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Opinion | ‘We did not speak, we only whispered’

24 October 2020

As peacemakers, we have remained much too quiet and so failed in our mission. This war is proof that we must raise our voices. 

Each night before I go to sleep I make a list of the things I should do the next day. On the evening of 17 October, I sat down to write a list for the next day, and I saw my last ‘to-do list’ was written for 27th of September. Normal life stopped that morning

I turned the page and wrote a new list, believing with all my heart that this was it. I woke up at night from some disturbing dream to check the news. It turned out I had been in a hurry with my list and my expectations that normal life would return.

The only thing that was on my list for those 22 days, was staying calm and balanced and not giving up on myself, at least. But the morning of 18 October I felt the angriest. Not at Azerbaijanis or Armenians. I was angry at myself and at others who believed in peace — who wanted peace but had always been much too careful with their words. 

Even before the war, I would choose each and every word I used. I would censor myself and my thoughts because people could have attacked me because society might not understand, because I didn’t want to be a target and because ‘it was not the right time’. 

It never was and it never will be.

Our voices have not been heard, because we did not speak, we have only whispered. And in societies with ever-more powerful, mutually-exclusive national narratives of this conflict, no one would hear the quiet whispers of those who were afraid to sound too neutral, afraid to be attacked or called ‘traitors’.

These days, I think all the time about how easy it was for the authorities of both our countries to manipulate our societies and to take us to this stage where people who think even a little bit differently are afraid to speak freely. How easy it was for them to make our societies believe that the ones living ‘over there’ are all bloodthirsty, that the whole society of one country is the same. 

How easy it was for them to change the different narratives and the complicated, painful realities of ’80s and ’90s and paper over them with nationalistic ideologies, burying the facts underneath the simple propaganda of  ‘we are good and they are bad’.

In spite of the impact the conflict has played on our societies, and its ubiquity in our understanding of ourselves, we don't actually know very much about it. We have all grown up with whatever we have been told in school and in the media. We were made to believe ‘facts’ that constantly changed in line with state propaganda. We have gotten to the point that we are totally fine with our authorities having negotiations secretly, behind closed doors. 

The people who actually know all the details of this conflict make closed-door decisions, affecting the lives of those who know only what they are allowed to know. People who know the conflict make war and then make those who don’t know the conflict but are fed with nationalistic propaganda fight it.

War can feel very romantic when you look at it from inside and refuse to look at anything that is happening on the other side. Meanwhile, when both sides are in view not only is the horror made plain, but also the sheer absurdity of it. 

The misinformation and lack of knowledge took us to a place where even the most educated people in our societies are now able to generalise to create a homogenous ‘us’ and a homogenous ‘them’, all the while maintaining an expression of wise confidence on their face. 

Believing that we are fundamentally different makes it very easy to wish for the other’s death. It makes it easy to believe you should be wary of everyone from the other side, lest they kill you with an axe. And it’s easier for them or for you to kill one another with an axe or with a bullet because you don’t see a human in front of you just as he doesn’t see one in front of him. 

Killing a non-human creature shouldn’t be difficult, shouldn’t be painful — that was how we were raised to think and to act. 

No logic can fight these ideologies and beliefs deeply rooted in us. And because of the same ideologies, we became very similar. Each side developed warmongers, each side has those who still remember old neighbours from the ‘other’ side but turn to nationalists after the first shots are fired, and each side has those who shout for peace one moment and then spread hate speech the next. 

Our tragic similarity in seeing each other as fundamentally different comes from a lack of education and a lack of knowledge, and from our mutual inability to see that lack.

Some days ago I was talking with a friend about some facts of geography in this conflict. Those were so new for him that he kept convincing me I was wrong or I didn’t remember it correctly. It went to the point that for several seconds I started to doubt the knowledge I had gained during the last two years until I googled to show him what I was talking about. 

I, myself, didn’t know about these facts two years ago, and many of them were a shock to me as well. That is how we are being taught the history of this conflict: vaguely and selectively, skipping over those very important parts that might seem inconvenient. Because if we didn’t skip them in our education, we might want to solve this conflict with mutual concessions  — this, as everything else, applies to both sides.

If we were willing to understand the other side’s history and feelings, we might not be laughing now at the photos of Ganja, ‘they’ might not be celebrating victories while civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh die for those victories. Perhaps neither side would want to seek revenge if we knew or understood the other and their pain.

But we are meant not to understand, we are meant to live in a bubble.

In the first days when all these started, a friend and I were talking about how easy it would actually be for the authorities to prepare their populations for peace. Only a simple sentence made by Arayik Harutyunyan that we fight against the Azerbaijani government, not Azerbaijan, was quoted and shared all over social media, even by those spreading hate speech every day. 

We exist in societies that are very easily trained, and as we have seen even the most intelligent among us have been trained to hate. Because we are just puppets who sit all night and wait eagerly for one very short statement after more than 10 hours of negotiation in a secret room. But, if we could be trained to hate, we could be trained to love, we could be trained for peace. 

As they agreed but never really did, our populations could be prepared for peace! 

Yet, we are here  — the ones who truly trained themselves for peace —  being afraid to say too much, to be too peaceful, to be too neutral or to be defined as pacifists in a time of war.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of OC Media’s editorial board.

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