within Armenian-Azerbaijani and Georgian-Ossetian relations and it has facilitated mutual recognition as well as cooperation.

The stories of friends helping one another

Most of the stories we have collected came from friends or co-workers. S., a 45-year-old woman from Vorontsovka (known as Tashir city since 1991, Lori region, Armenia), talked about her childhood and her father:

In our village, there were only a few Azerbaijanis. However, as far as I know, we always lived there. Anyway, my father was one of the best school teachers in our village. He enthusiastically taught children. After a while my dad was promoted to headmaster in the school. As the only Azerbaijani teacher, being a headmaster in an almost Armenian school was incredible. Towards the end of the 1980s things started to heat up. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the details, but my mother and father were discussing it a lot. My father had a friend in a high position who had informed him about the coming danger. It was after the Sumgait events, one freezing March night. My father’s friend and my parents were talking. It was very late and I was asleep. All of a sudden, I woke up hearing gunshots, screaming, and car screeching. A lot of Armenians with guns were screaming and calling on my father to leave the country. My father’s friend went outside and yelled at them to stop. Immediately he called the police and they protected our house all night. It was a terrible time, and I was horrified and did not even go to school. After two days, with the help of my father’s friends, we had to move to another house for our safety. We later escaped to Baku. My father decided to withdraw his money from the Armenian bank. Even though my mother was terrified at the thought of him returning to collect his funds, my father assured her that his friend would assist and ensure that everything will be alright. My father returned safe and sound with his money. His friend helped him.

In many stories, interviewees revealed that Azerbaijani families had stayed in Armenian households for a while. L., a 78-year-old woman from Qaraqala village (Dzoravanq in Armenian) in the Vorontsovka district, told us how they spent many nights in her friend’s house:

We sold our house very soon and could not find a house in Azerbaijan. My husband and I decided that our children and I should go and stay with Irina, my childhood friend. We had attended the same school. I had left the village to live with my husband after we married. Irina received us very warmly; we never felt any discrimination or coldness. She was taking care of us and never allowed anyone to know we were there. The time we spent living with Irina and her husband was somehow sad and happy. It was quiet, and I was with my friend. At the same time, I knew the terrible truth that we should leave very soon.

23-year-old P. from Masis, Armenia told the story of his mother’s family:

My mother and her family took the train to go back [to Baku.] The weather was really cold. When they thought they were safe, a group of armed Armenians went to the train. They were threatening to kill the Azerbaijanis. My mother and her family fled the train. They had Armenian friends living nearby. It was very dangerous at that time to host Azerbaijani families. However, they were accepted and stayed there until things calmed down.

For the testimonies below we apply the idea of the strength of weak ties (Granovetter 1973). On a personal level, individual identity and otherization play significant roles in determining perceptions of the other. For instance, according to O. from Hrazdan, Armenia, who previously lived in Mingechaur, Azerbaijan, her close friend Intizar abandoned years of friendship and neighborly relations with her: “All of a sudden, she [Intizar, her best friend since childhood] became concerned with the apparent ecological threat posed to all sorts of species in the “national” ecosystem. She repeatedly mentioned the butterflies in Topkhana Forest and the flowers in Shusha [Shushi in Armenian], which were allegedly threatened by Armenians in Karabakh “with malicious intent.””

These “threats” constituted a counterweight to the longstanding friendship and neighborly relations of the past. In contrast, according to the same respondent, during the period of tensions leading up to the pogroms in Azerbaijan, Leyla, who was barely acquainted with O., offered her safety in case of an eruption of violence. She offered help in spite of a real risk to her life, in contrast to Intizar, who supposedly had motives to hold an antagonistic stance.

It is within a similar framework that acts of rescue occurred in Sumgait. According to testimonies given by the Vanyan family, they received help that was least expected from people with whom they did not have previous neighborly relations. The victims were baffled by the help surprisingly extended to them.

E., a woman who resided in Sumgait, recounted the following about the perpetrators of the pogrom:

They began to yell at the door: “Is it you who poured hot water on us, tormented us and cursed us? Now you will see what we will do to you!” And they started to hit me from all sides. They said they would burn me with boiling water. All that I remember is how my Azerbaijani neighbor ran around shouting, “You’ve already beaten her. It’s enough. I won’t let you burn her.” His name was Bəylər. He and his brother lived on the third floor. I was lying on the asphalt, surrounded by these jerks. Bəylər and his brother broke up the circle and shouted, “Enough. We won’t let you burn her. What has she done to you?” After consulting each other, the criminals said, “Okay, we’ll leave. But it’s a shame that we didn’t burn her.” And they actually left…

Her son V. recalled the following: “We did not expect that from him because he was a drug addict. He was always smoking and didn’t get along with Armenians.” Such stories from Sumgait depict a complex picture of human relationships in an extreme situation.

