The natural beauty of Karabakh means that the region can quickly become a hotspot for tourism and a place where old friends can meet.

·For all the bloodshed that Europe has experienced – protracted wars such as the Hundred Years War, the First and Second World Wars – Western Europe has overcome previous hostilities. In the last 50 years, there has been no war in the region; on the contrary, they have adopted a common flag and single currency, and opened their borders. A hundred years ago, few could anticipate a future where the greater parts of Europe would unite under one flag. However, it is a reality now.

The Caucasus region also has a turbulent history. Wars have been a recurrent theme in a region that is a rich mosaic of ethnicities and faiths. But there have also been initiatives enabling peaceful coexistence and inter-community cooperation in the region.

The idea of the Caucasian House was one. It was proposed several times from 1918 to 1920 in the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic by the officials of that time; however it did not come to fruition, and after the region’s annexation by the Soviet Union, the idea in its original form vanished altogether. Upon the Soviet takeover of the region, the states of the Southern Caucasus started to live under a single banner as a union. After the fall of the Soviet Union, conflicts burst out in the region and recent generations of the region’s inhabitants became victims of these conflicts.

After a period of conflict, the European Union established a new model of the Caucasian House, a union of the Caucasian states. The initiative proved successful, and it has been almost five years since Azerbaijan and Armenia finalised their peace treaty and opened their borders. This allowed the former conflict victims to move back to their native lands, and happier times have returned to this region. Azerbaijan’s population of over nine million, who had not been able to visit Nagorno-Karabakh for more than 20 years, is now travelling to this region and visiting historical sites.

Not only Azerbaijanis and Armenians, but tourists from around the world also visit this region. Endowed with beautiful natural landscapes, the Karabakh region of the Southern Caucasus is turning into a touristic hotspot and this welcome development has become the centre of people’s attention and enabled regional prosperity. The living conditions of the population of Nagorno- Karabakh are gradually improving. There is no sign of ethnic or religious animosity; people live in a friendly environment.

Numerous hotels, hostels and restaurants have been built in Karabakh, especially in Shusha, a city 1,500 metres above sea level blessed with extremely beautiful landscape – including the Jidir Plain and Topkhana Forest – and rich in historical monuments. Shusha’s fame as a cradle of art and music is making a comeback. The well-known Hotel Karabakh has already been operating for two years and has become one of the most popular destinations for tourists.

These days, Musa and Karen, friends since childhood, are among the guests of the hotel. Both of them were born in Baku and grew up in the same neighbourhood. Musa’s grandparents were from Shusha, while Karen is an ethnic Armenian. They went to the same kindergarten and shared the same desk. The following year they had started primary school. Because he had caught a cold, Musa could not attend school on the first day. According to the traditions of their classroom, the places the children occupied on the first day of school would be where they would sit until the end of the school year. For many students, the seat right in front of the teacher was the most favoured place.

The supervising teacher of this class was Karen’s uncle. Karen sat at the front desk and tried to keep the seat next to him for Musa, but Musa did not arrive. Consequently, another girl in the class took the seat. After a week, when Musa came to the classroom, he had to sit at a desk at the back. Musa was a diligent student, and when Karen asked his uncle for a favor, the teacher agreed to change Musa’s seat a month into the academic year, and he began to sit next to Karen. After four months, both friends fell in love with the same girl, Lale, who studied in another class. Once they even argued because of that girl and fell out with each other; however they could not hold a grudge for long, and made up after two days.

After classes, the two friends spent time together and worked on their homework. They went to Karen’s house sometimes, and to Musa’s on other occasions. In the summer, people in Baku generally went to the beach. According to the residents of Baku, living in this city would be difficult in the summer if not for its windiness and beaches – Baku is known as the city of winds.

On one of those hot summer days, the children in the neighbourhood gathered and went to the beach in Mardakan. On their way, Karen and Musa decided to bet on who could swim farther from the shore. Since they went to the beach often, many residents of Baku could swim fairly well. This time the young men decided to swim a far greater distance than usual. They drifted much further from the shore and entered the dangerous, open area of the sea. They enjoyed their time so much that they were not even aware of the distance they had crossed. Fortunately, the rescue team were watching them and helped them back. It was Karen’s last summer with Musa in the Caspian Sea.

Towards the winter, the political situation got worse on the frontline. Azerbaijanis living in Armenia were compelled to move to Azerbaijan, and Armenians in Baku and other regions of Azerbaijan migrated to Armenia. Most of the families were not happy about having to depart. It was not easy for anyone to leave behind their house, the neighbours with whom they had lived for years, the neighbourhood where they had been born and brought up, and their workplace. Above all, to leave the place without the possibility of ever returning was even harder to bear.

