This is the first in a series of multimedia reports on villages and urban districts in Georgia where Azeris and Armenians co-exist. You can learn more about this project and see more photos and video at TOL's Steady State blog.
Since the 1994 cease-fire effectively put the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh on hold, attempts to find a lasting peace have often been frustrated by negative stereotypes of each side, perpetuated by national governments and media. During Karabakh native Robert Kocharian’s presidency in Armenia from 1998 to 2008, the idea that Armenians and Azerbaijanis were “ethnically incompatible” was widely circulated, while anti-Armenian propaganda in Azerbaijan has reached alarming levels. In both countries, even the independent and opposition press sometimes parrot these notions, promulgating nationalist historical and cultural narratives.
Yet Armenians and Azerbaijanis have more in common than they often care to acknowledge, sharing more of an overlap in cuisine, culture, and mentality with each other than with, say, Georgians. In the Soviet era, both groups lived side by side in urban centers in Armenia and Azerbaijan; business relationships and even intermarriage were not uncommon. Revered filmmaker Sergei Parajanov, an ethnic Armenian, made films in Georgian and Azeri, hearkening back to trans-Caucasian cultural icons such as the 18th-century troubadour Sayat Nova.
An older generation can remember the time when Armenians and Azerbaijanis lived, studied, and worked alongside each other. A new generation in both countries has no recollection of that past, and few opportunities to cross national divides. But in neighboring Georgia, ethnic Armenians and Azeris still co-inhabit residential districts in the capital and rural villages in some regions.
In late December I traveled with three young journalists – two Azeri, one Georgian – to those villages and neighborhoods where Azeris and Armenians live peaceably side-by-side. One goal was to explore the utility of new-media tools such as Twitter and cell phone video to do real-time reporting and bypass traditional outlets; you can see some of the results at TOL’s Steady State blog.
Another was to show that Armenians’ and Azeris’ view of each other need not be defined by the Karabakh conflict.
This audio slide show aims to serve as an introduction to the places we visited, from a tea house in Tbilisi to a Marneuli marketplace and a schoolhouse in Tsopi. In the coming weeks TOL will publish more in-depth audio and visual reports on those communities and the people we met there.
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