Fieldwork on the matter among Ossetians shows a breadth of cases where language played a vital role in people’s escape from discrimination and violence. 58-year-old T., a local Ossetian who used to live in Tshinvali but now lives in Gori, told us the following account:

I don’t even remember how all this started. I am originally from Tskhinvali and married and lived in Gori. Both my husband and children are ethnic Ossetians. Back then I worked as a teacher in a kindergarten. Soon everything changed—we went through wars, famines, and difficult times. One day, the kindergarten director told me that I could no longer work. The problem was that I wasn’t fluent in the Georgian language. At work, they always knew that Georgian was not my native language, but this never posed a problem working with children. I was most upset that my Georgian staff did not raise their voices or come to my defense. I knew that it was because of my ethnicity.

Strangers helping strangers: ‘I could feel that this man was innocent’

Even though there are very few recorded cases where complete strangers help victims, they were also present. According to the nationalistic logic, “the enemy” should be confronted, but sometimes the potential perpetrator not only sets the victim free but also helps the victim. The question is why.

The testimonies bring us to the understanding of relationships between empathy and rescue. Apart from the philosophical and ethical issues regarding the plurality of categories related to rescue and empathy, it is important to refer to those respondents that have outlined the events that took place in Soviet Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia as well as assistance given from strangers to other victimized strangers. The structure of empathy brings forth further challenges to our analysis. Empathy, on close examination, manifests itself in myriad forms, which are often difficult to extrapolate to the sphere of morality and ethics, to the pureness of the altruistic behavior of rescuers. In one way or another, the spontaneous unmanaged sympathetic attitude sometimes was the reason for rescuing several people in trouble.

Below is the dramatic story of X., who was an 11-year-old student when a band of men from Popular Front of Azerbaijan (PFA) captured her and her extended family and locked them in a basement in Baku. One of the young members of the PFA party freed the entire family, taking them all out of danger.

It was January 13, 1990 in Baku. Some Popular Front guys forcefully entered our apartment and started to beat up my uncle. My mother was continually pleading for mercy and clinging on to the hand of the person beating my uncle. My mom spoke fluent Azeri and the thug thought she was an Azerbaijani neighbor. The young guy pushed her aside and took no notice of her plea. She was screaming: “No I am not a neighbor, I am an Armenian, the man’s sister.” They took us all to the basement. I could observe the attacker begin to soften, and this transformation happened within three to four hours. I remember when he first entered our house, he was full of hate and loathing towards his captives. He kicked our suitcases asking us sarcastically whether we were fully packed and ready to flee. I don’t even know his name. I just know that he was not ErAz (Erevan Azerbaijani)[1] he was from Baku. I felt he connected with me as he suddenly became very sympathetic towards me—I was just a child in this difficult situation. I was rude and argumentative with the thugs. The guy who rescued us told me, with a kind face, that when I arrive in Yerevan I’d be taught how to be a good girl. When the group of attackers brought us to the basement they separated the women from the men—there were seven of us, all relatives. My uncle—my mother’s brother—was taken to another room where men were beating them up. My mom was begging the guy who was gradually becoming kind to us to stop beating my uncle. He looked at me and said: “Let her ask me.” I asked and he went with his friends to the “execution” room and brought my uncle back. I was shivering. He fetched a blanket for me and my mom. He took us under his wing and provided safe passage to the [Soviet] soldiers. At early morning, January 16, we left Baku by ferry.

X. admitted that her story makes people cry.

S., 37 years old, recalled his story of rescuing a complete stranger, but this time S. himself was an agent of rescue. S. was just following his gut feeling that the victim was not guilty even though the dominant doctrine of that time dictated that they are guilty by definition. He listened to his instinct rather than nationalistic arguments:

It was January 1990 and it was very cold in the mountains of Shida-Kartli. There was enormous tension between the Georgians and Ossetians. They were hunting each other like animals. There were special groups patrolling the area to evaluate each step the other groups made. Sometimes they would forget the reality and, thinking about the peaceful past, they would find themselves in the territory controlled by the enemy. The same happened on that day. The chairman of the local administration Zelim Kelekhsaev was on his way to his parents. He forgot that there was a safe road and a dangerous road as well. The Georgians found him and took him prisoner.

I remember I had just turned 16 that year. On my birthday, the elders blessed me and said I was already old enough to stand by them and protect my homeland from the enemy. It was hard for me to realize who that enemy was, as I grew up with Ossetians and could not understand why they would be our enemies.

Late that evening our group went out on patrol. Nearby the conventional border we found an Ossetian who tried to run away. They caught Kelekhsaev and brought him to the headquarters. Judging from his clothes I could see he was going to visit someone and did not look like a gunman at all. At the interrogation, he said he was not an enemy; he was just going to see his friend. Nobody listened to him. My heart was telling me that this man was not an enemy. A couple of times I tried to tell the elders that this man did not look like an enemy, but as soon as I looked in their faces I would go silent. Yes, they have told me I had grown up already, but at that moment I was an inexperienced, honest kid.

