Whatever the past, the demands of the future and an inability to escape from the present make pragmatism and peace the only option.

·My name is Susanna, I am from Nagorno-Karabakh. I was born in 1991, the same year the war broke out. When the shelling began, my mother had to take my five-year-old brother, three-year-old sister and newborn me, and hide in the bomb shelter at the State Drama Theatre of Stepanakert. Imagine how difficult it is to take care of three children in a basement. Along with our neighbours, we lived there for more than a year, while our fathers, uncles and older brothers were fighting the war. One by one, everyone was getting bad news from the frontlines. One day, my mom got the news that my dad had fallen in battle. That was the worst day in my family’s life. After the war, many children remained without fathers and many women without their beloved. This fact is the saddest, because a father has particular value, a power: he is a god-like person for an Armenian family. However, we were forced to learn how to live without them.

I remember how our neighbours would gather in our house and recall the happy days spent with their husbands, and cry. In those days, I did not understand the real horror and pain of this. Growing up, the more I began to understand, the more a bitter feeling grew in my soul, as did the sense of the absurdity of war.

Now, I ask myself: what is the war about; what is it for; who benefits from it; how long will it continue; and in what conditions will my children live?

Thinking about all of this, I come to only one conclusion. We can’t take our countries and move them to different places. We will have to live together for thousands of years. We are two neighbouring countries that should be in active cooperation both socially and economically. And, in that case, I am more than sure that this region could become one of the safest, most prosperous places in the world.

Let us imagine that a peace deal is signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan and a new era of cooperation begins. In that case, ideally, what would the situation be in the region?

Back when we were still in a conflict with Azerbaijan and had the fear of war, people in Armenia would frequently seek work in the army. A military career was the most respectable and prestigious in the country. Thousands of young men were extremely glad to be admitted to the military college, or interrupted their studies at university to serve in the army. Later, most of them didn’t want to continue their education and wanted to stay where they were. That meant that thousands of able-bodied young men who could have enlarged the labour market of the country or become excellent economists, lawyers and so on instead served in the army. Coming back after two years, many young men no longer wished to live the life of a student. They had outgrown the habit of sitting and learning. They would say that they were grown men who needed to earn money to help their families and make a living. Consequently, some of them migrated to Russia or elsewhere.

Thanks to the peace deal, the country no longer needs to interrupt the education of young men. The peace deal also allows other useful programmes to be implemented; one of these is the exchange of potential talents, especially among young people, that is very important and promising for a better future. The exchange of students between both countries will improve the prospects for a good education, and improve students’ ability and make them more versatile. Education is very important for citizens in order to think about starting businesses and improving their own standard of living while developing the country’s whole economy. Education also gives us the opportunity to be well informed and to be able to analyse and evaluate the political, economic and social state of the country. Thus it makes the government work for the benefit of citizens, protect basic human rights and establish a democratic and healthy society.

People in both countries always wanted to combat their governments’ inefficient and sometimes wrong actions, but every time a protest or similar activity was organised, the security factor was used as a trump card by the authorities. Any civic activity led to a destabilisation of security on the borders, they said. Besides that, people were frightened. They would always say, “It is better to be poor but safe.” Now that the conflict is over and we have succeeded in reducing corruption, the state budget is growing. That means that people are focused in one direction, as they have no external enemy. They can easily raise issues that hurt the state budget. They can protest against any official who is corrupt. When you are sure that your safety and that of your children is not jeopardised in a military sense, you can easily fight for civic issues. In this case, the peace deal allows the efficient distribution and management of financial resources and freedom to defend human rights and justice in your own country.

A few years after the peace deal, the Armenian parliament passed a bill to significantly reduce the military budget of the country. Thanks to this law, the Ministry of the Economy made a decision to cut taxes and diminish government intervention, thus promoting private sector development. Since then, economic growth in Armenia has greatly increased.

The enlargement of the market for entrepreneurs is instrumental to change. Opening the borders with Azerbaijan has enhanced trade between the countries. People are motivated to produce more and more products. They collaborate with their Azerbaijani partners, establish joint ventures, and thus strengthen the relationship. As this region is very safe, investment from all over the world is growing. Businessmen have many promising visions and bilateral projects with local government. They intend to open many new factories, companies, etc. This makes the local market more competitive. Producers in various sectors are very happy to enlarge their foreign markets. Private entrepreneurs are enthusiastic about exporting their products. It is easier and cheaper to export a perishable product to a neighbouring country rather than to distant destinations. All these projects increase the number of available jobs and reduce both urbanisation and – most importantly – migration.

As the refugees from Azerbaijan have come back, the population has increased significantly. The governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia have special economic and social programmes helping them with resettlement. Consequently, those people have brought lots of economic resources with them. First of all these are financial resources, and then investments, a replenishment of the labour market, business plans and ideas. This makes the local market more competitive and the goods of higher quality. As we know from basic economics, it is easier to build a business in a populous place, as the products and services are more easily sold.

We cannot
take our countries
and move them
to different places.
We will have
to live together
for thousands
of years.

Along with that, tourism is seeing prosperous times. Despite the fact that it was absolutely safe in Nagorno-Karabakh (though not on the border), the name of this region is associated with war, which is why people had no desire to visit here. People also did not come to Nagorno-Karabakh because they were afraid of appearing on Azerbaijan’s list of personae non gratae. Tourists usually prefer to visit calm, multicultural destinations, where they experience new feelings. This is one of the benefits of the peace deal, as more and more tourists will become curious about this place and, most importantly, no longer have any fear. Another flow of tourists will come from Azerbaijan itself, as many people now have relatives and friends here. This makes the lives of local people very interesting.

A few years ago, huge territories were mined and prone to snipers, so people couldn’t use the land or simply harvest it. People have no sense of fear now that the borders are open and safe; we can think about the resettlement of those areas, and consequently we can start building new modern villages, schools and kindergartens. This is a chance to develop the agricultural sector, using the land that we demilitarised recently. Instead of planting mines, we can now make those areas places for arable farming, animal husbandry, plant growing and viticulture.

All of this is just a vision of how we could benefit in the most beautiful way. But international conflicts like the one in Karabakh are extremely difficult to resolve. There are many circumstances, each making it harder for the conflict to be resolved. It began with the war in the 1990s, causing people to develop hatred towards each other, but as I said, we will live side by side for thousands of years and we have a duty to end this conflict and reconcile for our future generations.·

Susanna, 24, worked on state business programmes with Arthur Aghabekyan, the vice premier of the de facto government of Nagorno-Karabakh. She is now an accountant with a construction company and a member of the foreign affairs board of the Armenian Youth Federation.

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