Understanding what was going on was difficult for Karen and Musa. Karen cried all night when his family told him of their plan to move to Yerevan. He rushed to Musa’s house in the morning. Even though they did not understand what was happening, they realised that they might never meet again. They hugged each other, cried and promised to meet when they were grown-ups.

They could not even imagine that once the war started, these two childhood friends would be citizens of enemy countries.

For about 20 years, the two friends had not met. They had wanted to correspond, but because both communities were negatively disposed towards each other and mutual hatred and likely public censure frightened them, they dared not. Prior to the war, Musa’s aunt lived in Shusha. He used to visit his aunt every summer and spend the whole summer there.

And now a different post-conflict reality has begun.

Today, the old friends and neighbours are staying in adjacent rooms at the hotel. They are spending a three-day vacation together. It has been a long-anticipated meeting for them. In the three days of their reunion, they have 25 years of stories to discuss. Karen and Musa have begun by reminiscing about the happy days of their childhood.

They could not
even imagine that
once the war
started, these
two childhood
friends would be
citizens of enemy

They have been waiting for this meeting excitedly, not even knowing how they would behave and what they would discuss. They arrived at the hotel at different times.

At the reception, Musa asked for Karen’s hotel room and waited there. Finally, the moment of their long-awaited reunion arrived. After they hugged each other, Karen took out the bottle of Ararat cognac he had bought with him and put it on the table. They began to chat, indulging in the view from the window.

Karen – Musa, I hope you still remember how we went to school together.

Musa – Could those days be forgotten?

Karen – How carefree and interesting those days were!

Musa – The sweeter the childhood memories are, the more unforgettable they are.

Karen – Even decades cannot estrange us from our childhood memories.

Musa – Aren’t the fond memories and pleasant recollections of those times evidence of this?

Karen- Yes, Musa, you are right; the power of our friendship is in those memories and their sincerity. As you see, we have met again after so many years. We are on holiday in this beautiful place, sharing those nice memories from the past.

They joke with each other about the interesting moments from those days, and they are happy. They speak over and over about the beautiful spots of old Baku where they spent the most meaningful days of their lives. They used to often go to Maiden Tower and view the Caspian Sea from there.

When they begin to speak about the war, the happiness on their faces is replaced with sadness and disappointment. They discuss the horrors of war and how it destroyed their lives. They condemn all wars.

Musa – This war not only kept us far away from each other, but also deprived us of many things that we could do together.

Karen – Damn those people and their politics that set us against each other for years, and used us for their dirty games.

Musa- Fortunately, the relationship we had for years has been restored.

Karen- I totally agree with you, Musa. I hope we will get back all we have lost during those years.

Musa – Do you know what responsibility we have now?

Karen – I do, my friend. We must not let our children suffer as we did.

Musa – You are absolutely right. Thankfully, the hard times of the war have passed. Now we should bring up more tolerant and healthy children.

Karen – How is your family doing? How is the situation in Azerbaijan now?

Musa – Everything is going to be better. The hatred and antipathy among people is decreasing every day. There is a lot of hope about life in the future. I have a son and a daughter, as you know. They are in school and study very hard. How are your family and children doing?

Karen – We have a similar situation as in Azerbaijan. The relationship between Azerbaijan and Armenia is getting better, and the economic situation is also improving as a result. I have a daughter too. I have talked to my family about you. Let’s get our families together sometime soon.

Musa – Of course, that would be great. Let’s go and see thecity now.

Karen – All right.

The old friends go to see Shusha. They keep talking along the way. They decide first to visit the monument built to honour the memory of the victims of the war and the five-year anniversary of the peace treaty. After the visit, they go sightseeing. They have interesting discussions with local residents. They meet tourists everywhere, and this fills them with pride and joy.

Conflicts and enmity have never brought any benefits to any country or people, and those two neighbouring nations have both suffered. In all stages of history, wars and enmity have left mothers in tears and hundreds of thousands of people homeless. People have had to endure many difficult separations. Those who made people suffer with such hardships have always been condemned. Despite all the sore memories from the past, they are happy now. Having passed through a difficult path, the people of these two nations have managed to establish reliable governments and make their laws work, building a regional union.

After three days of reunion, the old friends agree that Karen will visit Baku in the winter, and the following summer Musa will visit Yerevan. This is the story of how peace has helped people fulfil their desire of living a prosperous life.·

Parvin, 28, is a freelance journalist and civil society activist. He is a board member of the NGO Youth Club and a co-founder of the Liberal Youth Network of the South Caucasus. He also co-founded the A13 political opposition movement and worked for Azerbaijan’s first online TV channel,

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