Solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will bring to an end the daily inconveniences and dangers faced by people on the borders.

·Consider a typical small village near the disputed border. Regardless of which side of the border the village is on, it surely will have something unique that you cannot find in any other village across the country. Here are some examples:

Only in border villages can you find houses, schools and all other kinds of buildings with windows covered by wooden planks to prevent bullets from injuring the people within. At night, the planks also keep the indoor lights invisible to the outside world. However, by day they also prevent sunlight from entering. On the other hand, the power plants in the border regions are mainly from the Soviet era, and do not work well. Blackouts are inevitable and happen very often. As a result, schoolchildren have classes in rooms illuminated only by candles or kerosene lamps. These kerosene lamps have become ubiquitous elements in the lives of the villagers.

Here is another thing: Whenever roads in any city are sealed with asphalt, priority is given to the primary roads and the workers reach the blind alleys only at the end – if at all. Taken on a larger scale, the same approach is used for country roads. Villages on closed borders are considered to be the blind alleys of the country, since the road goes no further after that village. Consequently, the roads in these villages are undeveloped, rocky and rough. Poor road conditions prohibit the transportation and exchange of goods between one village and another.

The most important factors of a village’s survival are of course cattle breeding and agriculture. Conflict affects them both. People are very unfortunate if the village is located on a plateau, making it visible from the other side of the border. There are many such villages on both sides. Visibility means vulnerability. Cattle, farmers, tractors, cars – everything becomes a target for military forces from the other side. Imagine if you want to herd your cattle for grazing. Suddenly, somebody starts shooting at you and your animals. Agriculture is hard enough work without all this. Now if you add whistling bullets that fly around, back and forth, it becomes a true nightmare. Some very bizarre situations can occur as well. An old woman, a farmer, could not plant anything on her piece of land because there were lots of bullets buried in the ground after the war ended, so she faced a high risk of getting accidentally injured by the explosion of dormant bullets hit by a shovel or other tool.

Social life is highly damaged by all these factors as well. The inhabitants have virtually no cultural life or entertainment, and the absence of a cultural life leads to a regression of their worldview. Elder generations suffered their share during the late ’80s and early ’90s. The collapse of the governing regime, the war, hunger and despair, all became an inseparable part of the villagers’ lives. The longevity of each person was cast in doubt. All kinds of stressful situations had a significant psychological impact. This abhorrent atmosphere made the children born in the early ’90s innate followers of hatred and vengeance.

Let us take a child from a border village, especially a boy, and compare him with another young boy of the same age from a village elsewhere in Armenia, and try to look at their lives and education. We would see a tremendous difference. Instead of taking art class, he takes classes in shooting. Instead of visiting museums, he visits military units. Instead of watching educational movies about life and love, he watches educational movies about the armed forces and war. What can we expect this boy to become? Can we really hope that one day he will grow up and say, “Let’s stop fighting and start trying to negotiate”? We do not prepare civilians, we prepare soldiers. Sadly, this is the situation we are currently in.

However, what will change if we sign a peace treaty?

There are many open questions about what life after a peace agreement will look like: Will Karabakh be independent, or will it join either Armenia or Azerbaijan as a province? Will refugees on both sides be able to move back into their old houses? What kind of government will exist in Karabakh? However, one thing is for certain: The peace agreement would be a countrywide event. There is no person in society who would not be somehow affected by this. For example, we Armenians consume a large number of shoes manufactured in neighbouring Turkey, but they all go through Georgia to reach us. It doesn’t make economic or ecological sense, but closed borders force this situation. A peace agreement with Azerbaijan would also mean the opening of borders with its biggest ally – Turkey – and a direct flow of goods, leading to cheaper prices. Another aspect that concerns everyone is the very large percentage of Armenian GDP being spent on military expenses, such as organising our forces, buying weaponry, building camps, bases and so on. If there is no threat of war or the semi-war situation that we currently face, then this money can be used to finance social services, education and the sciences.

Of course, a certain layer of society will sense the difference more vividly than the majority. In this layer are the people who live near the border. It is clear that ordinary people who live their day-to-day lives on the border will have a life-changing experience. At last, they will be free from fear, from being always ready to return to war, from not being sure if they will live tomorrow. Finally they will be able to remove the wooden bars from their windows, will be able to drive and walk freely anywhere they want without being scared of being shot at. At last, they will start to think of something other than the war. They will stop raising their children with the notion that there is an enemy at the gates, and that sooner or later they will have to take up a weapon. They will stop hearing the sound of gunfire and exploding shells. The kerosene lamps will be stored in cellars and replaced with bulbs that shine with constant electricity. Agriculture will begin to develop in the villages, and the villagers will for the first time experience the pleasure of working without being interrupted by the whistle of bullets. Together with neighbouring villages, they will free the land from all military fortifications, mines and defensive structures, replacing them with barns, wheat warehouses, mills and more.

Villages on closed
borders are
considered to be
the blind alleys
of a country.

However, no matter how positive and optimistic the idea of peace may sound, it will not be achieved easily until the people on both sides have the right consciousness about it.

Imagine that in one moment all our military forces on both sides were to suddenly vanish. No soldiers guarding the border, no weaponry to shoot each other. Nothing to be scared of. What would we do then? Do we have enough trust towards each other to cross the border and greet our old neighbours, or will we still think about ways to guard ourselves from them or even attack with our bare hands? If we want to ensure that open arms and not bare hands will prevail, we need to turn the black and white, winner-loser mentality between our countries into an attitude of friendship and cooperation.

Imagine that we not only have a peace greement, but that people have started changing their mindset. New generations are being raised not with rage and anger, but with a peaceful attitude, and instead perceive life in all its beauty. People strive to know more about each other. When looking to the other side of the front line, we no longer see towns filled with monsters, but beautiful cities populated with people like us who are willing to live with us, side by side. We have stopped feeling pride when hearing about the death of an ‘enemy’.

We have finally reached a situation where we are ready to live in peace together.

Getting back to our border villages, inhabitants will not be thankful to the guards who separate them from perceived threats. Instead, an old man will go to the border and tell the soldier, “Hey son, step aside please. I want to go there and see an old friend of mine.”·

Mesrop, 23, is studying for a Master’s in Architecture and was involved in the construction of Armenia’s first modern shopping mall. Before his studies, he completed two years of military service on the border with Azerbaijan. “Well before my army service, I made Azerbaijani friends at a student festival in Norway. Then, suddenly, I was standing at the border in my uniform opposite Azerbaijanis as enemies. It was a very strange feeling and I had this inner conflict trying to form an attitude towards them.”

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