This article was prepared for commonspace.eu by a special correspondent.
These are deeply emotional times in Armenia and Azerbaijan, and not least among the Armenians in Karabakh itself and among the Azerbaijanis displaced by the conflicts of the last three decades. The number of casualties from the fighting of the last days is high, and there is widespread concern about what is to come. On both sides people are enthused to rally to the flag, and not to do so is often considered an act of treason.
Armenian and Azerbaijani peace activists face a big dilemma as the fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone rages on, and patriotic feeling overwhelms most of the population. The choice whether to challenge or to embrace the patriotic rhetoric is a difficult one. Many have taken to facebook to express their positions, and the picture is as confusing, as it is on the battle field.
Veteran Azerbaijani activist Avaz Hasanov is a well-known and respected face of the moderate voice in Azerbaijan on issues related to the conflict. His work with grass root communities of refugees and IDPs is highly respected. On the third day of the fighting he wrote:
Today I was asked to write about what was going-on on the front line, and on the reaction of Azerbaijanis. I decided to describe the latest developments without keeping any peacekeeping positions.
Beginning April 1, the Armenian armed forces have been fired with heavy weapons at the civilian population of Azerbaijan living in the border areas, as well as all along the contact line of Azerbaijani troops. As a result of the ongoing three-day clashes there were victims among the civilian population. Until now, hundreds of homes, schools and kindergartens were damaged as a result of the bombing. The number of victims among the civilian population is still to be determined. It is hard to say the exact figures as of now, as everything is confused and I do not know which information is plausible. Yesterday, the Interior Ministry and Prosecutor's Office opened a criminal investigation and published a preliminary list of the dead and wounded.
After the outbreak of hostilities, many in Azerbaijan hope that 2016 will become the year of the resolution of the frozen conflict. Or at least that there will be significant progress towards the resolution of the conflict.
First of all, Azerbaijan is keen to move from frozen conflict phase to another level, and also to show the superiority of its army in the war zone, so this will force Armenians to give up the idea of maintaining the status quo.
Secondly: Russia's position is weakened in the region because of the sanctions and low oil prices and it is experiencing diplomatic isolation. Therefore, it would be a mistake for Azerbaijan not take advantage of this and to solve the frozen conflict.
Azerbaijani society calmly accepts all the action of the authorities on the front line. Even in the face of misinformation about the fighting people believe what news comes out from the front line.
I would not say that Azerbaijan is preparing for full-scale war. However, it is important for Azerbaijan to check the pulse of the CSTO member states to find out whether Nagorno Karabakh is in the area of responsibility and interest of the CSTO member states or not, apart of Armenia and let's say Russia. Now, when there are open clashes for the first time in 20 years it is very important for Azerbaijan to demonstrate that its army is able to repel the attack and able to perform complex tasks. During this time, people's stance to events and patriotic broadcasts were aiming to maintain the spirit of patriotism among the Azerbaijanis.
For Azerbaijan, it was important to test the response of the international community. It got the reaction from all the important players in the region and from the heads of state in two days. The fastest response came from Russia naturally. As well as the statement of President Putin, Russian Foreign Ministry, Sergey Lavrov's visit to Baku is scheduled. Medvedev is also expected to visit Armenia. When different heads of state and international organizations issue statements calling for parties to cease hostilities, based on the fact that the conflict should be resolved peacefully, and that there is no a military solution to the conflict, it irritates the Azerbaijani public. People think, why, when Azerbaijani side demands to liberate the occupied territories and to start serious peace talks instead of delaying the conflict, mediators equally criticise the parties of the conflict? According to the people, Azerbaijan considers itself victim of the conflict, one that has lost lands and that's why the attitude to Azerbaijan and occupant should not be the same.
Here now conflictologist can no longer contain himself :)
I think the strategic interests of Azerbaijan indicate that the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, with the mediation of Russia, Turkey and Iran and other interested European countries could have a big impact on the development of the region's future. After the resolution of the conflict all the economic plans and projects could be implemented with the participation of neighbouring countries. The cautious policy of Azerbaijan in relation to Russia and America, as well as towards the European continent shows that the country is able to support peaceful coexistence with its neighbours in the future.
