Lia, a teacher from Kotayk Province, says, “If I think that something belongs or should belong to me, I might not be willing to compromise.” By saying this, she implies that it might be justified not to compromise in that case. However, the question of what it means that something belongs to them is an open question for discussion. When asked to elaborate on what she means when she says that, Lia notes that it’s not something subjective: “If something truly belongs to me, why should I allow someone else to try and get it?”. An example she uses to explain this is the fair demand of Artsakh’s population to join Armenia. When another participant interjects with “What about their [Azerbaijan’s] fair demand of territorial integrity?” Lia states that the land historically belonged to us but also added that we should talk about it “from our point of view,” meaning, in a way that serves our interests. This leads to many interesting questions: what does fairness depend on? How does the idea of historic justice come into play when talking about geo-political conflicts, and what tensions does that idea have with other approaches to the idea of fairness? Finally, if a demand is “fair,” why do we need to talk about it from “our point of view” - isn’t a demand fair regardless of who’s stating that demand?
Asking these questions should be an essential part of public discourse because stating that conflicts arise because of a fair demand assumes that the only solution to such a conflict is meeting that demand. However, one of the teachers, Susanna, notes that one should always think about compromises: “If solving the conflict is important to me, the situation might require me to take a step back; maybe I should think about it and try to find an appropriate step back.” On the other hand, “the demands on both sides are fair, but if we look at the reasons in more detail, we can find out whose side fairness is on,” states Lia. There are questions about how both sides can be fair, as fairness, by definition, cannot favor two opposing views on an issue, and about the difference between fair and genuinely fair. One can assume this teacher meant that truly fair is synonymous with historical justice. At the same time, fairness generally can depend on the sides’ current positions or values, but we cannot be sure.
On the other side of the spectrum, Susanna (teacher) suggests that some conflicts are artificial. These can also happen individually: in need of new emotions, you provoke a conflict, but do not think about who will get hurt and how”. This statement raises many questions: who creates the conflicts, and which do they think are artificial? How are fairness and artificiality decided, and are the criteria explicit? How do teachers’ beliefs about the fairness or artificiality of a conflict affect how they teach them? And finally, what similarities and differences are there between geopolitical conflicts and conflicts on an individual level? This last question is particularly interesting, as the dialogue discussed multiple analogies. Still, in different contexts and ways, it is unclear how those analogies dictate how we think about more significant problems, as opposed to more individual ones. Asking these questions and addressing them explicitly is not only necessary generally but also has important implications for history teaching. However, whether these questions get asked in history classrooms and whether students can construct their answers is up for exploration.
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.