Cross-cultural dialogue

By Sona Dilanyan

For the last few years I have been actively involved in cross-cultural dialogue programs with Azerbaijan. A few of my friends have been very supportive in these initiatives but for the majority of my friends and peers I’m considered an “enemy” or a “traitor”. But I myself always tend to differentiate the dialogue on social level from the current political situation and conflicts. Yes, I do agree that Azerbaijan is considered an enemy state of Armenia. Yes, I do agree that we still live under the cease-fire regime and yes, we have an unsolved conflict. But still no, I do not agree that despite all the consequences of the conflict we cannot develop a cultural dialogue, because in cases when there are no diplomatic relations between two countries, the only way to get to know “the other” is through intercultural dialogue.

Obviously you cannot judge anyone or anything when you just do not know what it is. For instance during the negotiations about opening the Armenian-Turkish border a lot of Armenians where against these negotiations. How can you be for or against it if you simply do not know what is over there, on the other side of the border? In the same way, how can you expect a resolution of the NKR conflict, when you do not have any idea about who is the other conflicting side? All of us have our own concept of “Azerbaijan” which is formed not by analytical thinking, not through communication and not even through personal experience but rather influenced by negative stereotypes. The first step towards breaking these stereotypes is to realize that ordinary people like each of us live there and that every one of them has their own concept of the neighboring “enemy” state, just like we do. The only difference is how much negative propaganda each of us is influenced by.

All in all, breaking the perceptions of enemy is much harder than building them, but yet possible. I’m always optimistic about the future of this conflict. Some 10 years ago none of us could believe that young Armenians and Azerbaijanis can come together, sit around a table and discuss common problems. But that’s happening now. So why can’t we hope for more to come in some 10 years?

Some of our visions can seem to be unrealistic in the near future. Yet, I have the simple vision of breaking stereotypes between the two nations of Caucasus, which I believe is the most important step towards further transformation and resolution of the conflict.

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