Ethnic Armenians in the Georgian village of Tsopi, situated some 7km from the border with Armenia. Co-inhabited by a majority ethnic Azeri population, both groups speak each other's language and live side by side together in peace. / Image by Onnik Krikorian

Ethnic Armenians in the Georgian village of Tsopi, situated some 7km from the border with Armenia. Co-inhabited by a majority ethnic Azeri population, both groups speak each other's language and live side by side together in peace. / Image by Onnik Krikorian

Culture That Unites Rather Than Divides

by | December 21st, 2010 | 58 comments
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This article was jointly written by Onnik Krikorian and Aygün Janmammadova, whose complete biographies are at the end of the article.

TBILISI, Georgia – An Azeri teahouse, and naturally Azerbaijani can be heard spoken inside. A dozen men, identical in appearance, sit at tables, chain smoking and drinking cups of çay (tea). “Salam,” we say, before approaching the waitress. The owners of another Azeri teahouse, ironically run by ethnic Armenians just around the corner, directed us here, saying that the waitress too is Armenian.  She is, even though the teahouse is owned by an ethnic Azeri. Anyway, we take our seats at a table with the intention of once again exploring the reality of peaceful coexistence in at least one part of the South Caucasus.

Considered neutral ground by international organizations and local NGOs engaged in regional cooperation, communication and peace-building activities, the situation is, of course, very different than in Armenia and Azerbaijan proper. A recent survey by the Caucasus Resource Research Centers (CRRC), for example, found that 70 percent of Armenians disapproved of forming friendships with Azerbaijanis. That figure is alarmingly high, but the situation is even worse in Azerbaijan. There, 97 percent of Azerbaijanis said they didn’t look favorably on friendship with Armenians.

True, thousands of ethnic Armenians, mainly the wives of Azerbaijanis, are believed to still live in Baku, the capital, but they do so with some difficulty, maintaining a low profile to avoid discrimination. The same is true to a lesser extent for significantly fewer Azeris in Yerevan, although their ethnic kin from Iran do indeed operate more openly in the Armenian capital. Of course, locals don’t view them with quite as much hostility as they might if they were from Azerbaijan. Indeed, even a festival of non-political contemporary films from Azerbaijan had to be canceled recently after strong local nationalist backlash.

Lilit (left) from Armenia and Farida (right) from Azerbaijan jump with the maestro himself, Sergei Paradjanov, in Tbilisi, Georgia.

In both cases, however, it’s probably no wonder. Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a bloody war in the early 1990s over the disputed mainly Armenian-inhabited territory of Nagorno Karabakh. Over 25,000 were killed and a million on both sides were forced to flee their homes. Despite a tentative peace, the frontline remains tense, with dozens of young conscripts on both sides dying each year.  Moreover, with the mutual massacre of civilian populations throughout history selectively taught in schools and kept alive by the local media, once could hardly expect that an environment for mutual understanding could exist.

Arpine Porsughyan, the co-author of a CRRC report on media bias in Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, notes the role the media plays, but also says that the general public is to blame too, especially as consumers are eager to digest such information. “Some argue that those with a strong interest in politics and access to various sources of information are subject to ‘biased processing,’” she says, explaining that people tend to filter information based on already existing views even if they otherwise say they would prefer a more unbiased media.

In Georgia, however, the situation is very different. Free from the nationalist rhetoric of Armenian and Azerbaijani political forces, and isolated from the negative stereotypes and propaganda usually disseminated on an almost daily basis in the local press, ethnic Armenians and Azeris coexist quite well, and do so without regrets and by no means reluctantly. As in Moscow or elsewhere outside of the conflict zone, they naturally congregate together, recognizing a similarity in terms of culture, cuisine, and mentality. Back in the teahouse, examples sit before us at nearly every table.

At one, the conversation changes as Georgian television news cuts to footage of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents meeting in Astrakhan, Russia, for yet another high-level meeting to finally resolve the conflict. “I used to take the similarities between our nations for granted, but this war made me appreciate how similar, if not the same, we all are,” says Albert, an ethnic Armenian singer, as the conversation shifts to discussion of the news on the screen ahead. Away from politics, though, he sings mainly in Azerbaijani, especially those songs written by Sayat Nova, the 18th-century Armenian troubadour.

Ramiz (left), an ethnic Azeri who sings in Armenian, and Albert (right), an ethnic Armenian who sings in Azerbaijani, at an ethnic Azeri-owned teahouse in Tbilisi, Georgia. The waitress behind them is an ethnic Armenian. Everyone speaks each other's language and is friendly. / Image by Onnik Krikorian

“It’s like when you fight with your brother or sister,” adds one of his closest friends sitting next to him.  “They are your own flesh and blood, but still you hit them just for nothing. This is how it is with our nations too.”

That man is 74-year-old Ramiz, an ethnic Azeri musician who prefers to sing in Armenian.  He even married an Armenian while — further completing the picture of mutual coexistence — Albert married an ethnic Azeri. “My Armenian friend is worth a thousand other friends,” says Ramiz as the teahouse starts to resonate with the sound of Armenian and Azerbaijani being spoken interchangeably. The war between two neighboring countries is a political, rather than an ethnic, one, they say, before the eyes of both of them start to shine when the conversation once again turns to Sayat Nova.

Like Sergei Paradjanov, whose last film before his death in 1990 was based on an Azeri love story and filmed in Azerbaijan despite the rising tensions, Sayat Nova was very much a cultural figure for the entire Caucasus and not restrained by national ideology or borders. The legendary bard wrote most of his songs in Azerbaijani, then the lingua franca of the region.  Indeed,  a statue of Paradjanov can also be found nearby, as can a monument to Sayat Nova, although it’s a mainly ethnic Azeri area of Tbilisi, and soon the location of a new Azerbaijani Embassy overlooking Heydar Aliyev Park.

A group of ethnic Armenians and Azeris in Tsopi, Georgia. The village has an ethnic Azeri majority, but both groups speak each other's language and live side-by-side.

In fact, it marks the approach to St. Gevorg, a 13th-century church and seat of the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Georgia. Sayat Nova is also buried there, but it is unclear whether Azerbaijanis will be as welcome as Armenians appear to be in Tbilisi’s Azeri teahouses. As it turns out, they are very welcome indeed, and as the conversation switches to Russian, the eyes of the Armenian woman selling candles in the church light up when one of us, an Azerbaijani from Baku, identifies herself as such. Karine says that ethnic Azeris also visit the church and some even pray.

She also has many Azerbaijani friends, many of them with Armenian spouses, and dreams of visiting her friends in Baku.

It might not be the capital of Azerbaijan, but its namesake – a restaurant just five minutes away on foot – is yet another example of peaceful coexistence in the city. Save for the substitution of pork for lamb in some dishes, the menu is nearly identical to that found in almost any restaurant serving national cuisine in Armenia. It’s no wonder then that both ethnic groups dine here. The manager, an ethnic Azeri, says there are no problems between the two, although she does admit that not every visitor from Azerbaijan proper is happy with the situation.

Nevertheless, Tbilisi’s Azeri restaurant welcomes customers, Armenian and Azeri alike.

Yelena Osipova, a student from Armenia now studying in the U.S., knows this only too well. “As a freshman at college in a country far away, I happened to attend an Azeri cultural evening,” she remembers, admitting that she was unable to differentiate the tradition of music, national dress and cuisine from her own. “At a certain point, I became confused since it was very difficult to consider that it wasn’t an Armenian cultural evening. The main reminder of that was the Azerbaijani flag hanging on the wall.”

The situation is even more acute for those who lived in the other’s country before being forced out as the conflict erupted around them. Zamira Abbasova, for example, is a 26-year-old ethnic Azeri from Armenia who recently returned to Baku from the U.S. where she studied Conflict Transformation and Resolution at the School for International Training.

“Meeting Armenians for the first time shook my feelings and emotions up and down,” she says, even though she was only four when she left Armenia and has only vague memories of her home situated close to Lake Sevan. “I made lots of friends, talked openly to them, and heard their perspective.

Since then, every time I see an Armenian, be it in the street or any other social gathering, I feel some kind of invisible tie to them and to the land in which I was born, ignoring the fact that ‘they should be my enemies.’ That is the power of ‘good’ over ‘evil’ which we have ignored for too long.”