It was New Year’s Eve and I thought they would have mercy and would not torture him. I was wrong; at first they beat him up, then took off his clothes and locked him in a cellar; it was very cold. I was wearing warm clothes and was still cold. When they took his clothes off, I lost peace of mind; for sure he would freeze to death. He was the first prisoner I ever saw in my life.

Late at night our people left, some to celebrate and some to the frontline. Only two of us stayed in the headquarters. I could feel something inside me saying this man was innocent and I had to save him. I knew they would torture him again when they would come back. I told my partner on duty I was going to let the prisoner go. He did not oppose me and said I could do anything I wanted… I went down the cellar; I was careful because was afraid of my comrades. They would not kill me of course for my intention but I would be in big trouble. I opened the door bravely, as I did not want him to see me scared. He was freezing standing there, shivering. I ordered him to come out and gave him my warm military coat and his sports pants. He took the clothes at once. I showed him the safe direction in which to run.

I’ll never forget what happened after. He wasn’t shivering anymore—he just looked at me in fear and distrust. Then he whispered: “Shoot now; I know you’ll kill me anyway.” I said no and forced him to run. He started away slowly but after several steps stopped and told me: “You are a good person, people like you do not die. You need to live a long life.” It was not only gratitude, it was like an order— live a long life. Later I found out that the man was safe. I’ve never regretted about what I did (Bibiluri 2012).

The Azerbaijani case reveals the story of M., a 38-year-old man who was born in the village in the Vardenis region. Y. describes the events:

I was eight years old but still dream about the days we had. We were living in Qizilbulag that was situated in Basarkecher [now Vardenis]. Our village was mixed, with 120 Azerbaijani families and and 700 Armenian families. After Yerevan, we were one of the first villages. There were several Armenian villages between us and the border. A lot of Azerbaijanis were losing their high-ranking jobs. My father’s friend, who worked as a brigadier at the tobacco factory, lost his job and he and his family were staying with us. My father was looking after them, too. It was a very crowded house. The tension was real; the stay was impossible. Azerbaijanis were fired from their jobs and were not respected at all. The elders decided that it was time to leave. On November 28 [1988] we collected all [belongings] we could and went to the border. The border was far away, and with a lot of belongings and two families, it took us a while to get there. But the problem was the way we were heading. It was between Armenian villages. While my dad was driving, armed locals stopped us. My mom hugged us very tightly. I felt it ended, and we would be dead. In a second they would let others know about us and would take all our belongings. My dad and his friend went to talk to them. In a few minutes, they returned and drove to the border again. After a while with a great shock and fear, my dad told us that because they knew that there were children, they let us go and told us never to return. Furthermore, they pointed out the safe roads without armed soldiers and Saqqalilar [meaning “long-bearded” in Azerbaijani—the nationalists]. I don’t know how I would have wound up here if they were not good people. There were some stories of violence, and we escaped because they did not harm us.

The professional ethics of doctors was also harshly challenged during the nationalistic movements. Many testimonies state that medical personnel were placed under massive pressure by thugs. A refugee woman from Baku who used to work in Sumgait testified that ambulances would not arrive to help injured Armenian victims. Many terrifying stories of women who were giving birth at the time show that in the atmosphere of radical nationalism, victims were fully dependent on what we can call favoritism and exclusive treatment, which was actually based on some form of sympathy or bribery. Presumably, one in trouble was dependent on his or her appearance and ability to make an impression on potential rescuer.

G., 60 years old, from Kheiti, who now lives in Khurvaleti IDP settlement, shared the following story:

I know almost everyone in Tskhinvali. I’m a good car mechanic so I was well known among many clients in the city. Tskhinvali was part of my soul, so I thought nobody would ever try to hurt me there. Still it happened. Once some strangers hit me so hard that I lost consciousness. I can’t say how long I was unconscious but when I woke up car lights were pointed at me. Someone grabbed me very harshly and threw me into the trunk of the car.

They took me to a nearby old touristic site, opened the trunk, pulled me out, and shouted, “Stand up!” Another person approached me—I realized he was going to beat me. I pleaded and told them that I had family to look after and had never done anything bad to anyone. Then he jumped on me and stabbed a knife into my heart. I felt horrible pain and lost my senses again.

I still don’t know who took me to the emergency room. Doctors Aivar Bestaev and Alik Tasoev performed the surgery. I was dead and they brought me back to life. I was bleeding out; they transfused three liters of blood. The entire hospital was on its feet. “It’s G., we need to save him!” It was Rosa’s voice—one of the nurses. They gave me all the blood they could. Ossetians were in line: Zura and Rudik Jioevs, Alan Bitiev… “For a good man we will always do as much as we can,” they said.

