“Maybe there has been an element of faith [in conflicts], but religion was not a primary or secondary reason — it was more a security matter. Conflicts may have religious disguises, but religion is not the main motif,” she explains. Bringing Iran as an example, Margarita, a representative of the younger generation, is of a similar opinion. “No matter how often they say that we cannot be good with others because they are Muslim, Iran is ‘more Muslim,’” she says, perhaps pointing to the fact that Iran is an Islamic Republic. Yet, Armenia has better relationships with Iran than with other Muslim neighbors. So, while all dialogue participants recognize religion's role, they all seem to stress that good relations are more about mutual interests than religion or ideology.
Today, while Armenia is facing a new wave of challenges as a result of Azerbaijan’s complete occupation/attacks of Artsakh, while the ‘wounds of the past have been reopened,’ hopes of peaceful coexistence seem to get dimmer. However, the perspectives of some teachers and students seem to acknowledge the importance of dialogue and engagement with neighboring countries. As one of the teachers put it, “The ordinary people do not want war; they want to live peacefully. But some circles create or provoke conflicts. The ideas of citizens are different from the ideas of states.”
Almost all dialogue participants believe that Armenia’s relationship with its neighboring countries has room for improvement: some of them mean this on a political level, some on a personal or societal level, and some on a personal or societal level. Many of them realize that “you can change your friends, but you can’t change your neighbors.” However, they are not on the same page about how far those relationships should go, with Haykanush noting that “no matter how well you know your neighbor, you should never destroy your fence”, and Hrayr (student) noting that he thinks the ‘other’ neighbors (meaning Georgia and Iran) will also present territorial claims, if they had a chance to. While there is no clear conclusion to be made from all these different and often opposing ideas around Armenia’s relationship with its neighbors, what does follow from this is that the issue of these relationships is front of mind for many of the participants and is something that requires more exploration and discussion, both as a topic generally and as an educational topic specifically.
This article is based on dialogue between history teachers and students within the scope of the “Intergenerational Dialogue” project led by Paradigma Educational Foundation in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. The real names of dialogue participants have been changed to protect their privacy.