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'Let's respect each other': how Armenians and Azerbaijanis live side by side in Georgia

In the war for Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia, their common Caucasian neighbor, Georgia, remains neutral. One tenth of the population of Georgia are ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis; many not the first generation live side by side. About two such villages and how official Tbilisi is trying to balance between the conflicting parties, the newspaper said. with the BBC.

Photo: Shutterstock

Hojorni: we live together, we don't discuss the war

The small village of Khojorni in southern Georgia, near the border with neighboring Armenia, can be reached from the Georgian capital in less than two hours.

Outwardly, the village is not much different from other Georgian villages.

In the center are old buildings dating back to the Soviet era - as local residents explain - a former club and library. On the fences there are pre-election posters, for the most part, of candidates from the ruling Georgian Dream party, because there are not many left before the parliamentary elections in Georgia.

Several men in the center of the village are playing backgammon. This place is called the "stock exchange" - also a characteristic attribute of many Georgian villages. Here, fellow villagers - and these are ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis - discuss everyday problems and the latest news, except for the most painful for them - the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Avoiding the topic of the war in Karabakh is an unwritten rule in a mixed Armenian-Azerbaijani village.

“Azerbaijanis live in the lower side, but Armenians live in the upper part of the village,” says one of the villagers, 62-year-old Zaven Ashotyan.

At first, he does not hide that he is not happy with the appearance of journalists in the village. Fears that what someone from the local said on emotions will disturb the calm and peaceful life of his village. But after a while, he agrees to comment and emotionally begins to talk about how Armenians and Azerbaijanis live together in his native village, despite the conflict in Karabakh.

“We communicate with each other, at funerals and at weddings we are together. And we even have lunch together. Of course, I would be lying if I say that Armenians in the Armenian circle or Azerbaijanis in Azerbaijan do not discuss the issue of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, but when we get together, we try to avoid this topic, ”he says.

Ashotyan was born and lives in Khojorni. He says that today he works as a specialist in the mayor's office of the Marneuli municipality, which includes the village. Prior to that, he held managerial positions for a long time, for about 15 years he worked as the chairman of the village council. During all this time, according to him, only once in the village in the late 1980s there was an interethnic incident.

On the subject: Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh: why Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war

“Then the next day the second secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia and the minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs arrived from Tbilisi. They held a meeting with the population and the issue was resolved, ”he says.

Since then, there have never been any interethnic conflicts in the village. This is confirmed by other local residents.

“There is no problem,” says Alik, who was asked not to give his last name. - Here I am an Armenian. I honestly want there to be peace, so that people don't die. We just don't want war. That's for sure. The rest does not depend on us. "

Drawing and sports teacher Huseyn Abdurakhmanov, 64, has been working at the school for about 40 years, there are Armenian and Azerbaijani sectors for teaching in national languages.

“We used to have a drawing club. I taught Armenian and Azerbaijani children then, ”he says. - I know Armenian well. I write, read in Armenian, sometimes, rarely true, and I sing in Armenian. "

Many people in the village avoid journalists because they are afraid that their stories about the peaceful coexistence of Armenians and Azerbaijanis and calls for peace against the background of military actions in Karabakh may not be understood, and even condemned, in Armenia or Azerbaijan.

Tsopi: We are all in great pain from this war

There are about 230 households in Khojorni, of which about 40 are Azerbaijani families, and the rest are Armenian, says the majority MP from Khojorni and three neighboring villages in the municipal council (Sakrebulo) Marneuli Arsen Hakhverdyan.

While in Khojorni the majority of the population are Armenians, in the village of Tsopi, located four kilometers away, on the contrary, Armenians are in the minority.

Large private houses with well-groomed and high fences are striking in the village. But as the locals explain, they are being built by those who leave to work, because there is no work in the village itself.

The village remembers the Soviet era with nostalgia. They say that a marble quarry worked here, and the village was multinational. Now, mainly, only Armenians and Azerbaijanis remain in the village.

“We've got Greeks, Georgians, Russians, Azerbaijanis and Armenians here. Then, who went where. Now, of course, we go to each other. We have no difference here. Children communicate, and so do we. Why should we panic here? " - says a resident of the village of Sevil Nadjabova.

There is good news too. A new road has recently been built, gas is supplied to the village and a new school is being built. Here, too, Azerbaijani and Armenian children will study in the same building.

“I live with Azerbaijanis, and our great-grandfathers lived together. We want future generations to live together too. We all want this. As a majority deputy, I was elected by both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Right now I was summoned to an Azerbaijani house, they had some problems, I am going from there. And every day I go to Azerbaijani and Armenian families. There is no difference for me, ”says Hakhverdyan.

At the same time, according to him, many people, both in Armenia and in Azerbaijan, have relatives. The deputy himself has a sister in Armenia.

“We are all in great pain from this war. If armed clashes in Karabakh continue, naturally, this will affect us, because we have relatives in Armenia and they have relatives in Azerbaijan, ”he says.

