It is hard to explain to my children what happened in Ganja during the last few days when they ask me about shocking images of destroyed buildings, flying missiles and wounded kids, because their education does not include hate, war and killing innocent people, writes Rufat Azizov.
As a result of rocket shelling by Armenian armed forces targeting residential buildings in Ganja, 10 people (5 of them women) died and 35 people, including 16 women and 6 children, were wounded on 11 October. Damage was caused to more than 10 residential buildings and over 100 facilities, including school buildings. Ganja is the second largest city of Azerbaijan, which is far away from the conflict zone – Nagorno-Karabakh.
Looking forward, there are several ways to prevent the escalation of the conflict. While rational and social actions may help achieving peace, arms control and diplomacy are the two main tools to prevent a full-scale war. Given the fact that war is a social event, triggered by nations and politicians, political leaders should shy away from decisions based on national interests or ignoble purposes, as it was the case in Ganja, where civilians were targeted by Armenian military forces.
Citizens shall question the rationality and necessity of the decisions taken by their leaders, who may be aiming to achieve political gains from war. In order to hold their leaders accountable for their violent actions, such as missile attacks targeting civilians. Citizens should be adequately informed by a free press. At least, social movements can limit the unchecked use of military power against civilians. Unfortunately, there are no protests in Armenia demanding an immediate end to the war. Armenian society is not questioning their government’s unacceptable acts, such as launching a missile attack on civilians in Ganja, despite a humanitarian ceasefire that had been declared the day before the missile attacks.
According to rational thinking, Armenian people become complicit in their government’s barbaric attack on civilians by not putting their government’s actions into question. But it would be beyond logic to believe that they would actually support such attacks against civilians. A more likely explanation would be that they are not being consulted about their government’s decisions and they are being led to believe false information about the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh disseminated by their leadership. If they had access to unbiased and transparent information, they would be aware of the fact that there are four UN Security Council resolutions demanding for the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian occupying forces from internationally recognised territories of Azerbaijan.
Other factors that may ignite war are ideological, cultural and ethnic differences. Governments and citizens alike should respect the diversity of cultures, religions, languages and ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, none of these values exist in Armenian society, which can be described as mono-ethnic and mono-religious. Consequently, the existence of a mono-culture and the values associated with it creates cognitive frames, bias, and intolerance against different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. Moreover, this bias is cultivated and transferred from generation to generation through family upbringing, culture and media propaganda.
It is a known fact that prejudice is reduced with better education opportunities. Therefore, the lack of diversity in Armenia may stem from a lack of transparent education and research, in particular in the areas of history, social values and humanity. This would naturally affect the structure of the economy, human rights practices, institutional behaviour and people’s mindsets in general. Educated and open-minded citizens are more likely to demand from their government the following: a value system that respects diversity, an economy that functions and a more active regional integration and participation in major infrastructural projects. They would also have more tendency to question their government’s excessive military spending in the middle of a heavy economic crisis.
Unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan is a multicultural society, respecting the diversity of values, religions, ethnicities and languages. Respecting diversity is not only the state policy of Azerbaijan but also the way of living of the Azerbaijani people. Despite the current conflict, the Azerbaijani government guarantees the rights and privileges of ethnic Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh provided that Azerbaijani territorial integrity is fully restored.
Like other national minorities, such as Lezgins, Russians, Talysh, Tatars and Jews, Armenians are already living peacefully and comfortably in Azerbaijan, and benefiting from legal guarantees for their protection as Azerbaijani citizens. They can continue to do so when the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh is resolved. In this respect, Azerbaijan represents hope and opportunity for Nagorno-Karabakh and its Armenian community. Without any doubt, Azerbaijan will bring economic growth, education, modern infrastructure, peace and security to the region. This is a historical chance for the Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh to achieve prosperity, inclusivity and peaceful co-existence with the Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Author, Rufat Azizov, is CEO of Unimetal & Prometal Group, Senior Lecturer at Baku Higher Oil School (BHOS), and Co-founder of the ASAIF – Azerbaijan Students & Alumni International Forum.