Tato is of Armenian descent, Fatma Azerbaijani - and both want peace
Again, there is war in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region in the Southern Caucasus that officially belongs to Azerbaijan, but has been de facto in the hands of the internationally unrecognized Armenian Republic of Artsakh since the 1990s. Azerbaijan wants to reclaim the region and is supported in this endeavor by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has sent hundreds of pro-Turkish Syrian jihadists to the scene.
How do Dutch people with an Armenian and Azerbaijani background experience this conflict? And how can there possibly be a lasting peace? Ewout Klei spoke about this with the Armenian-Dutch Tato Martirossian and the Turkish-Kurdish-Dutch Fatma Bulaz, who also has an Azerbaijani background through her mother's side. They don't like the war and they want reconciliation between the two peoples. A few years ago they visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan together.
"My heart has burst into a thousand pieces"
"At the moment there is a certain atmosphere among Armenians, in Armenia but also in the diaspora," says Tato. "What I notice is that young people are emotionally very involved and feel they should support this struggle. Praising the army is seen as good, brave and just and war is seen as a necessary struggle for peace. There is no room for a pacifist message. At the same time, I have seen calls on social media not to dismiss people who are against the war as traitors or cowards. "
According to Tato, Armenians and Azerbaijanis are more alike than they may like to admit. "The Armenians say they are fighting to defend themselves and protect the vulnerable, their wives and children. But in Azerbaijan they are saying exactly the same. The Azerbaijanis are really not saying they are going to Nagorno-Karabakh to murder and rape. So, regardless of the truth and the blame, the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis go to war with exactly the same beliefs and emotions. "
Even the Armenian and Azerbaijani newspapers are, in their reporting, mirroring each other, says Tato. "The Armenian newspapers say that a young girl was killed as a result of the outbreak of violence. The Armenians fight to protect children like her. But on an Azerbaijani news site I also read that an Azerbaijani child has died. "
Tato can't cheer when she reads about casualties on the other side. "This war only knows losers. I will only cheer when we can live together peacefully. " Even friends of Tato are at risk of death, she says. "Someone I know well in Armenia, a father of two, has been called up to go to the front. Another good friend of mine has volunteered to fight. They want to go with their heads held high and I think that's brave of them, although I am sad that they – apparently - have no choice. "
She really dislikes what is happening now. "A photo of an 18-year-old boy is widely shared on social media, kissing his mother goodbye before leaving for the front. He perhaps would not survive the upcoming battles. This mother could lose her son. I am a mother myself. My heart has burst into a thousand pieces after I saw this picture. I feel more sad than proud. I hold my breath. How much more blood has to flow before this bloodshed is finally over?"
One of Tato's best friends is a nationalist Armenian woman, who started protesting against Azerbaijan and Turkey on Tuesday, September 29 in The Hague. Tato also has girlfriends who are Azerbaijanis. However, the war has "zero consequences" for her friendships, she emphasizes. "Of course I also hope there will be a solution to this terrible conflict, but I have no idea how that should be done. In any case, we have to see the others as human beings once again. The emotions of the war obscure this view. "
"We must pay more attention to what binds us"
Fatma is Turkish-Kurdish, but on her mother's side she is an Azeri Turk, she says. Iran is home to the majority of Azeris, called "Tork", Turk. Azeris are spread over different countries. A small group lives in Turkey, most Azeris live in Iran and then in Azerbaijan itself. "
The Azeris feel ethnically and linguistically connected to the Turks. They also share Islam with the Turks, although many Azeris adhere to Shia Islam, while most Turks are Sunni Muslims. The Azeris, especially those in Azerbaijan, feel a strong antipathy towards the Armenians. "Because I also went to Armenia and visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan together with Tato, I am a bit of the rebel in the family."
"Nationalism is a very big problem, not only for the Azerbaijanis who have Turkey behind them, but also for the Armenians," Fatma said. While she was in Armenia two years ago, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue came up. "I was immediately corrected by an elderly Armenian woman who told me to say Artsach. Nagorno is a Russian word meaning "mountain range" and Karabakh is an Azeri word meaning "black garden". Even names are being politicized."
The fact that both countries are now at war again over Nagorno-Karabakh hurts Fatma a lot. "Armenians and Azerbaijanis are sending young people to the front, to fight, to die. Children die as a result of a political game." Her family is not happy about the war, she says. "My father said to me that he really hated that young people are dying. Other family members neither are enthusiastic about the war. But maybe my family is less fierce because we are from Turkey, we have no family in Azerbaijan itself. "
Fatma, like Tato, does not know exactly what needs to be done to restore peace between the two countries. Although Nagorno-Karabakh officially belongs to Azerbaijan, Fatma does not think the area belongs to the Azerbaijans. But the Armenians do not have an exclusive right to this region either. "Nationalist Armenians claim that the region was historically Armenian, and that later Turks and Azerbaijans settled there. I disagree with this reasoning, because people simply migrate. You cannot claim a country exclusively for yourself. There must be a peaceful coexistence. "
In any case, Armenians and Azerbaijans are very similar in many ways, Fatma explains. "We have lived together for hundreds of years. We have the same dishes. We must be more concerned with what binds us than what sets us apart. "
This article was first published on October 1st on Dutch magazine de Kanttekening.