Social media and fakes, protests and volunteers

If in mixed villages residents try not to discuss the war with fellow villagers of a different ethnic group, representatives of different ethnic groups wage fierce battles on social networks, often turning into personal attacks or insults based on ethnicity.

In the regions of compact residence of ethnic minorities in Georgia and in the Georgian capital, actions of both Azerbaijanis and Armenians are regularly held. There is a readiness on both sides to go to the front line in Karabakh and take part in hostilities.

The embassies of Azerbaijan and Armenia soothe the hotheads, offering to limit themselves to financial assistance to the fund to support the armed forces.

In the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, bordering on Armenia and Turkey, in southern Georgia, where the majority of the population is ethnic Armenians, and some have Armenian citizenship in addition to Georgian, residents of one of the villages in the region at the end of September tried to block the international highway that leads to Turkey.

The protesters stated that Turkey was transporting weapons to Azerbaijan along this road and demanded that the border with Armenia be opened in order to freely send aid and go to Karabakh as volunteers.

According to the editor of the Jnews information portal in Javakheti Rima Gharibyan, all these days the population of the region is practically living in this war. They closely follow the news from the conflict zone. According to her, both financial and humanitarian aid is being collected in the region to be sent to Armenia.

Along with the news, the journalist notes, fakes and provocative posts began to appear on social networks: “For example, they often urge the Armenians of Javakheti to close the roads, because Turkey allegedly transports weapons through Georgia to Azerbaijan. In fact, this is misinformation, but there are people who come up with or imagine that this is possible and want to induce the population to take some steps. "

The Georgian authorities say that since the beginning of the escalation of the conflict in Karabakh, the passage of military goods by land and air through Georgia to both Armenia and Azerbaijan has been suspended, while Georgia continues to pass humanitarian and civilian, including commercial, cargo.

Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Lasha Darsalia called the reports that military supplies are being delivered by civilian aircraft manipulations. Responsibility for compliance with international law is borne by specific carriers and cargo owners and, in case of violation and there is strong evidence, they will be held accountable in accordance with international law, including before ICAO, the deputy minister promised.

On the subject: Conflict on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan: will there be a war and what does Russia have to do with it

Tbilisi also rejected the information spread on social networks about the movement of those who took part in the hostilities in Syria from Turkey in the direction of Azerbaijan through Georgia. The head of the Georgian State Security Service Grigol Liluashvili called such reports a lie, aimed at escalating and aggravating the situation in Georgia and the region.

The Armenian Embassy in Georgia periodically announces disinformation in the media and social networks. Earlier, the embassy rejected the information that Georgia does not allow humanitarian supplies to Armenia, as well as the video that the military cargo recorded in Borjomi is being sent to Armenia.

What Georgia has done for peaceful coexistence

While the transfer of humanitarian aid and the actions of Armenians and Azerbaijanis these days are taking place in different countries of the world, the situation in Georgia, according to some analysts, indicates problems in the Georgian society itself with regard to the integration of ethnic minorities.

According to the specialist in international relations Georgy Gobronidze, apart from the logical solidarity with the historical homeland, some of the Georgian Armenians and Azerbaijanis show antagonistic manifestations towards each other.

“On social media, they often engage in heated debates with each other. This conflict does not go beyond verbal discussions, but in general, the difference between these positions, whether we like it or not, already turns into personal disagreement. Accordingly, we see that our society, which we are proud of as multicultural and multi-ethnic, is ultimately still very fragmented, fragmented and not yet consolidated around the idea of ​​a single Georgian state, ”he says.

Zaur Khalilov, the executive director of the Civil Integration Fund, a non-profit organization in Tbilisi, agrees that the Georgian authorities should reconsider the policy of integrating ethnic minorities became clear four years ago, during the escalation of the conflict in Karabakh in April 2016.

“Then there were also wars in social networks, fundraising and attempts to cross the border and participate in the conflict on the part of Georgian citizens. When Georgian citizens take part in a conflict, it doesn't matter in what form, it should have alerted the government and the state, ”he says.

And these days, the expert is convinced, the central authorities had to work actively - to hold formal and informal meetings with the population, especially in regions densely populated by ethnic minorities, to explain the position of Georgia and the consequences of certain actions.

But in the fight against disinformation, the Georgian authorities are still powerless and passive, while the majority of representatives of ethnic minorities in the regions of Kvemo-Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti do not watch the Georgian-language media, but watch the Azerbaijani, Armenian, Russian or Turkish media.

“That is, these people are not in your information field, naturally, the fight against fakes should have been one of the main and first steps that the Georgian government had to take. Unfortunately, this is not the case. If you look at what is happening on social networks, you can say that the battlefield has grown into a digital war today, ”he says.

Is there a threat of interethnic conflict

Debates in social networks over the conflict in Karabakh did not leave indifferent ethnic Georgians either. Given Georgia's bitter experience with breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, mistrust remains on the part of the ethnic majority in relation to ethnic minorities, explains international relations expert Georgy Gobronidze.

