The Karabakh conflict revolves around the mountainous region of Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, tensions erupted into a full-scale war in the early 1990s, resulting in significant casualties and displacement. A ceasefire was established in 1994, leaving the region in a de facto state of independence, though unrecognised internationally. The conflict flared up again in 2020, leading to a brief but intense war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the aftermath, Azerbaijan regained authoritative control over the region.
In comparison to other conflicts in the post-Soviet areas (such as Moldova, Georgia), communication between both nations broke down significantly over the 30-year conflict period. Only the older generations had a chance of coexistence, while young people in both communities lacked shared communication and understanding.
Letters across the divides
To address this, the Letters for Peace (LFP) programme sought to create a bridge between the young generations of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The programme involved workshops at the intersection of creative writing and conflict transformation to foster constructive dialogue in regions impacted by war. During the programme, LFP supported 54 Armenian and Azerbaijani youths (ages 16–32) to exchange letters articulating the importance of and possibility for a peaceful future between the two populations.
The first workshop took place in Yerevan, where students wrote originating letters, and the second workshop took place in Baku, where students wrote response letters. One group responded to the letters written by the first Baku workshop, while the second Yerevan group wrote letters to the second Baku workshop, which convened in August and penned responses.
By the end of the workshop, each participant produced one letter, which was then translated and made available in three languages (Armenian, Azerbaijani, and English). Letters were exchanged between the Armenian and Azerbaijani participants, later published online at www.lettersforpeace.org and in a book.
This project encouraged youth-driven peacebuilding and offered a different narrative for relations between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the region and beyond. The workshops included: 1) guest lectures with experts on peace-building, regional affairs, and creative expression; 2) seminar-style conversations around topics of amity, discord, and identity; and 3) exercises to develop creative writing skills through letters, poetry, and beyond.
In effectively bridging communication gaps and fostering creative expression, LFP not only addressed the complexities of conflict resolution but also illuminated a transformative path toward lasting peace in regions marred by the impact of war.
How does creative writing and letter exchange impact peaceful dialogue between conflict-affected populations?
Creative writing and letter exchange wield a transformative influence on fostering peaceful dialogue between populations affected by conflict. In the aftermath of upheaval and strife, individuals often grapple with the weight of their experiences, seeking avenues to articulate the profound impact of conflict on their lives. Creative writing emerges as a therapeutic outlet, allowing them to weave narratives that capture the complexities of their emotions and struggles. Through the art of storytelling, people find a cathartic release, transcending the boundaries of pain and suffering.
When these narratives are exchanged through letters, a profound connection is established between communities separated by conflict. Letters, as a medium of communication, possess a unique ability to bridge geographic and cultural divides. As individuals from conflicting regions share their stories, a remarkable phenomenon occurs — empathy blossoms.
The exchanged letters serve as windows into each other's worlds, breaking down preconceived notions and stereotypes. Readers gain insight into the shared humanity, common aspirations, and dreams that bind them together. In this exchange, the "other" is humanised, and a foundation for peaceful dialogue is laid. The power of creative expression and letter writing lies in their ability to transform adversarial narratives into stories of resilience and hope. Through this process, individuals on both sides of the conflict discover the universal threads that connect them, paving the way for understanding, reconciliation, and, ultimately, a shared pursuit of peace.
By analysing the results of our initiative and its impact on the participants, we see that the establishment of communications between the parties and the creation of opportunities for communication with each other changes their view of peace in a positive direction. Participants who joined the program initially had different opinions and lack of information about the other side, but at the end of the program they tried to understand and empathise with each other. They even wanted to convey their thoughts to people through video, not just via letters.
Letters for Peace serves as a beacon of hope in the complex landscape of the Karabakh conflict. By uniting Armenian and Azerbaijani youth through the powerful mediums of creative writing and letter exchange, LFP has not only facilitated dialogue but has woven threads of empathy and understanding. The programme transcends the divisive narratives of the past, offering a platform for shared expressions of pain, resilience, and dreams for a harmonious future. As these heartfelt letters traverse linguistic and cultural boundaries, they illuminate the common humanity that binds both communities. In a region marked by historical tensions, LFP is a testament to the transformative potential of storytelling.
After the second Karabakh War and the initial stages of the reintegration process into Karabakh, a conspicuous demand arises for an escalation in these dialogues and these kind of initiatives.