In several days they transported me to Tbilisi. The doctor who checked the surgery wound could not hold his delight: he should have been the real doctor who first treated your wound.

Whenever I hear the names Aivar or Alik, I am filled with happiness. But I still don’t know the name of the person that took me to the hospital.

‘Tradition’ as a rescuer

The vernacular understanding of cosmopolitanism is based on the experience of mutual coexistence, fluency of language, and recognition of the culture of others. The centuries-old cultural exchange between the various peoples of the South Caucasus fostered intimate cultural interactions and a shared taste in music, food, literature, and pop culture. In this environment, mixed marriages were common. T., a resident of Znaur, 52 years old (Alborova 2016, 65), shared the following story:

In 1988, I graduated from the Institute of Economy, at the faculty of light industry in Moscow. I returned and married into a family with a Georgian mother and Ossetian father. Thus, the family that I happened to join was mixed. I had heard back then that local Georgians would often gather at the house of one of their leaders. They gathered and discussed future actions. They had plans—this was happening during Gamsakhurdia’s time. A slogan suggesting that Georgia was for Georgians, and that Ossetians, who were aliens, were welcome to use the Roki tunnel, and those who wanted to live with us could stay and those who didn’t were free to go through the Roki tunnel because this territory belonged to the Georgians. These were popular phrases and slogans, which had already penetrated South Ossetia.

There were Georgians in our districts—nationalists—and they would also gather. For instance, I can even name you the village, Sunisi, where one of them lived. He used to work here, in the district, and they would gather at his place and talk as they were having dinner, which is expected from a Caucasian person. But the conversations they would have were about future plans, plans for a revolution, which they had been plotting on the territory of South Ossetia. Back then the conversations revolved around South Ossetia, an autonomous district within Georgia. There were mixed marriages, but they were more reserved towards these developments, because it was way more difficult for them as there were both Georgians and Ossetians living in these families. On the other hand, those who had little kinship with Georgians entered into disputes with the Georgian nationalists. These disputes often came down to fist fighting. There were lots of incidents. But back then the police were still around and they managed to intervene.

To be honest, we did not expect what ensued. We thought that it would have been much smoother. It was only later on when I actually realized what was coming. Why? Probably because, well, first of all I grew up in a family where my dad had very warm, friendly relations with Georgians. In our house where I grew up we used to host a lot of Georgians and I had the impression that Georgians were the same as Ossetians. Afterwards, when I got married and moved in with a mixed family, we had our Georgian relatives visiting us very often. In other words, I had only seen amicable and warm relations [between Ossetians and Georgians]. Even when my husband said that we had to leave and save the children, and that the Georgians were about to come and we had to save ourselves and our children, I still kept thinking that this was utterly impossible.

I quickly grabbed my child, who was then two years old, and I was seven months pregnant with our second child. I packed and thought to myself that this could not really be happening. I refused to believe it until the very last moment. But we were tipped off by a local Georgian… A local Georgian man came over and told my husband that they were coming and that he had to send his wife and the child away just in case. I am still praying for this man. If it had not been for him we would have stayed and I think a tragedy would have happened. When they came, they set up a position very close to our house. And the room where I stayed with my child was full of bullets, the windows were smashed, and the cot was filled with shell casings. In other words, it would have been a tragic end. As I said earlier, we were tipped off by a local Georgian. They say he lives on Georgian territory. I was curious to know his fate. How is he doing? I even sent him a warm message saying that thanks to him, my child and I managed to stay alive. (Alborova 2016)

Aside from Russian, the lingua franca of the Soviet Union, many non-Azerbaijanis, especially Armenians, struggled to learn the Azerbaijani language and used it more as a “substitute” language of interaction, as a means of integration. The significance and power of such symbols (e.g., language or cultural interaction) acted as agents of rescue, as was the case in the incident that took place with R., a woman, born 1968, in her flat in Sumgait. The case of S. from Mingechaur sounds more tragic. She faced nationalist hooligans explaining them how dear to her heart was Azerbaijani culture: “Look at these wonderful books! I have read them all.” S. tried to stop the thugs from violence. This way she managed to distract their attention from her balcony on the fifth floor at the moment when her four children were climbing over the balcony to the neighbors. They all survived but as compensation for her good knowledge of the Azerbaijani language and culture, S. was severely beaten, not killed. Fieldwork materials display a breadth of cases where culture played a vital role in people’s escape from violence. The incident concerning R., who now lives in Stepanakert, shows knowledge of well-known “Azerbaijani” cultural symbols and their connection with ethnic identity facilitated the rescue of her family and prevented the plundering of her flat: “The thugs saw books by Saadi[2] on the bookshelves, while they didn’t notice the Wounds of Armenia by Khachatur Abovian next to them.”