Although not representative of the majority in either country, another alternative voice is Marine Ejuryan, a 21-year-old student activist who has participated in many cross-border projects with her counterparts from Azerbaijan and Turkey. She too can cite other examples of shared culture and friendship, especially that which has been expressed in literature.  “In ‘Bayram Ali,’” she says, “the Armenian poet and writer Avetik Isahakyan wrote about Armenians and Azerbaijanis living together and fighting against a ‘common enemy who took their territories and water.’”

Ejuryan also refers to a story by Aksel Bakunts about the friendship between an Armenian and an Azerbaijani during inter-ethnic clashes at the beginning of 20th century. She can also cite examples in literature from the other side too. “Nizami and Khagani, two famous Azerbaijani poets, speak with praise about Armenians in their works, and these are only a few examples, telling of a time when there was friendship and cooperation between our nations. Even today we still live side by side with each other elsewhere in the world.”

Scary Azeri, a prolific and well-known blogger from Azerbaijan now based in England who can count many Armenians among her loyal readers, agrees. “In Moscow, Bakuvians hang out together, and when I say Bakuvians, I don’t mean only Azeris,” she says. “As in Tbilisi, on neutral territory, many Azeris and Armenians happily co-exist. They share toasts, laughs and happy memories. They date, make friendships and forget the problems they left behind. Every war eventually comes to an end and I sincerely hope there is going to be peace in the region sometime in my lifetime.”

True, the path to peace remains as elusive as ever, especially with concerns regarding the possibility of renewed fighting increasing since the August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. Fueled by its revenue from oil, Azerbaijan’s military expenditure looks set to hit $3.1 billion next year, more than the entire national budget of Armenia. However, despite Armenia’s exclusion from regional communication projects which arguably hinder its future development, the majority of Armenians in Armenia and Karabakh are reportedly more content with preserving the status quo.

Recent town hall meetings conducted by the Yerevan-based International Center for Human Development (ICHD) indicate that, at a little over 50 percent of respondents, this is currently the most popular position, with only about 17 percent of Armenians supporting the return of territory surrounding Karabakh in return for its independence. In Azerbaijan, only 0.3 percent of Azerbaijanis were willing to accept such a development although 32.9 percent were prepared to consider Karabakh determining its own status sometime in the future after the return of other territory currently under Armenian control.

In such a situation, is there any hope? First, says regional analyst and London School of Economics PhD candidate Kevork Oskanian, attitudes in Armenia and Azerbaijan towards each other have to change. “There is no doubt that most people in both Armenia and Azerbaijan desire peace,” he says, “but the difficulty in coming to an agreement is due to the limitations in any ability to shape their social environment as they please. This ability is limited as it collides with the values that govern appropriate behavior within a given society as it contradicts powerful interests in the status quo.”

“Some citizens and politicians might want to change the situation, but soon enough they would be counteracted by the nationalist norms that still govern their societies. Ordinary citizens have it in their power to help fashion an alternative narrative that emphasizes the many commonalities within the different ethnic groups of a once culturally unified region,” he continues, “but perhaps the greatest key to becoming an agent, rather than a victim, of history, lies in that elusive thing called ‘visionary statesmanship.’ And that is in very short supply on all sides in this long-suffering region.”

Ejuryan is more direct when it comes to promoting dialogue. “Many years of war, enmity, and negative propaganda have resulted in the current perceptions of the ‘other’ in our societies,” she says. “Without a doubt it is now time to break the stereotypes Armenians and Azerbaijanis have. The idea that Armenians and Azerbaijanis are ‘ethnically incompatible’ is certainly nothing but pure fallacy. We used to live together in peace and still do on neutral ground, which means that it’s possible in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh too. What we need to do first is to end the propaganda wars on both sides.”

*   *    *

Onnik Krikorian is a journalist and photojournalist from the U.K. based in Yerevan, Armenia.
He has covered the Nagorno Karabakh conflict since 1994 and assisted Thomas de Waal with
Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War.

Aygün Janmammadova, a Baku-based lawyer specializing in international humanitarian law,
contributed to this article, an attempt to counter bias in reporting on the Armenia-Azerbaijan
conflict by amplifying alternative voices online.

So far unrepresented in the traditional media, this is encouraged and facilitated through
Caucasus Conflict Voices, a cross-border blogging project established by the author from which the quotes for this article were taken. The project is posted below but can also be viewed at


  1. Hussain Al-Amily says:

    People are brothers and sisters until the satan of greed, ambition of supremacy and the loom of rasism gets inbetween.

    Long live peace and tolerance between Aziris and Aremians.

    And hi to my Aremendian neighbours Abu Armen and family in Baghdad, JADRIAN, HAY BABIL, ZUQAQ 13, house no. 11-13.

    Abu Malik

  2. gaytzag palandjian says:

    ¨Once culturally unified region ¨,(presumably 70 year soviet rule time frame)is where I would like to begin then delve further into the main issues that the honourable writer-analysts overlook here above.
    This, cannot be considered seriously as having shaped up the millenia old innate differences of the two nations.
    Two, Somewhere up above, Iranian Aterpatakan azeris are erroneously made to appear to show as similar to the Baku Azeris.Latter, if to be compared with other ethnos, Ottoman heir turks of present r.of Turkey are so.
    Three, very lightly mentioned territorial issues,such as Shahumian(near 90% Armenian populated)is considered by savvy Armenians as ours.Next, how can you Mr. Onnik Krikorian forget an oldeer territorial issue,that of Nakhijevan,which only a few years ago came to further show that the present Azeris still guard/keep the instinct,left over by their Ottoman brethren amongst them and currently continually trumpeted by latter,that the Armenians are always loosing land/territory without any problem..
    problem?, the main one that is the issue ,rather Himnahartz Main problem is the Territorial loss by near 3 million Armenians, usurped ,through eviction from millenia old ancestoral lands8witness recent AGHTAMAR SAGA-Gagik Artzruni King of Armenia built a thousand years ago… and ANI with its surrounding areas and then some
    What these are not connected to each other.
    Three, Armenians that made Baku oilfields function,nay owned most of them driven out(nationalized) by ex soviets then taken over by pressent Baki Govt. you think people forget all that.Just coffee hosue Chay/tea house ordinary people of low culture mixing and -you forgot eatin g bakhlava, sujuk Basturma, dolma ,. etc,. make these culturally compatible people? come come Mr. Krikorian, you must have spent more time in those Khahvekhane coffee houses, than in symposiums, conferences in Yerevan or overseas Armenian such.
    Do please enter into a few sesrious armenian web sites and find out what is going on.Also watch Armenian 3 /4 T.V. channels,please.Better yet go to a library and read books on our history old or new and then speak of peace.indeed we love peace, but after accounts are settled propeerly.You are an English educated young man and i expect that you try to comprehend that by such on the surface,artificially presented essays-shall we call them- things cannot be appropriately resolved.
    Do please excuse my bluntly speaking of true issues and ..
    E.& O. excepted

  3. Ed Armenian says:

    All good sentiments – about peace, friendship, shared human nature, Sayat-Nova – can’t disagree – but there is too much over-simplification and desire to gloss over fundamental differences. There is much superficial similarity, but dig deeper and the differences are there. Yes, we should strive to understand each other and be at peace with each other, but not at the cost of losing one’s true and deepest national identity, life and faith. The rhetoric of “both sides are equally to blame” is simply a presumptious fallacy.

  4. Ed Armenian says:

    The readers of this article may want to check out this new publication of the details and witness statements of what happened to the Armenians in Azerbaijan (in original Russian):
    You can use Google Translate to read them in English:
    There is also an article by ArmeniaNow:

  5. Christina Poghosyan says:

    As one sees it, the Armenians and Azerbaijanis live peacefully in the neutral third country… Most people who see, at least, similarities between our both nations have studied either abroad or are active at the international level… That is they are released from the influence of the long-standing „propaganda war “. Thus it also went for me.
    If one analyses the conflict (that I have done within the scope of my MA thesis, when I studied in Germany), then one sees that the politicians were in the result of the negotiations also often near to find a political solution… But they were not able to do implement this solution-options in own country later… and this are “thanks” of the effect of the same propaganda machine which was used by opposition that time…
    Anyway one needs to carry out peace measures in Armenia and in Azerbaijan not only on political ones but also on social level as it at least has tried Georgi Vanyan to… This will not be easy… But this the only way the hatred and the negative prejudices is to be diminished and a reason for peaceful solution to create!!!
    I liked you article very much…

  6. Well, I have to say I totally agree with Christina, and in fact she pretty much answers the other comments too, which are also pointed out in the article. That is, both sides are living with their own selective interpretation of history.

