There are various challenges in creating change in Armenia, but what is at the forefront, in my opinion, is the relationship that not only governments, but also individual people have with the neighboring countries of Azerbaijan and Turkey and its people. The issue with Turkey is over a century old and continues to this day since the government does not recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915 by the Ottoman Empire. As with all histories, the issue is more complex and layered than that; however, this is one notable reason why relationships between these two countries have soured.
Another reason is connected, in fact, with Armenia’s relationship with Azerbaijan. Though Armenian and Azerbaijani people have co-existed and lived in each other’s countries for centuries, as a result of territorial claims — most notably over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly Armenian-populated, mostly unrecognized de facto independent state currently within Azerbaijan’s borders — the borders have been closed and residents uprooted from their homes. As a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994 (the roots of which began much earlier, in 1918–1920 when the two republics were independent before falling under Soviet rule), Armenians in Azerbaijan were “exchanged” with Azerbaijanis in Armenia, which resulted in more mono-ethnic societies in both countries.
Solutions to overcoming these challenges include opening the borders and cooperating in regional projects together. I’ve been lucky enough to participate in one project, Social Innovation Camp Caucasus, which brought together (mainly) youth from Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia with ideas to demonstrate how new online tools can empower individuals and strengthen the existing activities of social media. The idea was to create “web-based innovations in just 48 hours.” We did this by dividing into teams based on interest; what happened was that all teams were mixed with participants from all three countries. We didn’t divide ourselves based on ethnicity; we divided ourselves based on our interests and what social issue we felt needed to be tackled both in our own countries and in the region. Issues such as lack of sexual health education or lack of interest in environmental issues brought participants together. It was a great experience and more such projects, I believe, will help in at least overcoming challenges and breaking stereotypes about each other.
This solution, I believe, is connected to a larger solution of education and awareness. Lack of information about neighboring countries and peoples (or even worse, negative portrayals in the news and through state bodies) does not help in resolving the conflict or in building peace. When what we hear and read and see is just one-sided, we cannot get the full picture and so we cannot be informed about making decisions. By working together, and learning more about each other, we can overcome our differences and work towards solving the problems at hand.
Pulsewire is already a community and we are part of that community. I believe that by sharing our stories and reaching out, already we are overcoming the challenges before us.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future Application: Challenges and Solutions to Creating Change.