The cultural integration of certain Armenians and Azerbaijanis can be demonstrated by a number of aspects. For instance, some married couples gave Muslim and respectively Christian names to their children as a result of the institution of kirvəlik[3]. Furthermore, in some Armenian homes one could find elements of the local culture (e.g., pictures of Azerbaijani saints, Athagha, found on the shelves of homes subject to the pogroms or presented by victims to perpetrators at the door). The innate similarity in appearance[4] as well as the acquired similarities (e.g., golden teeth and other internalized attributes that represented “Azerbaijaniness”) made it impossible to distinguish the us (Azerbaijanis) from them (Armenians). This is why the perpetrators asked for the passports of their targets in order to verify the nationality of their victims. This level of integration and indistinguishability strengthened the standardization and universalization of soviet culture and, to some extent, helped some escape the attacks.

From an interview with E. living in Detroit, Michigan:

After [the pogrom in Sumgait] we continued to work for a whole year… I would continue to go to Sumgait for work… I would go without a passport, but I would always be asked on the street where my passport was. There was always a Russian soldier on the bus. I said that if I carried my passport with me they would kill me straight away. I travel without a passport because I could speak Azerbaijani and nobody would lay a finger on me, but with a passport I wouldn’t be able to travel to Sumgait. I would travel like this for a year and then we left in the summer…

E. was a piano teacher who was rescued by the parents of her student. She lived in Azerbaijani family in Baku for two weeks before fleeing to Moscow in the early 1990s. She left her pet rabbit, Masha, with the family.

The authors employ the concept of rescue in the context of ethnic cleansings and persecuted victims who were chosen as scapegoats (Girar 1972, 1986). D., who is 33 years old from Karaleti, South Ossetia, shared his story:

It was August 12. My neighbors and I were gathered in my yard. Suddenly marauders snuck up on us. There were eight of us and five had managed to run away. They caught three of us and put us in a truck—I went unconscious. When I came to my senses we were already in Tskhinvali. It was very dark, but I saw that we were nearby a department store in a cellar of some building. The third person who was also kidnapped never showed up again. I have no idea what they did to him on the road. They were beating us and swearing at us. One of them told me in Russian they would take us to the graves of their dead and kill us right there. One of the Ossetians told him: “Let me take them there. The Georgians killed my brother, I have to avenge him. I will kill these pigs on those graves.”

To make a long story short they let him take us; they put us in an Opel and the Ossetians turned to us and said: “Don’t be afraid; we will let you go, but first we have to treat your wounds.” They took us to the house of one of the Ossetians, hid us in a cellar, and treated us. The next day they took us close to Karaleti. We were in our village, but we could not go to our houses; they would find us again. That’s why we hid in the orchards—for four days we were lying on the ground.

Even though this particular story has a “happy ending,” the entire narrative shows that human sacrifices as a pre-modern religious act of revenge (blood for blood) were there. Similar rhetoric and sinister actions were registered from both sides during the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

‘Retail’ and ‘wholesale’ rescuers: Ordinary people vs. officials

There was another type of rescuer who had power to use some effective leverage in order to save many people at once. That is the case of the head of town (gorispolkom) in one of the provincial towns in Soviet Azerbaijan. T. had many phone calls from the members of Popular Front who put enormous pressure on him to start pogroms in his town. “It will never happen in my town!” he kept answering them. After many renouncements, the radical nationalists sent him a parcel with a set of female underwear. That way the tough “true” Azerbaijani men tried to mock a “weak and sensitive” man, though he rescued thousands of Armenian lives. Empowered individuals would think and act the same way the ordinary people did but with multiplied effects.

Here is another marvelous case about the Georgian militiaman (i.e., Soviet policeman) R, who is now 59 years old and resides in Tbilisi:

It was in 1991-1992 when the Georgian-Ossetian armed conflict was in progress and the tense situation also concerned other ethnic minorities. So Ossetians mainly were forced to leave the country. For a secure emigration, they needed to change their surnames to Georgian ones. Most of them went to North Ossetia. When they were crossing the border, they needed to have Georgian sounding surnames. The temporary passport was enough for crossing the border, where their nationality wasn’t visible but a Georgian surname was. This document was a temporary kind of passport, similar to an ID card, that would expire in a month. I was then one of the officials who could solve these problems and issue a passport. They would ask me for help— they wanted to leave Georgia, but until they crossed the border, in order to avoid problems, they needed a Georgian surname written in their documents. Of course, I could decline the requests. They just wanted to cross the Georgian border and go somewhere and wanted to avoid problems when their documents were checked—that’s why I did what I did. They said that while crossing the Georgian border, they could have problems because they were Ossetians, Abkhazians, Armenians, Azeris… They did not lie.

Many came to me during that period. I did it for more than 250 people. There are still so many people whose surnames I changed. As standard procedure for changing the surnames, they would bring certificates from the institute of ethnography and history, which was the institution of identification of the surnames—the institution was giving a certificate that proved that the former surname of their ancestors was Georgian. But this is another case. Some of them were coming from Tbilisi because they could not change their surnames there, since they required official documents issued by the court… The bureaucratic process for these types of things was endless. They couldn’t wait and wanted to emigrate the next day, that’s why it was urgently needed. By law, this document was given free of charge. I never received money for providing those documents. All these people knew me and trusted me. It was based on bilateral mutual trust.

They knew that the document was issued for a one-month period. They would say: “I only want to cross the border and if you wish, I will tear up this certificate and send it to you by post in order to assure you that I will not use it for other purposes.” It was just like a temporary visa, but under another surname. At that time the road to Tskhinvali was blocked, so most Ossetians had to leave through Larsi. When they submitted a document with a Georgian surname on it to the border control, there wasn’t a problem.

At that time, there was no computer system to run checks, and verification was normally done at the border, that’s it. Ossetians knew Georgian perfectly and in order to prove their new surnames they would answer in Georgian to avoid any problems. Moreover, those who sold their houses here and were going to resettle were carrying their belongings and furniture. Those Ossetians were not saying that they were leaving to North Ossetia, instead they used to say that they were going to Stavropol or somewhere else in Russia, where they had already bought a house.

There was also civil war in Tbilisi back then. The situation was unstable in the country, and there were bandit groups all over. When they noticed a loaded car, they would think that the people were running away, so they were not “ours.” So the bandit groups or criminals could possibly rob them and even kill them. Because of this I was giving out Georgian documents. People would show the documents [to the bandits] and say: “I’m a Georgian, bro, going to some Russian city.” Someone who knew me well would accompany them and would vouch for them, that they would not sell me out and create problems for me. Of course, I would have a problem if I was reported to the authorities. I was breaking the law. If a person was a criminal or was wanted by the police, I would refuse, because I was already taking a big risk. When I knew that the person is decent and just needs to cross the border, I was just giving them the freedom to move and that’s it.

One time, close to an Ossetian village, there were shootings between Georgians and Ossetians. Two guys were injured and were going through treatment in our hospital. It was dangerous for them to stay in the hospital, because they were Ossetians—some of those Georgians might have attacked the hospital and killed those two. I gave documents to both of them and secretly sent them to Vladikavkaz to receive treatment there. The head of the hospital asked me whether I needed them for the investigation. I said I didn’t because they had already been interrogated. That’s why I let them go and they were able to move freely. They moved to Vladikavkaz. Today they are safe and sound and some of them are now my friends.

R. actually saved people by bending the rules of the legal system.

There were negative examples of dysfunctional behavior by officials as well. In Azerbaijan the events were no less dramatic. Soviet soldiers in Sumgait hesitated to intervene and help Armenian victims as they were not given any orders to do so. According to E., “The soldiers looked on for two long days, with weapons in hand, as the perpetrators of the pogroms ran riot.” In these circumstances, the significance of local individuals who rescued multiplied.

Many interviewees reported about their observations of the vacuum of state power. K., who was born in 1942, lived in Sumgait. She worked as a manager in Housing and Maintenance Office №11, which served the city’s 17th, 10th, and 8th neighborhoods. She recounted the following account:

Many of those living in our building, my employees, came to our house. Even the figurehead of the Aksakal [white-bearded man] Mahmudov Jamil. They all invited us to their homes, but I told them that I would not go anywhere. This was around three o’clock in the afternoon. Shirinov Arshad, who lived opposite us on the second floor in a one-bedroom flat, also came in [and joined the other guests]. He kept insisting that we hide in his flat. I, nevertheless, didn’t want to go, but my mother-in-law whispered in my ear and told me to come to my senses and go there as it was a safer place. [If the bandits broke into the house] disgrace might be brought upon the girls [they could be raped].

Aksakal (means “white-bearded man”) is an elder whom the Jamaat (means “the people”) obeyed according to the ethics of common law. Another vocal incident happened in 1988 nearby the Azerbaijani town Aghdam, where Khuraman Abbasova, one of the Soviet kolkhozes chairpersons, flung her headscarf to the ground in defiance to prevent the bloodshed. All those cases indicate the extent to which it was the “traditional” informal social context; that is, people tried to solve problems of illegitimate violence in the framework of adat (means customary rules, rather than the formal law). In other words, people were compelled to switch to  norm-based regulation mode, squeezing out state regulations. It was a vacuum, a gap in the formal law that revealed the weakness of the state at the time.

A difficult memory

X recollected the following story:

As the ferry gradually left the shore and sailed very slowly we were still very frightened. We were standing on the bow of the ferry. My mom told me in a very weird voice, “Anna, my dear, look back—it’ll be the last time you’ll see this scene.” I looked back and the saw the sun-drenched Boulevard. I saw Baku, the city I grew up in, and for some unknown and inexplicable reason I knew that I would never return there. This moment has left an indelible mark in my memory.

