Students Articulate Vision for a Peaceful Future
YEREVAN, ARMENIA & BAKU, AZERBAIJAN, Summer 2018 -- The youth of Armenia and Azerbaijan believe in the possibility of a peaceful future despite protracted conflict between their governments.
At the intersection of creative writing and conflict resolution, the first Letters for Peace (LFP) workshops were held in Yerevan and Baku with the aim of sparking dialogue driven by a spirit of mutual respect and a belief in peaceful coexistence despite ongoing physical, narrative, and ideological conflict.
In July 2018, a two-week workshop took place in Yerevan with eight students from regions throughout Armenia and one diasporan student. The workshop culminated in each student preparing a letter articulating hope for a peaceful future between Armenia and Azerbaijan. These letters were translated into Azerbaijani Turkish and sent to Baku where a two-day response workshop was held in early August. The students in Azerbaijan received the letters and used group exercises to unpack topics of conflict resolution before penning response to their counterparts in Armenia. The letters have all been translated and are available in English, Armenian, and Azerbaijani Turkish at www.lettersforpeace.org.
“I am of course not so naïve to think that a few letters and a few people who think like us will change anything today or tomorrow or next week,” wrote Anais, a participant in the Yerevan workshop. “But I do believe that what we represent certainly has the power to do so.”
Turan, an economics student who participated in the Baku workshop, reflected on the financial manipulations of war, and the higher quality of life inherent to peace.
“This conflict has been too expensive for both countries,” he wrote. “If the resources allocated for the army were spent on education, medicine, and for the increase of welfare, our citizens would have a higher standard of living.”
Experts from academia and the nonprofit sector delivered guest lectures that provided relevant details on conflict transformation, regional engagement, and history of the South Caucasus. Workshop discussions and activities encouraged students to explore notions of nationhood, the foundations of their belief systems, and the ideological tensions and functions of war and peace.
"We want to question the world around us, to stand up and say no to conflict and animosity," said Anais. "Through these letters, we are already making a change."
"I want peace as much as the Armenians," said Turan. "I want this game between our two countries, which has caused much loss and expense, to end."
The Letters for Peace pilot project was made possible with support by Davis Projects for Peace and Eurasia Partnership Foundation. Additional institutional support was provided by Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation, Impact Hub Yerevan, International House New York, and AGBU Armenia. Collaborators are being sought for future iterations of the workshop.