With Alice in Wonderland

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Frederick Nietzsche

By Sos Avetisyan

On October 30, students and youth from Armenia and Azerbaijan were invited to a skype conference and I took this chance to directly talk to fellows from Azerbaijan. Seated in a comfortable skype hall, the call to Azerbaijan was made.

The questions followed from the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides. It was interesting to observe the other Armenians formulating the questions and at the same time to hear questions from the Azerbaijani side. From both sides, there were questions, provocative questions, smart questions and smartly provocative questions. I could see the real reflection of the layers of my society: from hardliners to moderates.

The hardline speeches were mostly based on past suffering, current impossibility, and high skepticism regarding conflict resolution. The hardliners and semi-hardliners were obviously larger in number and as a person from more moderate thinking it was a challenging environment. This is not about that I was feeling uncomfortable (I can only reflect about myself, there were other moderates in the hall as well), however I felt challenged by the actual reality.

Maybe the reality is like that? Maybe the resolution is not possible? Maybe the past is stronger and more determinative than the future aspirations? Then another question followed: why some people are moderate, different, out of main stream? To answer this question, I used one of my most favorite books – “Alice in Wonderland”. The wonderful tale of different realities so applicable to diversified and yet contradicting realities in the South Caucasus, shares some answers.

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – Alice in Wonderland

When you practice conflict resolution and try to change something around you and in your country, you have to be flexible in all the dimensions. I understand three things from Alice’s message: first, the belief is crucial for transforming original reality; second, you need to stretch to impossible; and lastly, you need to practice it.

Interestingly, this was Alice’s formula to win the almighty, very real, and quite dreadful Juberworcky (the dragon). Alice was in the armors and with the special sword when fighting with Juberworcky but was able to win only when she believed in the impossible creators, and her impossible reality, and most importantly that the Juberworcky was real in that reality.

In changing the situation we have to be creative, brave, and hardworking in our efforts. The belief in something impossible is the cornerstone for reaching conflict resolution. This sounds illogical and mad in some way; however, the belief is needed in things that are not often easily explained by logic or common sense and practice. However, once the impossible thing happens, ironically enough, the logical, common-sense-based, and practical explanations pop up right after it.

“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” – Alice in Wonderland

The strongest argument against the possibility of conflict resolution is history and its interpretation in respective countries. What for 20 years the parties have been doing is going back, preserving, and living in the past.

Surely, tackling issues regarding conflict resolution and being asked to re-reflect on history is answered with cold shoulder. No one gives up memories and especially the ownership of memories when it comes to conflict-ridden societies. The memories are cherished, filed, and not shared.

However, if you ask a member of the society about his life in 20 years, he/she will say that it has changed, negatively or positively is another discourse. On the personal level, history changes, while on a wider level – the societal – history changes in very slow manner. So one thing I learnt from this statement is that to allow the personal histories to transform the collective history is an effective conflict resolution tool. Saying this, I do not suggest by any means to disregard the personal suffering of the individuals and families; however, I suggest to look on the past from the perspective of individuals and not nations.

“We’re all mad here.” – Alice in Wonderland

My frequent interactions with different conflict resolution enthusiasts proved me one thing. They are mad, really mad! You have to be mad in order to challenge the most comfortable settings, when you are somehow protected, somehow “our guy” or “our girl”, somehow on offensive with others and defensive against all the “setting” changers (obvious minority).

It is useless to surf back into history and prove how many great scientific inventions, discoveries, brave voyagers, artists, writers were considered mad by their contemporaries. When they reached their goals they were considered heroes, talented artist, outstanding scientist… Their success was attributed to their hardworking, intrinsic talents, and other abilities; and hardly ever people would just say that they succeeded because they were mad!

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