    Armenians will mention the massacre by Azeris at various points in history. Meanwhile, the Azeris only mention the massacre by Armenians. As for Nakhichevan, yes, no Armenians left, nut also ethnic Azeris were moved out of Zangezur.

    It’s also interesting to note that both acts are viewed as those by the other side, rather than one by the Soviet Union. Mskhetian Turks were also exiled from (now mainly Armenian) Samtskhe-Javakheti.

    Meanwhile, in terms of similarities between the two ethnic groups, it’s particularly close and why wouldn’t it be? Both lived side by side together in the same region. Even many words have been absorbed from Persian too.

    For example, the Armenian ‘jan’ isn’t. Azerbaijanis use it too, and that’s because both cultures were also influenced by Persian. Can probably add Ottoman Turkic too.

    Of course, we can perhaps differentiate between ethnic Armenians outside of the Caucasus and Azerbaijanis, but even then there are similarities, and I’d say the differences would be the same as some Diaspora have with Armenians in Armenia.

    Anyway, the long and the short of it is, and whether you believe there are similarities between the two peoples are not, there needs to be peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan and that will only come when relations on a human level are restored.

    Pretty much what needs to be done now is everything that Christina points out. Of course, this is my personal opinion. Others will disagree, but I don’t see peace coming in the present environment and that very definitely threatens the future viability and stability of this region.

    Firstly, it needs communication and dialogue. Then, perhaps, once that is established, both sides can talk about the mutual massacres and expulsions they inflicted on the other. However, that also means the nationalist propaganda has got to stop and it seems both sides don’t really want that.

    Some do, and I can only hope that their number grows over time. For now, they are obviously in a minority on both sides…

  7. I also think it incredibly interesting that the vast majority of traffic from Armenia to Georgia goes through the Bagratashen/Sadakhlo crossing. Basically, the Armenian minivans and private cars, plus trucks, all pass through an almost predominantly ethnic Azeri region. Over 224,000 to be precise, and not only are there no problems, but also co-inhabited villages and urban centers.

    Marneuli town is about 80 percent ethnic Azeri, for example, with the remainder mainly ethnic Armenian. Visited there last December with some wonderful journalist friends from Azerbaijan and it was impossible to work out who was who. Armenians speaking Azerbaijani, ethnic Azeris speaking Armenian.

    Now, if that doesn’t show how peaceful co-existence isn’t possible on a human level away from attempts to keep the conflict alive by the media and subjective historical narratives, I don’t know what does. Now the main issue is to transform the conflict to the same level in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

    Then, perhaps, an environment conducive to peace can be set. Yes, I know, it’s a long way off, as Christina says it won’t be easy, but it needs to happen. That is, if people actually do want peace, security and a stable future for citizens in the region. Of course, there’s also the need for democratization too, but that’s another discussion…

  8. Jelger says:

    Well put. Can’t add anything else except that people should let history be history. Maybe easier said than done. Like the villagers illustrate, one way or another the people need each other. They cannot afford to look for ancient hatred, and using that against the people they have to deal with in their daily life. Dependency on each other (a mutual win-win) is the best way to neutralize ancient (or recent) hatred and frustrations.

  9. Kevork Oskanian says:

    What many people don’t realise is the extent to which the Southern Caucasus was intermingled before the takeover of nationalism in the 20th century. The lines drawn on historical maps say nothing about the fact that ethnic groups lived side by side in large swathes of territory for centuries, without their ethnic identity ever being an issue. Armenians made up much of Georgia’s urban population, invited there by subsequent Georgian kings who didn’t see any problem in their ethnic difference (a fact accursed by many of today’s Georgian nationalists); in much of today’s Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, there were very few areas where populations were homogenous. And until 1905, there were no large-scale massacres or disturbances based on ethnic identity, despite of all this co-mingling.

    It is somewhat odd that people would accuse those who point towards the commonalities between all these ethnic groups of being ‘utopian’. Does the absurdity of behaving like small-minded tribes in the 21st century not strike them as far more unrealistic? Is it unrealistic to accept the fact that, in the end, all these peoples will have to live together in that corner of the world, and that they will have to find a way to do so in peace if they want to succeed in tomorrow’s world?

    No, perhaps they are right: it is far better to quarrel about lines in the sand. Far more realistic to hope that one day, this or that great power will feel pity upon ‘our tribe’ and draw a line in the sand that suits us. And far more realistic to expect that once that happens (if at all), we’ll all iive in Nirvana, rather than continue the cycles of violence that narrow-minded tribal nationalisms (Armenian, Azeri and Georgian) started at the end of the 19th century.

  10. juliet setian says:

    Yes, “narrow-minded tribal nationalism” is dangerous and destructive (watch “Welcome to Sarajevo”). It feeds one’s vanity and pride, and is only but a false security. Is it not better to work with others, no matter what nationality, to bring about goodness and justice? One reason why I love living in the U.S. is because assimilation and fellowship with other nationalities is so natural and easy. Here one gets to keep the best of one’s ethnic identity and take on the best of hundreds of others’. Good work Onik.

  11. >how similar, if not the same, we all are,” says Albert
    >became confused since it was very difficult to consider that it wasn’t an Armenian cultural evening

    These two statements point to the fact, that Armenian culture is forgotten, not known very well in the some foreign Armenian communities.
    I would also agree, that some Armenians even in Armenia, or let’s say a lot of them, are under strong influence of Turkish culture.
    But, I would also mention, that there are Armenians who are influenced by a Russian culture.
    Turkish culture influenced people are mostly from the non-educated layer of society.
    Russian culture influenced people, on the contrary, are mostly very well educated
    Besides, what is really interesting, that most part of that Russian speaking, Russian culture bearers express statements against the law, which permits Russian, and other foreign language schools in Armenia.
    There are, of course a lot of Armenian speaking educated Armenians, who bear Armenian culture in their minds. And real Armenian culture is of course influenced by the culture of Iran, Turkey, etc… to some extent, but it could NEVER be mixed with Turkish, Azerbaijanian, or Georgian culture. Because it so different.

    So, first of all, I would like to say, that statements by Albert and Osipova, which you quoted doesn’t mean that Armenian culture is the same, or almost the same, as Turkish/Azerbaijanian, and it could not be mixed with other cultures, by the people who do know what is Armenian culture

    Which also means, that neither Albert, nor Osipova carry Armenian culture, or have any idea about it.

    This by itself is very bad sign for the society.

    Anyway, about coexistence.
    Yes Armenia and Azerbaijan have common borders. It would be better if they could coexist in peace, and without unnecessary complications.
    But, the fact, that peace is very good, and we must appreciate it, doesn’t follow from the wrong statement, that “Armenian and Azerbaijanian culture is almost the same”.
    Peace is very good indeed, and nice relationships between people of different cultures is good as well.
    But please, do not say, that the culture is same.
    I consider myself a bearer of Armenian and Russian culture, I also bear some of German and American culture, I have friends in different countries, I know how different they are, and I appreciate that difference.

    I think, that world would not be an interesting place without African people, who gave us jazz, without Russian people who gave us let’s say Dostoevski, without Georgian people, who gave as, let’s say, very interesting national cinema, and this list is far from the ending.
    So, the world is beautiful because it is manifold.

    And this is also why I think that your article does not contribute to the peace and coexistence of two ethnicities.
    This article says that two ethnoses need to coexist because they are the same. And this is wrong. You cannot contribute to the peace by basing your peace on the wrong knowledge.
    Instead, you can say, okay, people. You are different. You can coexist, if you learn to respect each other. If you learn to not force other people become your copy. If you learn to live, and develop your own culture without wounding other people, without infringing upon their interests.

  12. Hrag says:

    Just a reminder that anonymous comments will NOT be approved for inclusion on this blog.