With the hope of a speedy peace and a ceasefire.
A different tone was set on the same day by the fiery and charismatic Armenian activist from Nagorno-Karabakh, Karen Ohanjanian, another veteran of the peace movement and a familiar face in many peace initiatives and meetings in Europe over the last twenty years.
Ohanjanian on his facebook page criticised those Armenian activists who he said were "deprived of the feelings of patriotism, bordering on the betrayal of their people in the most difficult period of its modern history, and who by their actions question the truth of the latest developments". He singled out Artak Kirakosyan, Artaxias Sergoyan and Edgar Khachatrian for particularly harsh criticism. Ohanjanian also posted a statement issued by the organisation which he founded and has led since the early 1990s, - the Nagorno-Karabakh Committee of "Helsinki Initiative-92".
The statement says,
Today is the third day of unannounced war of Azerbaijan against independent Nagorno Karabakh Republic. The scales of destructions and physical violence which the freedom-loving Nagorno Karabakh Republic has been subjected on the part of barbarous Republic of Azerbaijan are comparable to the peak of hostilities of the first Karabakh war.
During the three days of the war the world community, represented by international intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations not only did not take steps aimed at condemning the aggressor, and on the contrary does everything possible to equate the aggressive actions of Azerbaijan and defense measures of Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia aimed at defense of their motherland.
Taking into account such conduct of international organizations, Nagorno Karabakh Committee of "Helsinki Initiative-92" has decided to refuse from cooperation with international organizations in the framework of projects on Nagorno Karabakh settlement and urges all non-governmental organizations of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh to do the same. At the same time Nagorno Karabakh Committee of "Helsinki Initiative-92" pays attention to the fact of absence of condemnation by Azerbaijani NGOs of aggressive actions of its state against Nagorno Karabakh and considers cooperation with Azerbaijani NGOs as harmful and dangerous for independent Nagorno Karabakh Republic, posing a threat to security and image of Nagorno Karabakh Republic and stops relation with the civil sector of Azerbaijan.
Nagorno Karabakh Committee of "Helsinki Initiative-92" urges the authorities of Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia to forbid non-governmental organizations of Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia to cooperate with the non-governmental sector of Azerbaijan.
In Armenia, Edgar Khachatarian, the founder of the organisation Peace Dialogue, has for many years challenged the official narrative on many issues related to military affairs in the country. Khachatarian made a very strong appeal on his facebook page on Sunday, on the second day of the conflict.
Dear friends and colleagues,
This is the second day that the newswires are filled with information about the bloodshed and clashes at the Line of Contact in Nagorno-Karabakh. In just a few hours, these events have taken the lives of dozens of soldiers and civilians on both sides of the line. As a human being I regret the fact that I must sit by passively watching this due to the ongoing military operations killing people, regardless of their nationality and religious affiliation. However, it is even more painful to realize that political paranoia has led to a total depreciation of peace building as a universal value. For a second day, the people that I considered and consider as colleagues continuously spread the pseudo-patriotic, militaristic ideas, supposedly designed to unite society to confront a common enemy. It is a perverse sense of satisfaction to gloat over the fact that the alleged enemy had more losses than we are is unacceptable to me.
I do not quite understand this concept of a common enemy, as, in fact, the philosophy of this concept is that the mere fact of my nationality makes me an enemy of the entire Azerbaijani society. The same perception presents my Azerbaijani friends as enemies for my country mates. Such a perverted perception just plays into the hands of the ever devouring war machine.
Deeply aware of the unpopularity of my ideas in societies fueled by the militaristic and pseudo-patriotic propaganda, I still urge my friends and colleagues in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, their friends and colleagues from all countries and continents of the globe, working for peace building and protection of human rights to stand up together against violence and the use of military force. To everyone's regret, we have all witnessed such actions and understand the tragic consequences of the use of violence and the futile attempts to resolve conflicts by military means. I hope for your understanding and support.
These are difficult times for Avaz, Karen and Edgar. No doubt they will be demonised or celebrated by people inside their countries and others on the outside. They are all products of this conflict in Karabakh that has raged on for thirty years. It is better not to judge them but to listen to them and try to understand where they are coming from.
This article was prepared by a special correspondent for commonspace.eu