“We consider any ethnic group primarily through the prism of national security, whether there are separatist attacks somewhere,” the expert says.

Many reacted especially sharply to what was happening in Samtskhe-Javakheti.

For example, a photo on the page of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan sparked a storm of indignation among ethnic Georgians. The reason was the signature “Javahkh”, which they perceived as a claim to Georgian territory by Armenia, despite the explanations of ethnic Armenians that this is the name of the Javakheti region in Armenian.

Gobronidze calls this reaction from Georgian users "a storm in a teapot". Official Yerevan has never received any signals of support for separatist sentiments in Javakheti, and ethnic Armenians themselves speak of separatism in Samtskhe-Javakheti much less often than ethnic Georgians.

“This is an excessive fear among ethnic Georgians. When we look at the Armenians of Samtskhe-Javakheti as potential separatists, we are already starting to distance ourselves from them and deepen the alienation with them, ”he says.

According to him, there is no need to talk about the threat of an interethnic conflict in Georgia yet, but if the confrontation in Karabakh continues, the disunity in Georgian society may increase.

The Russian factor and the danger of destabilization

At the same time, Georgia is practically at war with Russia, and Moscow, according to him, is interested in destabilizing Georgia.

“The path to destabilization is the attempts of ethnic Azerbaijanis to clash with ethnic Armenians and ethnic Georgians, which Russia has traditionally done in the territories that it considers its sphere of influence,” Gobronidze said.

Gobronidze calls the neutral position, which both the current and the previous authorities adhere to, the most logical, noting that Georgia in any case and in all directions is only losing from this war.

At the same time, in the confrontation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, it was from Georgia that joint calls for peace of Armenians and Azerbaijanis could sound, he says.

Representatives of public organizations, religious leaders and human rights activists in Georgia have already made similar appeals for peace.

But they are much less numerous than the support of one of the parties to the conflict, which was expressed in Georgia by politicians and even MPs - ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis.

“This is what we miss the most - the demonstration of unity. And local politicians could have done it right now, ”says Gobronidze.

On the subject: Penelope Cruz finds herself in the center of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan because of the poster for the film

According to Rima Gharibyan, Georgian Azerbaijanis do not come to the region these days and sell fruits and vegetables here.

“People, realizing that there is a threat, are wary and do not want to provoke incidents,” she says. - I really hope that this will not happen. Because in a quiet time, the Armenians and Azerbaijanis of Georgia get along well and mostly young people are in contact at universities and, I know that many are friends. This problem does not exist inside Georgia, but when the martial law and the conflict escalates, such cases are possible. "

"Let's live and respect each other"

The mixed Armenian-Azerbaijani villages fear that with the continuation of the armed confrontation in Karabakh, the war will become closer to them. While the peaceful and measured life of the villages, it seems, nothing is disturbed.

Some justify the actions of one or the other side of the conflict. But, as local residents say, somehow transferring this conflict to Georgia is wrong, and the war in Karabakh should not affect their relations with their fellow villagers.

Huseyn, like his fellow villagers, every day closely follows the news from Karabakh.

“Of course, it hurts us to look at this. Nobody wants a confrontation. I always say - there are no bad nations, there are people who do not allow to live in peace, - he says. - You see, I am a teacher, I work at a school. Our responsibility is to educate children, give them good knowledge and show them the right path. We live in the state of Georgia, where the doors are open to all nations, regardless of religion, race, nation, political views. Everyone can work, representatives of different nations have their own houses and land plots. Isn't that enough? So let's live and respect each other. "

As ForumDaily wrote earlier:

  • After the start of clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh Armenia and Azerbaijan declare martial law... Armenia reported the death of two civilians, Azerbaijan - the death of a family of five and the injury of 19 citizens. In addition, the Armenian military reported the loss of 16 soldiers and the injury of about a hundred more people. Azerbaijan has not officially announced the deaths, Armenia reports the deaths of 200 Azerbaijani soldiers.
  • Into the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh a NATO member country can be involved.
  • The conflict began in 1988, when the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region announced its withdrawal from Soviet Azerbaijan. After the armed confrontation in 1992-1994, Baku lost control over the region, as well as over the seven adjacent regions. Since 1992, negotiations have been underway on a peaceful settlement of the conflict within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group, headed by three co-chairs - Russia, the United States and France.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Donald Trump issued a joint statement. They are called on the parties to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh to stop hostilities.
  • The ceasefire announced at 12:00 on Saturday 10 October lasted less than a day... The Azerbaijani side blamed Armenia for its disruption, announcing a new shelling of the city of Ganja, as a result of which a residential building was destroyed, at least nine people were killed. The Armenian military deny that they fired at the city and accuse Azerbaijan of violating the ceasefire.
  • For the first time in the history of the conflict both sides admitted the strike... The Azerbaijani armed forces attacked the territory of Armenia, destroying the missile system ready for launch.
  • Yerevan and Baku agreed on a humanitarian trucewhich came into effect on October 18 at midnight local time.

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