  13. Norayr, I hear what you’re saying, but first you have to define what Armenian and Azerbaijani culture is, and like other cultures both have assimilated and observed elements of other cultures because that’s actually how cultures develop. Which then leads us on to another issue, that of contemporary culture which is always in flux and that’s also a natural aspect of development.

    In fact, there is no ‘pure’ culture or language anywhere in the world, except for, say, aborigine peoples cut off from the outside world and all external influences. On this basis alone, given the influence of the Ottomans, Russians, and Persians, as well as culture being as much regional rather than national, it’s no wonder that Armenians and Azerbaijanis are actually so similar.

    What’s perhaps a more interesting question is why Armenians and Azerbaijanis have more in common with each other culturally than they do, say, Georgians. Armenian and Azerbaijani music, with the exceptions of some distinct elements, incredibly similar, as is dance and cuisine. As I’ve said in a previous comment, there are also minor overlaps in language because of Persian and Russian influence.

    Of course, this isn’t referring to Armenian culture outside of Armenia. There, Armenian culture (and in some cases and to a lesser extent, language) has assimilated other aspects of the surrounding communities whether that be European, American or Middle Eastern. In Armenia, it’s also one reason why Armenians from different countries tend to flock together with others from the same or similar ones as it’s also a matter of mentality too.

    And that’s pretty natural, as really, there is no such thing as pure culture anywhere. It is constantly changing and absorbing and it always will. Unless, of course, a country wants to cut itself off from all external influences and is or has not been under the yoke of foreign powers. To be honest, before actually getting to the bottom of this question, it first has to be asked if there is such a thing as pure Armenian or Azerbaijani culture.

    And as it affects normal citizens, aside perhaps from a few unique elements, I don’t think that’s there’s a simple and clear-cut answer and if there is, it’s more likely to be no. Basically, Culture is and always be a mix and that’s how nations naturally evolve. Otherwise, for example, Armenia would never have become Christian, or wine would not have been replaced at most tables with vodka. I’d also add just one thing in response to you saying that my article does not contribute to the two ethnic groups co-existing.

    I disagree, and not least because it’s actually detailing a clear example of the two groups actually co-existing together. They do, and Armenians and Azerbaijanis have for longer periods than they’ve been in conflict. So, in my opinion, it is the selective nationalist approach on both sides that has not contributed to peaceful coexistence, and generally issues such as ‘cultural purity’ are part of their narrative.

    So, sorry, but it’s happening, whether some Armenians and Azerbaijanis like it or not. Meanwhile, I also don’t think you can criticize people for ‘not understanding Armenian culture’ when you have yet to define what that it is. This is especially true given that if such a thing exists it is likely that the vast majority of Armenians worldwide would not confirm to it. Indeed, I daresay you’d be hard pressed to find many who did.

    Instead, I suspect that Armenian culture is a multi-faceted concept that changes from country to country, and community to community, with various aspects of other multi-faceted cultures assimilated throughout history and also today, but with some similarities. Of course, by all means, please elaborate on what “Armenian culture” is in your terms.

  14. And I have to say, and I know this is not going to be popular, but as an outsider who has lived in Armenia for over 12 years and who also meets Azerbaijanis, I see very little difference at all between the two groups. In terms of culture, mentality, cuisine etc. Perhaps the main difference is that more men have moustaches in Azerbaijan, but go to Karabakh, and even that isn’t so.

    There will, of course, be some differences, but as two people who co-existed in the region, and been subject to the same regional influences, I don’t see why there wouldn’t be so many similarities? Really, no national culture exists in a vacuum. And all I can say is simply that when I see Armenians from Armenia and Azerbaijanis from Azerbaijan together in third countries, the similarities are further re-enforced.

    As Yelena says, the lines are totally blurred when it comes to music, dance and cuisine, generally the main forms of culture people in both countries use to identify themselves save for religion. And even then, Christianity is a new concept for Armenians while contrary to the stereotypes placed upon Moslems by Christians, Azerbaijanis are the least religious in the region.

  15. And, incidentally, this article is written to highlight the reality of coexistence, include co-inhabitation of villages in Georgia, which the media in Armenia and Azerbaijan rarely if ever mentions.

    Instead, the media perpetuates negative stereotypes, especially common under the Kocharian administration, and particularly his infamous comment that Armenians and Azerbaijanis were ‘ethnically incompatible.’

    This is clearly not true. Period.

    Instead, I’d say that it is the ethnic-nationalists on both sides that are incompatible, although their logic and arguments are ironically almost exactly the same — especially when it comes to notions of ‘ethnic and cultural purity.’

  16. But ultimately, I have to say that obsessing about differences, which are in many cases artificial, between the two ethnic groups obstruct the possibility for peace and coexistence.

    As Kevork asks in a comment above, and as we are about to enter 2011, is this “cycle of violence that narrow-minded tribal nationalisms started at the end of the 19th century” to continue?

    I think most people would not want it to, and I think recognizing the many similarities between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, as well as the slight differences, has a role to play.

    But only because the main argument used by both sides is to define the other as something so, incorrectly, different.

    Basically, we need to bring this conflict back to the “human-level” as it appears as though framing it as “ethnic” and even “political” hasn’t achieved a breakthrough in the past 16 years.

    And, I have to say, until that transformation in both societies takes place (if political forces and the media allows space for informed discussion to occur) peace looks as elusive as ever.

  17. >there is no ‘pure’ culture or language anywhere in the world, except for, say…

    Of course there’s no.

    And that does not mean that all the cultures are same.
    They influence each other, and still they are not the same. This diversity makes Earth very nice place to live on :)

    of course, it is hardly possible to live in a cultural vacuum, and no doubt Armenian and Turkic cultures influenced each other. Of course, Iranian culture was influenced by Arabs, Russian – by French and German culture, etc, etc.
    That is not the point.
    The point is, that for instance Tumanian’s poetry, which was to some extent influenced by German poetry, did not become German, or same as German.

    >Armenian and Azerbaijani music, with the exceptions of some distinct elements, incredibly similar, as is dance and cuisine

    I get very frustrated, but this statement may mean that you have no idea what is Armenian tune, motive, music.
    I am pretty sure, that you’ve heard something very similar to Turkic music, but that’s where the disaster is, because what you’ve heard and consider as an Armenian music has nothing to do with an actual Armenian music.
    Which brings us to the blind alley. Because at this point I only can suggest to hear works of this or that particular composer.
    I bet you don’t know Spendiarov, did you listen Tigran Mansuryan, who is one of the contemporary Armenian composers, do you know Artemij Ayvazyan, have you ever heard about Chekijyan? (I intentionally do not mention Komitas, Khachaturyan and Terteryan). If you need popular music, do you know Lav Eli, Time Report, Hamasyan, who are very popular. Or, may be I need to suggest Nor Dar’s Opus of The Lizard. (I intentionally do not mention Hakhverdyan) What about Tatevik Hovhannisyan, you must know her, probably as Datevik, you must know let’s say, Apricot Tree by Kesayan, or may be Mokats Mirza.
    The fact that I know this music as an Armenian, does not turn me into alien from Mars.
    I am afraid, what you mean is not even a folk music. Armenian folk music is beautiful. I also believe that Turkish fold music is beautiful. And they are not the same
    On the contrary, what you’ve heard is mostly, just tasteless and vulgar music, and I am very frustrated, if that’s what you consider as an Armenian culture. Even Turkic musicologist would refuse to call that music Turkic.
    What is true in your words, is that Armenian vulgar music is similar to Turkic vulgar music, and that Armenian vulgar people are influenced by Turkic culture.
    But that layer of the people does not describe, or define the culture of the nation. Neither Armenian nor Turkish.

    Secondly, you didn’t answer to my main statement, which is:
    similarity doesn’t bring us to a peaceful coexistence. There’s a concept of European culture, but that didn’t prevent wars. We can go deeper and discover that Serbians and Croatians are extremely similar, they even speak practically same language, and I am able to understand it perfectly by knowing only Russian: but still they were not able to coexist within one country. Chekhia and Slovakia is a very good example of a civil divorce. When people cannot live together under one roof, they divorce. That’s normal. Keeping someone “together” by force, that’s what is stupid and irrational.
    But let’s return to the cultural similarity.
    That doesn’t matter if we are similar or different. It wouldn’t force us to become friends or enemies. No.
    I have ethnic Persian friends, I have ethnic Russian friends, I have ethnic Georgian friends. I love them. I work with Indians, Portuguese, Germans, Americans, Chinese colleagues. I was working with German and French people in the same room for a long time. Nothing prevented us to became friends or to have nice relationships. If something could prevent, that wouldn’t be culture.
    I am very curious to learn about other cultures. And that does not make me non Armenian.
    There is no connection between cultural similarity and successful coexistence.
    There is a connection between eagerness, greediness and unsuccessful coexistence.
    So, I need to repeat: article says that two nations need to coexist because they are the same. And this is wrong. You cannot achieve peace by basing it on the wrong knowledge, thus fragile basement.
    I agree that we can coexist, if we learn to respect each other, and appreciate difference and diversity.
    Because people are different. In generally. At any layer: nation, profession, cleverness, color, taste, etc, etc…
    It is much more rational to accept that people are different and in spite of that are able to coexist and make friends, rather than outline, that they are similar, and that’s why they need to coexist.
    People are never similar, and still they coexist. I would also say, people exist because of diversity. At least, diversity in genes, which leads us to a stronger population.

  18. >to highlight the reality of coexistence

    anyone who have been in Tbilisi knows that.

    >Instead, the media perpetuates negative stereotypes,
    who ever listen to that media?

    >especially common under the Kocharian administration

    do you think Kocharian and/or his administration had a worship in Armenia?
    Remember march 1st.

    >I have to say that obsessing about differences, which are in many cases artificial, between the two ethnic groups obstruct the possibility for peace and coexistence.

    So, I disagree, and say, that accepting the differences and diversity, this is a way to build a stable peace.

  19. Norayr, firstly I did not say that Armenian and Azerbaijani culture were the same. I did, however, say they are incredibly similar, and that also extends to musical motifs.

    For example, when friends here first hear Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, minus the mugham elements of course, they think that its Armenian. In fact, listen to a lot of Armenian and Azeri dance or folk mysic and its very similar.

    And then, best not mention Sari Gelin, claimed by Armenians, Azeris, and Persians alike, probably because culture has a regional dimensional too, or differences between music from here and Turkey.

    For example, I remember Armenians here objecting strongly to Richard Hagopian’s music of Armenian folk music because it sounded Turkish. Why? Because it was Western and not Eastern Armenian music.

    You mention Datevik, okay, true, because she sang Komitas, which was pretty much folk music with all the external influences such as Azeri, Kurdish etc purposely stripped away.

    However, that is but one part of culture, and definitely not represented by mass culture, in much the same way as mugham is a specific part of Azerbaijani culture.

    However, neither Komitas or mugham define an entire culture. Most people I know in Armenia and Azerbaijan, for example, listen to neither. These are specifics which we can delight in.

    Meanwhile, an ethno-musicologist friend studying his PhD in the matter and who conducts research in the region also notes the similarity, so this is nothing to do with “vulgar” Armenian or Turkish music.

    As for similarities not allowing people to live together in peace, you’re right. Humanity does, although similarities in some areas are how people are usually brought together.

    But that’s not my point. What is is that the main way the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict is kept alive is to frame it in the context of ethnic incompatibility and differences.

    This is what most nationalists do on both sides, and that is the major obstacle to peace is — perpetuating the idea that Armenians and Azeris have never lived in peace and that they are dissimilar.

    The situation in Georgia, as well as my own observations of Armenians and Azerbaijanis together, shows this not to be true. Aside from some radical differences, let’s put a checklist together.

    Music: Incredibly similar and sometimes identical.

    Dance: Incredibly similar and sometimes identical.

    Cuisine: Incredibly similar and virtually identical.

    Religion: Different.

    Language: Different.

    On pretty much most of those counts, and I’m sorry, Armenian traditional dance and music, with the exception of some unique differences such as mugham, and choral music, are incredibly similar.


    In fact, one quote from an Azeri journalist in a TV documentary put it thus:

    “Nowhere in the world can you find two groups of people closer to each other. That is why we often have these stupid disputes between Armenians and Azeris. ‘This house is Armenian’ or ‘This house is Azeri.’ Or ‘this music is Armenian or Azeri.’ This is exactly because the two have so much in common. [...] I normally say, and people don’t like this, that Armenians are just Christians Azeris and Azeris are just Muslim Armenians. That is how much they are alike.”

    Meanwhile, you mention Serbians and Croatians, and we can even add the Bosnians to this too, and how similar they are. However, it wasn’t the similarities that pushed them to war.

    It was nationalism.

    And nationalism, as we can see today in Armenia and Azerbaijan, perpetuates the idea of people being totally dissimilar and a threat to the other’s own perceived notion of ethnic or national purity.

    So, the long and the short of it is quite simple. By all means co-exist with people who are not the same as you, but the argument that Armenians and Azeris have many overlaps in terms of culture is not true.

    But if you want to put forward the idea that people are never similar, then there is never going to be any unique cultural identity anyway. I obviously disagree with this, as I’m sure do you.

    There are specific and unique aspects of both Armenian and Azerbaijani culture and the citizens of both countries, but there’s an incredible amount in common.

    And not least in terms of living in the same region. And if both groups of people want to live in peace and look to a better future, it is time to stop creating differences to create divides.

    Especially when, as many people will tell you and as many people can see, there are actually so many similarities. But, whether you believe that or not, one thing is clear.

    Away from nationalist ideology and the media perpetuating the image of the enemy and the idea that only one side suffered, Armenians and Azeris can co-exist together in peace.

    Perhaps the most important question is instead how to do we make that a reality in the conflict zone itself.

  20. BTW: Regarding your point:

    do you think Kocharian and/or his administration had a worship in Armenia? Remember march 1st.

    Ironically, I remember the 2003 presidential election when one Armenian strongly supported Kocharian and was against any talk of democracy in Armenia. She also ironically worked for a major international organization involved in democracy-building efforts here, but clearly stated that democracy would never work in Armenia because democracy is a “Western invention” and doesn’t exist anywhere anyway.

    In 2008, however, she supported Ter-Petrossian, and suddenly was screaming and shouting about democracy everywhere. This, of course, is another issue, but the notion that 1 March meant that Kocharian’s position on Armenian-Azeri coexistence hasn’t an impact isn’t the case. Basically, the internal political life of Armenia changed after the 2003 presidential election, and even more so when Ter-Petrossian returned. That Armenian is an example of that.

    However, this does lead us on to another issue. I think that the exploitation of nationalism has become a tool in the political life of both countries. Kocharian used it to bash opponents during his period in power, while tragically Ter-Petrossian also used Karabakh and allegations that of a “sell out” in the hope the masses would take to the streets as they did decades ago.

    Ironically, although also a feature of the 2003 presidential election, opposition supporters at the same time accused security forces used against them of being “Karabakhtsi.” I also remember hearing Ter-Petrossian supporters curse police as “Turks” so if we’re talking about similarities and differences, perhaps Armenians also need to address how they view each other depending on where they come from whether they agree or not.

    And, of course, in Azerbaijan, we know how the anti-Armenian card is played against opponents of the Aliyev regime and anyone who dares to speak out. In all these cases, the idea is very simple, to play up the idea of extreme differences between the two peoples and to create the idea of some kind of genetically-formed external ethnic enemy.

    Ultimately, I consider that Armenians and Azerbaijanis are not very dissimilar at all, that co-existence is possible, and that the media and political forces in both countries have artificially manufactured the idea of ethnic differences and incompatibility for domestic political gain.

    Now, where does that leave the Karabakh peace process or the future of the region? Well, it leaves it nowhere, with more and more people talking of the inevitability of a new war. Instead, we need to change this approach and to get both Armenians and Azeris to recognize their similarities while also respecting their differences.

    This, for me, is a natural human approach, and that’s when, perhaps, a solution to the Karabakh conflict can finally be found. Unfortunately, however, whether Armenians or Azeris co-exist in Georgia or not, the right environment for the same to happen in Armenia and Azerbaijan is not being formed for the reasons I’ve already given.

    Even more tragically, and unlike their elders, new generations of Armenians and Azerbaijanis are being brought up without contact and communication, and thus these “differences” become accepted as fact, and a peaceful solution becomes less and less likely with every year that passes. This desperately needs to change and soon…

  21. Incidentally, on the subject of traditional music, there’s a fascinating film on an Armenian kamantcha player, apparently from Karabakh, and his counterpart in Azerbaijan.

    There’s an interesting quote in it from the Armenian kamantcha player:

    “You know, their music and ours comes from the same place: we play it and they do. So we play “Gezalim Sansan” and they play it too. And how are we supposed to know who wrote it? We sing it in Armenian and they sing it in Azeri. And whose music is it? It belongs to us all. What’s the war got to do with it?”

    Anyway, well worth watching. There are also more films aimed at promoting discussion and debate at:

  22. okay, the main difference between our ideas is the approach: I believe that people need be tolerant to others by accepting that they are different, and according to you, by accepting their similarities.
    What’s nice, is that here, in this comments thread we were able to coexist in a relatively peace, and by knowing that our opinions on some topic are quite different.

  23. Hi Norayr,

    I don’t think that’s the main difference. Instead I think it’s that I can many similarities between Armenians and Azeris, whereas you disagree.

    Otherwise, however, I agree with that part which says that people should be tolerant and respect each other’s differences.

    I also particularly, agree with, and welcome, your remark about this comments thread. Whether we agree or not, this is what we need most.

    Unfortunately, however, it’s just one little space online, but here’s hoping it will spread and be expected as the norm.

  24. well, I believe Onnik and several other enlightened individuals, who have managed to go well beyond the national propaganda and nationalist brainwashing, already expressed most of the relevant points to be made regarding this issue. I guess the only thing I’d add – ESPECIALLY regarding the reference to “libraries” and various symposia, which supposedly demonstrate the “true” story – is that history is subjective, including all these supposedly researched books and “informed” discussions. one thing we all need to realize is that nations are IMAGINED and there is no “ultimate truth” – it’s all up to interpretation and distortion, and opinions/perspectives need to be formed based on personal experiences and info from MULTIPLE independent sources.
    otherwise, it’s so easy to present things in “we/good” vs. “the other/bad”. so sad!

  25. >hat nations are IMAGINED
    Yelena, as I said, the world would be uninteresting place without variety of nations and ethnicities.
    Without differences, and without different cultures.
    Imagine that world, that’s boring.
    That’s not interesting. That’s not funny.

    And that doesn’t mean that one ethnicity is “better” as you stated.
    That means they are different, and accepting that differences doesn’t bring people to the wars. There’s many other things that contribute to the wars.

    And if you do not appreciate people who carry national identity, that’s your right and your business.
    I like that kind of people. I like to play with them, to talk with them, to socialize with them. That’s so beautiful, when you see three Georgians and they start to sing together.
    No one else could do that, and do that like them. That doesn’t make them better, however, that makes them unique.

    That’s nice. And that’s what makes it valuable. They will fight if someone would force them to forget or reject national language, national culture.

    So nations are not imaginary.
    National culture, and identity is one of the most fascinating concepts on Earth.

    I would say, sometimes I pity the people who cannot enjoy that.

  26. Norayr, I never said I DISlike the differences or cultural peculiarities. What I was referring to is the fact that these differences are not based on objective factors. I do enjoy diversity and I do like learning about “others”. My problem is with the exaggeration of these differences to the extent where the sides involved forget about the fundamental commonality that all share – that we’re all human – and go on to exploit those perceived exaggerations for evil purposes.
    And well, it’s always easy to turn the argument against the PERSON, right?

  27. Norayr, I agree with the notion that people should accept differences to be found in other nations and cultures, and indeed, I agree that cultural diversity makes life more interesting.

    However, I disagree that differences do not push nations to war. Indeed, we can also look at internal struggle too, and we can see that it is precisely differences that are responsible.

    Differences over whose land is it. Differences over religion, and even among denominations of the same religion. Differences over economic assets. Differences wherever they can be found, in fact.

    This is even more acute when ethnic nationalism is involved. Then differences are played up to abnormal levels and concepts such as cultural purity are pretty much invented to justify conflict.

    Pretty much this has what happened with the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute, and both sides are guilty of it. People in both countries are being told how different they are from the other.

    The most notorious example of this was Kocharian’s ‘ethnic incompatibility’ position during his presidency when in reality the two groups have more in common with each other.

    Shared and overlaps in culture appear to be far more significant between Armenian and Azerbaijanis than what is different, for example. However, those similarities are overlooked by both.

    Instead, it is the differences between the groups that is being used to justify and continue the present environment where neither communicates with the other.

    Basically, I agree with Yelena when she says the “problem is with the exaggeration of these differences to the extent where the sides involved forget about the fundamental commonality that all share – that we’re all human [...]”

    I might also add to the extent where the regional commonalities are also forgotten. Again, it still interests me why Armenians and Azerbaijanis have so much more in common with each other than Georgians.

    From music, dance, and cuisine, even to mentality to a certain extent, I think it’s obvious where the blame lies. i.e. exaggerating differences. The media and educational, political system play roles too.

    Anyway, for now we’re in a weird situation with this discussion. The example in Georgia show there is an overlap in culture, and even a shared one to some extent, but nobody has yet to cite any differences.

    Actually, apart from myself when it comes to religion and language. Yelena and myself, for example, have seen the two groups together and can see the significant similarities.

    Now, perhaps, can someone tell me why this wouldn’t be the case, or why it’s considered to be so bad to share similarities with people from another nation who have also lived alongside the other?

    Indeed, as Kevork Oskanian says in a comment above, the real problem perhaps lies in “narrow-minded tribal nationalisms (Armenian, Azeri and Georgian) started at the end of the 19th century.”

    This same tribalism, in fact, is also responsible for how internal relations between people are defined. Relations between Armenians from Karabakh and Armenia, for example.

    And I daresay the same is true with relation between Azerbaijanis and those from Nakhichevan.

    Interestingly, the political system in both are defined thus. The Karabakh clan in Armenia, and the Nakhichevan clan in Azerbaijan. Another similarity, perhaps?

    Anyway, ultimately, I agree with Yelena’s notion that we should first recognize our similarities as humans. On that basis alone we should co-exist, but life, of course, does not work like that.

    Instead, nationalism, something of which has severely afflicted this region with devastating consequences and despite the similarities in terms of both national and regional culture.

    So, let’s acknowledge that many more similarities on both a human and national level, while respecting the specific differences. That, however, is something nationalists are trying to prevent.

    And on both sides.

  28. Not entirely related to the discussion at hand, but something that also strikes me about nationalism-based conflict is the hypocrisy involved. I think the Norwegian Refugee Council’s David Pugh sums that up perfectly in his Seven Rules of Nationalism:


    1. If an area was ours for 500 years and yours for 50 years, it should belong to us – you are merely occupiers.

    2. If an area was yours for 500 years and ours for 50 years, it should belong to us – borders must not be changed.

    3. If an area belonged to us 500 years ago but never since then, it should belong to us – it is the Cradle of our Nation.

    4. If a majority of our people live there, it must belong to us – they must enjoy the right of self-determination.

    5. If a minority of our people live there, it must belong to us – they must be protected against your oppression.

    6. All the above rules apply to us but not to you.

    7. Our dream of greatness is Historical Necessity, yours is Fascism.

    Tragically, this is the logic that most nationalists seem to operate under, and thanks to an incredibly biased and propagandist domestic media and political and education system.

  29. Incidentally, let me give you some some other examples of perceived differences and similarities. Very basic ones, but quite humorous to be honest.

    Firstly, when an English friend who was then Al Jazeera English’s correspondent in the Caucasus came to Yerevan for a story, we naturally went out for a beer.

    He had actually been in Azerbaijan the week before, and people were intrigued by this. “You must be so happy to be in Armenia,” they said. “Now you can drink.”

    He looks confused and asks why he couldn’t drink in Azerbaijan. “Well,” they said. “Azeris are Moslems and so don’t drink and as a result there are no bars in Baku.”

    Obviously, not true. Azerbaijanis drink as Armenians do. I know. I polished off a bottle of homemade Azeri vodka with one friend in Baku recently, and that was pretty devastating.

    Now, this isn’t to show another similarity, but to actually give an example of how insanely distorted perceptions of the other, which play up differences to an abnormal extent, are.

    I’d also say that it’s probably not unexpected. Even forgetting the media bias, or politicization of the Karabakh problem for domestic purposes, the vast majority of Armenians and Azeris have never met.

