Azerbaijan: The Presence of War in Everyday Life
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By the time a ceasefire was agreed in 1994 that brought hostilities in Nagorno Karabakh to an end, the war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis had raged for over six years, claiming an estimated 30,000 lives on both sides, leaving hundreds of thousands displaced. The then-President of newly independent Azerbaijan, and the other signatories, knew that the document would have left the region in legal limbo - the ceasefire ostensibly ended the violence but never solved the conflict, which has been violated frequently in the decades since.
Along the line of contact, skirmishes and shootings have been daily stable and war woke up again in April 2016 and left more than 200 dead on both sides in just four days. The hastened agreement brokered by Moscow averted the risk of instability across the South Caucasus, but war clouds are constantly threatening on the horizon.
The unresolved status-quo deeply affects people’s lives on a daily basis - posters of war heroes are plastered on shops’ walls, maps marking the lost territories are in all metro stations, and in schools pupils, commemorate the “homeland of Nagorno Karabakh” with poems and drawings. The no-war, no-peace state nurtures nationalism, and anti-Armenian sentiments run high, from the grocery shops to online chats.
Schoolchildren commemorate the fall of Shusha on May 8, 1992. Shusha was a strategic battle point during the conflict as it sits on a rocky cliff overlooking Karabakh’s main city of Khankendi. In Azerbaijan, schools across the country remember the fall of all the regions of Nagorno Karabakh during the conflict that raged in the early 1990s. During these activities, children read poems and remember the key dates and events of the conflict.
A billboard portraying an Azerbaijani soldier is posted on the window of a grocery shop in Sumqayit, 30 km away from the capital Baku. It reads, “Azerbaijani soldier, we trust in you and we stand by you.” Similar posters are to be found everywhere to remind citizens that Azerbaijani soldiers are always on duty and are constantly remembered.
Turkish and Azerbaijani flags can be seen in many parts of the country after the late president of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev's slogan "One nation - two states," sought to portray strong Turkish-Azerbaijani relationships.
Photos of fallen soldiers from the Nagorno Karabakh war are displaced in this kindergarten in Baku alongside toys and an alphabet board. Soldiers who died in the war are considered martyrs and their images are to be found everywhere from schools to small roadside memorials.
A confectionary shop displays three photos of prominent Azerbaijani figures. Mubariz Ibrahimov (centre) is a national hero who was killed during the renewed violence between Azeri and Armenian forces on June 19, 2010. The other two photos portray Yusif Mammadaliyev (left), the inventor of high-octane aircraft gasoline, and Uzeyir Hajibeyov (right) who is considered the father of the Azerbaijani opera. He was born in Shusha in 1885.
In Sumqayit, some 30 km north of Baku, a bicycle repair shop displays side by side a photo of war hero Mubariz Ibrahimov and words from Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Posters such as this one of Ibrahimov are old, and faded - yet people keep them on as a stark reminder that the war is still a fact of life.
During an official event celebrating the National Flag of Azerbaijan on November 9 2016, Ahad Abiyev, the mayor of Dashkasan, a city in eastern Azerbaijan, near the border with Armenia, smashed the reproduction of an ''Armenian flag," causing an uproar. The video of a later version of the act however shows a flag looking more like the South America state of Colombia’s than Armenia’s. The Colombian government did not appreciate the gesture.
Anti-Armenian sentiments run high and nationalists have ad-hoc chat groups where hate speech is common. This group is called "One Armenian head per person," a name inspired by Heydar Aliyev's environmental campaign "One Tree per Person."
In social networks there is also propaganda against Armenia without any kind of violation. Shares here are more about Armenian lies, the Azerbaijani army, and Turkish-Azerbaijani friendship.
The screenshot of a video of a meykhana artist mocking Serzh Sargsyan, the Nagorno Karabakh-born Armenian President. Meykhana is a traditional Azerbaijani folk rap music which is performed spontaneously by one or more people who improvise a text on a particular subject without preparation.Often artists make up songs about Armenian figures. References to Armenia as the enemy are a daily staple in everyday life and they force their way into all spheres of life, including music and art.
An array of bookmarks portraying Mubariz Ibrahimov is displayed in a bookshop in Sumqayit on February 7, the war hero’s birthday. Customers purchasing the bookmarks would receive a discount on any book purchased. The constant reminder of those who fought for the homeland is key to keep the patriotic spirit high.
The call to defend Nagorno Karabakh on a T-shirt on sale in a clothing shop in the underground of Baku, a sign that patriotism can also be worn.
This sign in the metro station of Sahil in the capital illustrates the map of Nagorno Karabakh and lists the regions with the dates in which each of them was captured by Armenian forces. Walls in almost all metro stations in Baku feature posters and banners about the conflict.
“The Land you died for - is the Motherland.”