Hatred and suspicion

The following passage is from the book I keep mentioning: Imperium, by Ryszard Kapuscinski. Briefly, it has to do with the hatred and suspicion that exists between Armenia and Azerbaijan. With a couple of choice observations, Kapuscinski shows how hopeless such situations can be, especially when the enemies live in such close cramped quarters. Right on top of each other, basically. Sound familiar?? This book, by the way, was published in 1994. In the Azerbaijan chapters, he describes not only his trip through the Caucasus in the 1950s, but he also tells of his visit to Azerbaijan and Armenia during the years of 1989 through 1991. So this is just as the situation was exploding between the two peoples, simultaneous with the collapse of the entire edifice of Communism, which had, to some degree, muted the ethnic violence in all of the republics. Once that edifice no longer existed, all bets were off. People were free to hate each other all on their own, and on their own terms. The following quote is from before the ceasefire in 1994.

Azerbaijanis, like Armenians, divide mankind into two opposing camps.

For Armenians, an ally is one who believes that Nagorno-Karabakh is a problem. The rest are enemies.

For Azerbaijanis, an ally is one who believes that Nagorno-Karabakh is not a problem. The rest are enemies.

The extremity and finality of these positions is remarkable. It isn’t merely that among Armenians one cannot say, “I believe that the Azerbaijanis are right,” or that among Azerbaijanis one cannot maintain, “I believe that the Armenians are right.” No such stance even enters the realm of possibility — either group would instantly hate you and then kill you! In the wrong place or among the wrong people even to say, “There is a problem,” (or, “There is no problem”) is enough to put oneself at risk of being strangled, hanged, stoned, burned.

It is also unimaginable to make the following speech in either Baku or Yerevan: Listen. Decades ago (who living among us can even remember those times?), some Turkish pasha and the savage Stalin threw our Caucasian nest this terrible cuckoo’s egg, and from that time on, for the entire century, we have been tormenting and killing one another, while they, in their musty graves, are cackling so loudly one can hear them. And we are living in so much poverty, after all, there is so much backwardness and dirt all around, that we should really reconcile our differences and finally set about doing some work!

This person would never make it to the end of his speech, for the moment either side realized what he was driving at, the unfortunate moralist and negotiator would be deprived of his life.

Three plagues, three contagions, threaten the world.

The first is the plague of nationalism.

The second is the plague of racism.

The third is the plague of religious fundamentalism.

All three share one trait, a common denominator — an aggressive, all-powerful, total irrationality. Anyone stricken with one of these plagues is beyond reason. In his head burns a sacred pyre that awaits only its sacrificial victims. Every attempt at calm conversation will fail. He doesn’t want a conversation, but a declaration that you agree with him, admit that he is right, join the cause. Otherwise you have no significance in his eyes, you do not exist, for you count only if you are a tool, an instrument, a weapon. There are no people — there is only the cause.

A mind touched by such a contagion is a closed mind, one-dimensional, monothematic, spinning round one subject only — its enemy. Thinking about our enemy sustains us, allows us to exist. That is why the enemy is always present, is always with us. When near Yerevan a local guide shows me one of the old Armenian basilicas, he finishes his commentary with a contemptuous rhetorical question: “Could those Azerbaijanis build such a basilica?” When later, in Baku, a local guide draws my attention to a row of ornamental, art nouveau houses, he concludes his explanations with this scornful remark: “Could Armenians construct such apartment buildings?”

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