    Those that do, however, usually notice the similarities with each other rather than the differences.

    Indeed, some note, they naturally congregate together instead of Georgians when all three meet up at regional meetings in Tbilisi. Those that don’t stay away only because of politics.

    Just another example. When Inga and Anush represented Armenia in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2009, at least one man in Baku was questioned for voting for them.

    Why did he vote for the Armenian entry? Well, he said, it sounded more Azeri than Azerbaijan’s own pop entry by Aysel and Arash. Rather ironic, to be honest.

    However, it also gets a little perverse when Azerbaijan accuses Armenians of stealing their folk music, and when Armenians accuse Azerbaijan of stealing theirs.

    Sari Gelin is an example of that, not the “vulgar” Armenian or Turkish music given in Norayr’s comment above, but as the Persians and Turks also claim it, perhaps we’re missing something else.

    That is, the idea of a regional identity and shared cultural influence. Dolma and, god forbid, Khash (considered a culinary delight in both Armenia and Azerbaijan), are another example.

    Again, I’ll quote the Kamantcha player in Nagorno Karabakh from the video linked to in a previous comment (and I also urge all of you to watch it):

    “You know, their music and ours comes from the same place: we play it and they do. So we play “Gezalim Sansan” and they play it too. And how are we supposed to know who wrote it? We sing it in Armenian and they sing it in Azeri. And whose music is it? It belongs to us all. [...]”

  30. Correction to the comment abobe:

    Obviously, not true. Azerbaijanis drink as Armenians do. I know. I polished off a bottle of homemade Azeri vodka with one friend FROM Baku recently, and that was pretty devastating.

    But another example. Even as a British citizen I cannot visit Azerbaijan because of my surname.

    This is perhaps one of the most extreme examples of how ethnic and national identity is distorted.

  31. Datic says:

    That is what I thought Onnik jan, either you had too much to drink or too much to smoke–second hand smoke may also do it.
    The Iranians called the Parthians as “Azers” which was a Persian word. Those Parthians lived mostly in north of modern Iran. The Parthians lost their native language when Turkish tribes came from Central Asia and occupied Iran during early middle ages. Parthians under Turks started speaking Turkish and were converted to Islam. The currant country of Azerbaijan with its capital in Baku (which mostly was inhabited by Armenians as far as 1905) was invaded by Tartar Turkish tribes coming from North who settled in the valleys of river Kura; and some Turks coming from direction of south in Iran. Those “Turks & Tartars” were not Azeris, they were not Parthians.
    Before various Turkish tribes invaded Asia Minor and Caucasus, Armenians mostly lived in those territories for thousands of years; before the Turkish invasions they were struggling and defending themselves against Muslin Arabs and Mongols. After the Turks came, those nomads stayed and did not leave the Armenian lands as the Arabs and Mongols did, they settled for good. So after this we see mix-up of races in the South Caucasus region. Armenians were hospitable people and the invaders have taken advantage of that hospitality.
    The Turks starting from 1895 decided that they can not live along with Armenian and started to massacre them systematically. In 1918 the Turks invaded Baku and cleaned that city from Armenians and brought Turks and Tartars to live there; they were about to to the same to the Armenians of Caucasus as they did in Western Armenia but that region of Caucasus went under Soviet Empire rule and some Armenians returned to Baku.
    Nationalism? You gotta have a sense of justice and fairness.
    Now Armenians go very well with Parthians, and other myriad of races and ethnic entities living in South Caucasus, but the Tartars and certain Turkish tribes (not all of them) is hard for Armenians to live with after what has been done to them by those.

  32. Datic, when I see history referenced like this I can only remember the Seven Rules of Nationalism above.

    Meanwhile, the origins of the Azerbaijanis is usually put at Caucasian Albanian and Iranic.

    Of course, we could also look at genetic studies too. For example, this one:

    Testing hypotheses of language replacement in the Caucasus: evidence from the Y-chromosome

    [...] In particular, Azerbaijanians speak a Turkic language but are surrounded by non-Turkic speakers, and Armenians speak an Indo-European language but are surrounded by non-Indo-European speakers. Previous mtDNA analyses have shown that both Azerbaijanians and Armenians are more closely related genetically to other Caucasus groups than to their respective linguistic neighbors (Nasidze and Stoneking 2001), which indicates that the Azerbaijanian and Armenian languages were introduced via language replacements. [...]

    But again, this doesn’t really matter. You can look to the past as much as you like.

    You can even question the existence of every other nation on the planet if you want.

    Doesn’t change one very basic reality. This is today and we should be talking about the future.

    And blockaded on both sides, and isolated from regional infrastructure projects, is there one?

    • Datic says:

      The Seven Rules of Nationalism is faulty because the one who is first in a place have the right of that place, the one that comes after and displace the firster is a violator. If I come to your home and throw you out in the street then live in your place and call it my own, what would you do? Hug and kiss me and have some vodka with me?

      When you say “the origins of the Azerbaijanis is usually put at Caucasian Albanian and Iranic” that is partial truth since those who are really in power in Azerbaijan are not former Albanians & Iranians. Those who are in power are Turks and Tartars who invaded that region and subjugated and assimilated the native population. The Albanians were already converted to Islam by the Arabs so it was easy for the Turks to assimilate them. But the ones who are pulling the strings are of Turkish/Tartarian origins.

      When it is said “Azerbaijanians speak a Turkic language but are surrounded by non-Turkic speakers” that is wrong. All countries in east of Azerbaijan speak Turkish or a dialect of that language, also in the north of Azerbaijan, where Russia is now, there are millions & millions of Tartars who speak a Turkish dialect. And in north of Iran they speak Turkish and Iranian. So I will throw that study and the rest of it out as unreadable and faulty.

  33. Interestingly, and going back to that genetic study, as it relates to cultural influence:

    [...] Currently, there are approximately 8 million Azerbaijanians and 3.5million Armenians, attesting to the remarkable rapidity of these language shifts;such large-scale shifts would have to be accomplished by cultural rather than merely biological means.

    But anyway, where does that leave us?

    Two people in two countries still live in the same region, and still share many overlaps in terms of culture.

    Instead, nationalists in Armenia consider themselves the victims, referencing examples of massacres by Azerbaijanis.

    And nationalists in Azerbaijan consider themselves to be the victims, and also reference examples of massacres by Armenians.

    Always looking to the past. Never looking to the future…

    • Datic says:

      When you write: “nationalists in Armenia consider themselves the victims, referencing examples of massacres by Azerbaijanis.
      “And nationalists in Azerbaijan consider themselves to be the victims, and also reference examples of massacres by Armenians.”

      You look absolutely and totally ignorant of the concept of right and wrong, of lie and of truth, of deception and honesty. There is a different between those two concepts and realities as wide as the universe.

      We believe as Armenians and based on facts on front of us that we are telling the truth and the others are telling lies and misinformation and propaganda and using brain-washing techniques. The fact and reality speak of themselves. This does not mean that Armenians can not tell lies or be wrong, but in this particular case we are not. The others who have the strings in their hands and control their people have to tell otherwise: lies and deceptions. This is part of their methods of control.

      Then the reality is that 99% of criminals will not admit first to their crime, they will say “who?me? I did not do it” despite all the evidences pointing to the contrary

      Then Onnik you mention: “Always looking to the past. Never looking to the future…”

      As humans we should look to the past to learn from it; we should look to the present in order to know how to act; we should looks to the future in order to plan our life and preserve it.

      I definitely believe that the Turks, both in Ankara and in Baku, have a criminal intend in hold for the future of Armenians, although they will never admit it openly but try to mislead and camouflage. They do not want Armenians as neighbors or living among them, when the right opportunity presents itself they will finish with Armenians in another genocide (and that is one of the reasons they are never willing to admit the 1915 Genocide).

      As Armenian you should stop straddling the fence and choose which side you are. You are trying to obliterate the fences I know but..first learn from the teaches you that truth and lie, deception and honesty, wrong and right, can not live together without fences, they should be separated. If you take all those concept as relative things then you have to experience what is beyond relativism, then you will grow up!

  34. Medea, Tbilisi says:

    Its so inspirational. Great job everyone. I wish Georgians, Abkhazians and Ossetians will also take you example… All the best wishes and luck for new 2011.