A., born in 1973, from Yerevan, stated: “I love visiting Tbilisi, because it smells like my home town Mingechaur in Azerbaijan. This is because of the smell of the Kura River. It makes Tbilisi so homey, it brings me my childhood feelings and memories, in a way.”


Many respondents, former residents of Baku, remember the freshness of the Caspian Sea, the Khazar[1], its sounds, semblance, and smells. They remember faces as well.


The pogroms and ethnic cleansings have left behind a deep scar in the consciousness of victims. The incidents in Sumgait have been repeatedly discussed in public discourse in Azerbaijan, often in conspiratorial terms (“Armenians organized the pogroms themselves”). These dramatic events altered the social and ethno-cultural landscape of the cities and regions of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ossetia to an unrecognizable degree.

Many Sumgait residents who got the best Soviet internationalism upbringing became extremely xenophobic after what they experienced. They had nightmares for years after the events. Svetlana, who now lives in Stepanakert, tries hard to forget the horrific flashbacks. She’s never felt nostalgic for her hometown since then. Bakuvians from Michigan complain that they have no reason to return to Baku, “no friends, no colleagues, no gravestones” (R., Michigan). They actually talk about the de-cosmopolitanization process of international (in Soviet parlance) cities and towns, which results with the radical transformation of the cultural landscape. Admittedly many of the respondents feel nostalgic for a city that virtually does not exist anymore. The famous chess player Garry Kasparov, a former resident of multicultural Baku, summarized the statements made by the participants of this study, stating: “No, I do not miss Baku, because the Baku that I loved no longer exists.”

M., a South Ossetian respondent, told the following account:

It was January 10, 1991. I was a student. I was spending my holidays in Akhalgori with grandmother. The period of the exam was approaching and I had to go to Tskhinvali, even though we knew that there was a tense situation. But I did not expect that everything would end so badly. I used to study at home for the exams from morning till evening, but the situation was so tense, I heard the sound of shooting more often. There were announcements by megaphone at 6 a.m. I remember so well this episode, I will never forget.

They called out “Ossetians, leave the town” in the Ossetian language. When you are not ethnically Ossetian and you are a representative of another group, when they don’t call every inhabitant but only Ossetians, of course, this is a threat to me. The population was split into two. Several weeks earlier, my little 13-year-old brother was beaten in the park for his ethnicity and our mother took him to Akhalgori. She was afraid that such a thing could happen again.

The experiencing Georgian-Ossetian conflict traumatized I. from Tskhinval/i (Bibiluti 2012):

I can’t remember what date it was; I’m trying to forget that tragic period completely. But miracles happen during war, too, and those who carry arms and bring death can do good, too.…

After two days spent in the cellar we heard some noise outside the door. Someone carefully opened the heavy iron door; we saw a machinegun first and then tall men in military uniform came in. “Don’t shoot us,” I whispered in Georgian. “Are you Georgian?” the soldier asked. “No. We have only children here,” I managed to say.

The soldiers turned back and put his finger to his lips. It was apparent he warned someone to be quiet and then called someone upstairs that there was nobody downstairs, then he went into the cellar. The second soldier followed him; they looked around our shelter using the torchlight and asked me if we had food. I could not say a word; others were speechless from fear and astonishment, too. What would you think? An enemy soldier came in, concealed our existence from his commander, petted the children, and then asked for food.

I admit I thought they were hungry and that’s why they asked about the food. I pointed them at the canned food and said it was horrible to eat without bread.

One of the soldiers took out some bread from his backpack; the other one took out dry food—soldier’s meal—and put it in front of the children. They went back to the door and quietly warned us not to go outside.

My husband came back the next day. He managed to find a closed truck. We all got into the back of the truck and started for Vladikavkaz.

The descriptions of the unprecedented violence are linked to the difficulty of talking about such traumatic experiences, the problems of individual memories. I. recalled the following:

When our apartment was ruined we found shelter in the cellar. We lived in horrible humidity, and for some time some time we didn’t even have food for children. Infants were in a better situation, as we, their mothers, breastfed them. We expected death at every second. We couldn’t even lock the cellar door as we were afraid that someone would come and fire upon the locked door and one of us inside would be killed for sure. We hoped that when they’d find the cellar we wouldn’t let them kill children and surrender as prisoners together with the children. There were only women, children, and two elders in the cellar. Our men were not fighting but were trying to take us to safety. They left and failed to come back due to intense military actions. We didn’t let the infants cry so nobody would hear we were hiding; as soon as they started crying we put a breast in their mouth. Older children knew they had to be silent. We lived like we were buried alive in the dark, with rats.

