Nonperpetual foes

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An international conference dedicated to the literary heritage of the peoples of the South Caucasus has been arranged in Tbilisi. The event has also addressed the issue of the influence of literature on the peaceful coexistence of different peoples, on the process of establishing peace in the region, and positive images of neighbours in the literature of the peoples of the South Caucasus. The theme of the conference was: “Not eternal enemies, but?…”.

We have talked about the significance and goals of this event with literary critic, executive director of the scientific and cultural center EuroKaukAsia (Germany) Rasim Mirzaev, who was, in fact, the main initiator of this project.

Your organization has been implementing various peacekeeping projects in the Caucasus for many years. How did the idea for the current project come about and who is funding it?

– First, about our sponsors – this is the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This time we received funds from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through Stiftung EVZ (the name of the Foundation stands for “Memories, Responsibility, Future”). The Foundation implements the “Meet! Youth for Partnership!” program, within the framework of which we held our quadrilateral (Armenian-Azerbaijanian-German-Georgian) meeting in Tbilisi.

As for the idea of positive images of neighbours in the literary works of the peoples of the South Caucasus, I came up with it last year when I held a meeting in Yerevan with Armenian youth in order to create a “Dialogue – Forum for Peace in the Caucasus.” During these meetings, I somehow began to talk about so many positive images of Armenians in the works of Azerbaijani writers, from classical literature to the present day. With this I once again wanted to say that the negative myth about supposedly “eternal enemies” has no historical basis at all and that our peoples lived for a long time and lived very amicably.

At the same time, I noticed that Armenian youth have practically no idea about the literary works of Azerbaijani writers, in which characters of Armenian origin are described with great respect, sometimes even with love. And during the bloody clashes of our peoples both at the beginning and at the end of the twentieth century, many Azerbaijani poets, writers, and educators called for peace and friendship. Young people in Armenia told me that they would like to learn more about these works and their authors if possible. Then I thought that a similar picture was observed in Azerbaijan, where they also knew little about Armenian literature and culture. There is something similar in Georgia. After meetings in all three countries of the South Caucasus, I decided to start this project.

– How did you recruit participants for a conference on such a specific topic?

– We announced an online competition in four countries (Germany, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia), and then, based on the applications received, we selected the best candidates. In addition, we have project coordinators in all countries of the South Caucasus who work with us in the same team. They also helped in finding participants.

– And how do you evaluate the results of your conference?

– I personally found almost all the reports and presentations interesting. Yet, some of them attracted special attention from the participants. Among them I would note the following:

Thus, in the reports of the Azerbaijani scientist Nazmin Jafarova (The Armenian theme in Azerbaijani literature. Is it possible to debunk stereotypes through literature?), publicist Gunel Isayeva (Analysis of the prototypes of Armenians in the literary works of Vezirov, Mammadkulizade and Ordubadi) and the young writer Samad Shikhy (Positive images of Armenians in Azerbaijani literature) quite comprehensively revealed the given topic in the historical and modern context. I think that such a large-scale literature review was simply a surprise for most conference participants!

If we look at the reports of the Armenian participants, we can understand why they raised many questions among the listeners. Here are some of them:

Literary critic Armenik Nikoghosyan (Positive examples of communication between the peoples of the South Caucasus in Armenian literature of different eras), publicist Nelly Davtyan (Why do Azerbaijanis so love the work of the Armenian writer Levon Javakhyan “Kirva”?), literary critic Artak Arakelyan (Relations between Armenians and neighbouring peoples under the influence of external factors (based on the works “The Turk’s Daughter” by Khachatur Abovyan and “Kirva” by Levon Javakhyan), social activist Sevak Kirakosyan (Forbidden love in Armenian and Azerbaijani societies. About the novel “Artush and Zaur” by the Azerbaijani writer Alekper Aliyev).

Among the Georgian young people who spoke at the conference, I would like to especially note the presentation by students of Tbilisi State University, Giorgi Gigaev: “1990s in Georgian fiction: Georgian reality through the history of the Armenian family” and the report of Nino Zandukeli: “Tbilisi courtyard: ethnic diversity in fiction texts and films.”

These undoubtedly talented young people brilliantly described the diverse palette of Georgia’s multicultural society and its reflection in literature and art.

­– Was the conference limited only to the reports of the participants?

– Of course, we used other formats, as well. First of all, I would like to note the meetings of young people with Caucasian writers and public figures. For example, meetings with the Armenian writer Vahram Martirosyan, with the writer, former Minister of Culture of Georgia Guram Odisharia, with the Georgian conflict expert Zurab Bendianishvili.

During the conference, our young participants also actively communicated with the German historian, professor at the University of Bonn Eva-Maria Auch, with the co-chairman of the Azerbaijan National Committee of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Arzu Abdullayeva, professors of the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi University Nino Chikovani, Ketevan Kakitelashvili and Ivane Tsereteli.

Overall, I think that this event had a very positive impact on intellectual communication and exchange of opinions between German and Caucasian youth.

Irakli Kiknadze, for newcaucasus.com