  35. Datic,

    You are entitled to your own opinion and you already seem to have shown with your comment that the Seven Rules of Nationalism are indeed spot on.

    Whether you like it or not, the whole world has been formed by invasions and conquests, the most obvious example of that being the U.S.

    Ironically, that’s also the home of the (now probably second) largest ethnic Armenian community outside of Armenia.

    Yet, we don’t challenge their right to live there do we? Modern-day ethnic Armenians, or ethnic Italians or African-Americans weren’t responsible.

    We even don’t blame the descendants of those that were responsible. Meanwhile, the Irish and English get on fine despite the history.

    And whether or not the leaders those in power are descended from Turkic tribes or Caucasian Albanians, or even green men from outer space is irrelevant.

    What is relevant, however, is that Armenia is a landlocked country with no resources to speak of and two closed borders.

    Meanwhile, while Armenians and Azerbaijanis continue to think only they have a right to exist in the region thanks to a propagandist media, in both…

    …well, ethnic Armenians and Azeris get on fine in Georgia and elsewhere where tribal nationalism is present.

    And while Armenians take back history to when they formed a majority in Nakhichevan, Azerbaijanis take it back to when they populated Zangezur & Yerevan.

    As Tom de Waal rightly states, history is selectively used and perhaps we should all be looking to the future and the need for coexistence.

    Meanwhile, the same people who usually back Armenian nationalist claims to Javakheti don’t seem to apply the same logic to, say, the Meskhetian Turks.

    Regardless, it’s pretty simple. All nations have historical grievances, nearly always mutual, with other nations.

    What defines which of those nations develop and prosper, however, is which of them realize it is just that — history.

    For Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as the entire region, to develop economically and democratically, everyone is going to have to live together.

    And, like I’ve said, as soon as the selective regurgitation of history is taken out of the equation, and the media is objective…

    … well, people can actually get along.

    That said, of course history needs to be respected, but not through hatred and the incorrect assumption that only one side was a victim.

  36. CORRECTION: …well, ethnic Armenians and Azeris get on fine in Georgia and elsewhere where tribal nationalism is ABSENT.

    Anyway, readers can make up their own minds.

    Ethnic Armenians and Azeris get on fine and share an enormous amount in common, including on the genetic level.

    As some people say, look at Armenians and understand that the bloodline is not pure as some nationalists claim.

    Of course, gets absurd when Levon Ter-Petrossian supporters claim that Kocharian is actually ethnic Azeri because he’s from NK, but anyway.

    There are only two a number of options for Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the region. To live peacefully together or not to.

    And I’m glad to say that it’s inevitable that one day they will. I’ve just presented an example of that being the case in one part of the Caucasus.

  37. Another interesting study, though:

    Armenian Y chromosome haplotypes reveal strong regional structure within a single ethno-national group

    [...] The haplotype distribution and pattern of ge- netic distances suggest a high degree of genetic isolation in the mountainous southern and eastern regions, while in the northern, central and western regions there has been greater admixture with populations from neighbouring Middle Eastern countries. Georgia, to the north of Armenia, also appears genetically more distinct, suggesting that in the past Trans-Caucasia may have acted as a genetic barrier. [...]

    Regardless, I think the issue is really quite simple. It is between nationalists who do not want to be on good terms with their neighbors and will take the clock back to whenever (selectively) it suits them to justify their position, and the rest that do.

    And that’s pretty much everywhere, of course. Just that in the Caucasus the amount of ethno-nationalism probably risks any chance for a brighter future, hence the huge out-migration. Tragically, however, the same mentality used in dealing with neighboring countries is also evident in the way both countries are run and human rights violated.

    So, as it can be argued that there is a correlation between the lack of democracy and respect for human rights with a strong presence of nationalism, let people think about what type of region they would prefer to see. One where peaceful coexistence exists, or when were the hatred and conflicts continue…

  38. Just one last point, though. When you say “I definitely believe that the Turks, both in Ankara and in Baku, have a criminal intend in hold for the future of Armenians” I think this is unfortunate.

    Firstly, you should differentiate between leaderships of nations and their citizens. Secondly, it’s also why human-level relations between Armenians and Azerbaijanis need to occur.

    The way this conflict has been manipulated by political forces in Armenia and Azerbaijan is precisely why it still continues and might yet develop into another war in the near future.

    I’ve already stated that I believe it is nationalism to blame, and it is precisely the nationalists who need to be countered so both sides can look to the future and slowly start to resolve the past.

    In a sense, that’s slowly happening in Turkey whatever the leadership wants, and given an increased amount of cross-border interaction by individuals and civil society, I believe it will.

    In fact, only today, reading some news about Armenian students/journalists arriving in Istanbul to work with Turkish counterparts, I could only hope one day the same will happen for Armenia-Azerbaijan.

    This is the only way that relations are restored and issues will be resolved.

  39. Incidentally, on a similar theme to this post and some of the comments made, although also highlighting the problems that need to be overcome in the conflict zone:

    Laurence Broers, Caucasus Programme Projects Manager, Conciliation Resources


    [...] I believe it was just Robert Kocharian who made a statement about Armenians and Azeris being “incompatible”. I do not think that Levon Ter-Petrosian ever believed in this position. In any case, Armenia and Azerbaijan already co-exist in the neighbourhood, even if they are completely isolated from each other. The real question is whether Armenians and Azeris are able to co-exist in the same state.

    Of course it is a myth that Armenians and Azeris, or any other ethnic group, are “incompatible”. Their history of living with each other, rates of inter-marriage, cultural exchange and the warmth that even today is possible to observe when Armenians and Azeris meet, all show that these peoples are far from incompatible. Armenians and Azeris have co-existed very closely for extensive periods of time in their history, while explosions of violence between them have been intermittent and almost always simultaneous to radical political change in the larger state. At the same time we are fooling ourselves if we think that because Armenians and Azeris get along with each other in Georgia or Russia, that they will do so in Karabakh. Both groups want to ‘own’ Karabakh and to be Karabakh’s first nation.

    Where incompatibility really comes in is the history and identity that each group promotes as the basis for its claim to own Karabakh. If each side started to produce more rounded historical narratives that acknowledged the presence, suffering and concerns of the other group we would get a lot closer to renewed coexistence. I’m sure it will happen one day – Armenians and Azeris will eventually follow the same path that important parts of Armenian and Turkish societies have covered together in recent times. The question is whether Armenians and Azeris have 100 years to wait in order to do this.

    I totally agree.

  40. Niyazi Piriyev says:

    Shame on you! Instead of protecting your interests against us you seek peace. Of course there are naive peace lovers in both sides, but we must keep on mind that we are eternal enemies. As an Azerbaijani, I’m dissappointed.

  41. Hrag, well Niyazi’s position is an interesting one. Kinda medieval in a sense with the notion that conflict and being ‘eternal enemies’ is actually a viable way to exist. Also sort of reminds me of the sort of melodramatic ancient rivalries to be found in many a fictional film set in the long distant path or a dystopian future.

    Meanwhile, I suppose Niyazi must also be disappointed with his president and critical of Azerbaijan’s involvement in peace talks. As we understand it, although there is a major obstacle in terms of the mechanisms of any referendum and what it would precisely determine, both Armenia and Azerbaijan are committed to a peaceful resolution.

    All that said, however, it does illustrate just how much intolerance and hatred exists among some. This is sad, especially when few actually gain in the long-term from such an attitude. As Tom de Waal said it is more akin to some kind of mutual suicide pact in the South Caucasus. Oh well…

  42. Veli Aliyev says:

    We must bear in mind that nationalism, religious or other types of attachments cannot be easily measured or evaluated by rational thinking. That is why extremists on both parts rely on their hatreds and inturolerance, and your countermeasures up to now have been ineffective. Putting that aside, I want to ask the question whether this nationalist / racist fervor can be cured by creating another moralist solution, for instance, relying on new Caucasian identity which Georgians are more likely to do, or humanistic view,irrespectiev of how ridiculous it is – such as claim that people ar brothers and sisters :)

    P.S: The messaga above written with the name Niyazi Piriyev belongs to me. The real nameholder wrote me about this problem. The name was randomly and unintentionally chosen.

    P.P.S:I wrote my email address in case of another inconvenience: sabasado@gmail.