From the Azerbaijani stories it was apparent that friendship—sacrificing your own life for the so-called “ enemy”—was the main thought. As a result of war, people suffered intensely because of their emotional state and lost their values. People’s mixed feelings of friendship and hate were most significant. They were the ones living together, sharing their food, but were now “the enemy.” Their feelings were suppressed by the community, and for some, it was the first time they talked and expressed themselves. While interviewing the people, the longing for their homelands and friends was clear. Most of the time, they mentioned Armenians being “brainwashed and did not have any intention to commit all this violence.” People still could not believe the things that had happened and lived in trauma. The rescue stories are the only hope they have for peace.


The aforementioned cases reveal three categories of agents of rescue: neighbors, friends (including in-laws and work colleagues), and strangers (this final category represents the most unique case).

In this paper, the authors have touched upon the following philosophical question: what motivates a person, a neighbor, and a friend to risk their lives and save the “other?” The answers lie in what makes that “other” a human (adam, insan [in Azerbaijani]; mard [in Armenian]; adamiani [in Georgian]; адæймаг [in Ossetian]—all words for “human being”). The multifaceted process of “mental work,” which can be conceptualized as conscience or morality, renders the individual human a social and political agent who desires to express their will and change the world around them.

The testimonies included in this article show how the agents of the dehumanization of the “other” gradually transformed into perpetrators. Our cases showed that long-standing neighbors and friends were able to take active and passive stances, but were rarely seen playing a role in the violence that broke out. It was much rarer to see any violence committed by immediate neighbors or acquaintances who had been interacting with the victims on a daily basis. This is probably so because the barrier between “self” and “other” among these community members (neighborly relations, professional collegiality) had gradually worn away. How did we treat evidence that did not square with the argument? We have added a new category, which leaves some gray areas: Strangers helping strangers. This category proves that the “mass” of perpetrators has a heterogeneous texture, showing that ethnic violence is a process during which different or antagonistic social roles can overlap or function simultaneously: perpetrators can evolve into rescuers (in the case of X.) and rescuers can become perpetrators toward “others”—not neighbors.

This joint study undermines the populist nationalistic discourse on the long-lasting “historical confrontation” between Armenians and Azerbaijanis as well as Georgians and Ossetians. It aims to change the rhetoric by emphasizing human relationships, empathy, and rescue. Nevertheless, if we were to expand and internationalize the scope of the social phenomenon of rescuing and of individual resistance to the state apparatus, then this term has the potential to exclude and construct barriers.


Alborova, Dina; Allen, Susan & Kalandarishvili, Nino. 2016. COST OF CONFLICT: UNTOLD STORIES Georgian-Ossetian Conflict in Peoples’ Lives. Fairfax: George Mason University,

Bibiluti, Megi et al. 2012. “The other picture of war”. Gori, Editor Megi Bibiluti. 2019. “Armenia and Azerbaijan agree to “prepare populations for peace.” January 17, 2019. Accessed 17 August, 2019.

Ezez. 1996. “CONFIDENCE-BUILDING MATTERS The Georgia—South Ossetia Conflict”. Accessed 05 June, 2019

Girard, Rene. 1972. Violence and the Sacred. France: Editions Bernard Grasset, Johns Hopkins University Press.

Girard, Rene. 1986. The Scapegoat. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Granovetter, Mark S. 1973. “The Strength of Weak Ties”. American Journal of Sociology 78 (6): 1360-1380.


Gushee, David. 2011. Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: Genocide and Moral Obligation, Paragon House Publishers.

Hellman, Peter. 1999. When Courage Was Stronger Than Fear: Remarkable Stories of Christians Who Saved Jews from the Holocaust. 2nd edition, Marlowe & Companym.

Huseynova, Sevil, Arsen Hakobyan, and Sergey Rumyantsev. 2014. Beyond the Karabakh Conflict: The Story of Village Exchange. Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. Tbilisi

Klempner, Mark. 2006. The Heart Has Reasons: Holocaust Rescuers and Their Stories of Courage, The Pilgrim Press.

Samuel P. Oliner and Pearl M. Oliner.1988. The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. New York: The Free Press.

Papyan, Mane. 2015. “События в Гугарке. Как громили азербайджанцев в Армении (Events in Googark, How Aerbaijanis were pogromed in Armenia) ” Accessed 01 August, 2019.


[1] ErAz, “Erevan Azerbaijanis” is a colloquial term for Azerbaijanis originating from Armenia.

[2] Saadi known as a Persian poet also celebrated in Azerbaijan.

[3] More about this tradition can be found in Shahnazarian (2010, 54, 55).The quotation in English can be provided.

[4] During the military operation “Wedding in the mountains” in the capture of Shushi/Shusha, Armenian soldiers were ordered to wear white crosses on their sleeves so they would be able to differentiate between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. In another instance, during the beatings of Armenians in Baku in 1989, Armenian men in the Ən another (“Armenian town”) area decided to resist the perpetrators of the pogrom: “the men decided that in case of an attack we will all walk around with a naked torso so that we will know who to hit” (Hovakimyan G., South Field, Michigan State 2015).

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