When I moved to Estonia to study at the University of Tartu, one of the best ways to take a break and relax was by chatting with my grandma over Skype. She would ask me all kinds of questions: Is it too cold? Do they sell lavash there? Who are you friends with? She was alarmed every time she heard about fellow international students from Azerbaijan: “Are you careful?”
I don’t judge my grandma harshly for this last question. Ever since Armenia and Azerbaijan froze a years-long war over the Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh region in 1994, the two nations became ghosts to each other. Borders closed down, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced so the two neighbours could “clean” their lands from each other, travelling became forbidden or too dangerous. Even the products made in the neighbouring country were prohibited from entering the domestic market.
Armenians and Azerbaijanis disappeared from each other’s lives. Only one single connection remained: the war.
For 26 years, the two nations failed to resolve the conflict and violence occasionally broke out on the border. From time to time, we heard reports about attacks from the other side and soldiers dying. As a result, for Armenians and Azerbaijanis their neighbouring country shrank and became nothing more than a dangerous bully at the border.
Two weeks ago, on 27 September, a full-scale war resumed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I am a journalist, so I have to constantly monitor the news and report on important developments. This task has not been easy, neither technically (propaganda lies need to be addressed in times of war) nor mentally.
Hundreds of soldiers and dozens of civilians have now been reported dead. Cities were bombed day and night, forcing people to leave their homes or hide in underground bunkers. Tensions grew to a maximum in the Caucasus and affected also Armenians and Azerbaijanis living far away.
Online activism against each other began. This was fueled by the militant rhetoric of the top officials, a rhetoric that has poisoned our societies for so many years and has transformed into eagerness to hate and fight.
I and other Armenian and Azerbaijani students in Tartu are luckier than our compatriots in the Caucasus. In Tartu we share a space, we are present in each other’s lives, we can get to know each other outside of the frames of war. To me, it is a gift I got when I arrived in Estonia.
I get endlessly angry every time I hear calls for war and hatred. And that anger doesn’t go away easily. Over time, however, I have learned to restrain it. The trick here is easy: Every time I hear a new hateful pro-war statement, I close my eyes and remember a short chat we had with Azerbaijani friends in the Raatuse backyard, or the Caucasian-style barbecue we shared during a summer trip to Pärnu, or the walk we had in Tallinn when the weather was so warm. During these two weeks, reminding myself of real people and real-life moments has become my ultimate coping mechanism in the face of virtual hatred and human tragedy.
Karine Ghazaryan is a master’s student at the Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu.