Education = Communication = Sharing = Less Conflict

One of the special features of CSJMM is that its classes include students from all three Caucasus countries: Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. This mixture is uncommon because the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war with each other (or in conflict), and citizens from one country may not travel to the other country. The only way for Azeris to meet Armenians is for them to travel to a neutral site. Meetings for any extended period of time are uncommon because of the expense and because there may be no incentive to meet. The American embassies in Azerbaijan and Armenia have overcome both problems by each sponsoring six students to spend a year studying at CSJMM. For the remaining time in the 2-year MA program, Azeri and Armenian students study in their home countries. So what happens when young people with prejudices study together? Please read Shahla Sultanova’s article for the Institue for War & Peace Reporting to find out (http://iwpr.net/report-news/azerbaijan-tackling-ethnicity-and-conflict-no-easy-task). An excerpt appears below.

My interview for a scholarship at the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Georgia was going well, when Professor Tinatin Tsomaia asked me whether I would mind studying alongside an Armenian.

“And this Armenian is from Nagorny Karabakh,” she added.

I knew that objecting might cost me the scholarship, but I could not help myself.

“You have an Armenian student from Nagorny Karabakh?” I said. “Don’t expect me to be tolerant. That’s Azerbaijani land. It should be Azerbaijanis at your school.”

I was raised in the north of Azerbaijan in the ethnic Avar community, so my family did not experience the trauma caused by the Karabakh war. We did not witness the exodus of refugees who lost their homes and their loved ones. We never heard gunfire or saw people killed.

Nevertheless, like many young people in Azerbaijan, I had been conditioned by the media and my teachers to hate Armenians.

Fortunately, I got the scholarship anyway. On our first day at the school of journalism, all the students sat in a Tbilisi café introducing ourselves. We just said our first names, so we had no idea of each other’s ethnic origin.

I sat next to a girl with hazel eyes who smiled all the time. Charmed by her friendliness and taking her for a Georgian, I chatted to her. It was only in class that I discovered she was the Armenian student from Nagorny Karabakh, Lilit Asryan.

I could not maintain my reserve for long. Her positive energy made me smile back at her when we worked on group projects, and I soon reversed my views altogether. She was a great person, not just some Armenian.

By the end, Lilit was my best friend at college. We never discussed Nagorny Karabakh, guessing it would take us nowhere. But along with the other Armenian students at on the course, she removed all my prejudices against the nation.

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About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

One Response to Education = Communication = Sharing = Less Conflict

  1. Anonymous says:

    This story was very moving. It brought tears to my eyes. Fear comes from not knowing. When people get to know each other, barriers come down and we understand that despite our cultural, ethnic, political differences, etc., we are all made of the same clay. This is why traveling and global experiences are important. It’s important to get out of our ethnocentric lifestyles to seek, learn, be flexible, be patient, relate, love and be kind toward others.

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