by Dr. Alexey Babayan

Within the project “The Nagorno Karabakh conflict: in search of the way out,” the Center for Strategic Analysis “SPECTRUM” held a wide sociological poll in Yerevan July 2004 to reveal the attitude of various sections of Armenian society to the settlement of the conflict. As far as the public opinion is also made up on certain stereotypes, our task was also to expose some ethno-stereotypes in the attitude of Armenians toward Azerbaijanis and trace their roots.

In interviews respondents were asked to give collective characteristics of a representative of the Azerbaijani people.

Armenian respondents are inclined to describe Azerbaijanis by various aspects mostly negatively. Based on the average data, by negative characteristics an ordinary Azerbaijani is considered as absolutely faint-hearted (59.4%), wicked (42.3%), aggressive (50.5%), envious (42.2%), rather haughty (27.8%). Assessing by positive modal features, respondents are inclined, rather, not to describe Azerbaijanis as clever (“yes” – 8.7%, “rather, yes” – 12.5%), tolerant (11,8%), smart («yes» and «rather, yes» – by 13.9% each), persistent (22.6%), kind (15.6%) or rather kind (17.0%). And only hospitality («yes» -36.1%, «rather, yes» – 18.4%), good-neighboring qualities («yes» – 21.9%, «rather, yes» – 19.6%), and to a certain degree, hardworking («yes» – 20.0%, «rather, yes» – 18.6%) make up a positive image of Azerbaijanis in the eyes of Armenians.

It is interesting to follow how Azerbaijanis are described by various generations of respondents. The younger generation (aged 18-24, partially aged 25-34) is more than others inclined to give categorical characteristics of Azerbaijani as haughty, envious, wicked and aggressive, and as rather not clever and intolerant. The middle generation (aged 35-44) gives more moderate assessments to negative modal characteristics. As for the elder generation (aged 45-54 and 55-64 лет), they more than others characterize Azerbaijanis as hospitable people and good neighbors, which can be explained as a result of the positive experience of coexistence within former USSR. It is interesting that women are more inclined to characterize Azerbaijanis negatively than men.

In spite of the trend to characterize Azerbaijanis by some features positively, more than a half of respondents (64.6%) do not wish to set up relations with Azerbaijanis, which comes to prove the existence of strong negative stereotypes with regard to representatives of that nation.

However, some forms of inter-relations to a certain extent are assessed as possible. The most positive mood to such relations can be traced among representatives of younger generations: it is they who more than others find such relations as “to be residents of the same town” (13,7%), “to work at the same enterprise” (13,9%), “to live close to each other” (16,3%) and especially “to be friends” (14.9%) – acceptable. Here we have some paradoxical situation, because, as the survey shows, the younger generation describes negative characteristics of Azerbaijanis most categorically. An explanation can be found in the existence/ lack of their own experience of communication with Azerbaijanis.

As the results show, the younger generation objectively has this experience less than the others. Actually, while having less experience of communication with Azerbaijanis, the younger generation shapes up its own opinion under the negative ethno-stereotypes with regard to Azerbaijanis, circulated in society. At the same time, the same experience, more precisely, its absence lets the younger generation be open to any inter-relations with Azerbaijanis. The latter thesis should be considered as important, in particular, from the view of people’s diplomacy, which if case of initiation of any forms of dialog between the two peoples, may single out just that target group. In principle, as practice shows, various events and meetings are organized most often just among young people and students of Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic.

Obviously, the negative ethno-stereotypes with regard to Azerbaijanis were not shaped up only as a result of the Karabakh conflict. Being an element of a group identification (ethnicity), the ethno-stereotypes are maintained and developed both through an individual setting of given personality, and environmental, social and historical circumstances (positive or negative). For Armenians, undoubtedly, the basic historical fact is the Genocide of Armenian in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire. This negative historical experience, translated form one generation of Armenians to another, impacts on the available ethno-stereotypes, through which Azerbaijanis, identified as Turks, as we seen above, get mainly negative assessments by behavioral characteristics of man.

More over, the collective memory is strong enough, which determines practically one and tough position of the population when assessing the tragic events of 1915 for the human kind.

The Genocide of 1915 now is not only perceived by Armenians as national catastrophe (all-Armenian grief, 62.0%), but also as global tragedy (52.1%). Only 4% find that Genocide is “forgotten past”. Only 39.6% of respondents spoke for the necessity of changing position on the Genocide, meanwhile 58.5% – not, which also shows the firmness of the position. Even in the case of change, the respondents mostly support the idea that the position must be more demanding (79.8%), 17.9% suggest that people should be more forgiving, and for 2.3% the question seemed too difficult to answer.

So, the population’s inclination to give negative assessments to Azerbaijanis and denial of possible forms of relations with them is an evidence of the existing sustainable negative ethno-stereotypes. It is also confirmed in the denial of necessity of cooperation with Azerbaijan by a part of respondents.

At the same time, for many respondents negative ethno-stereotypes are not an obstacle for making up a positive opinion on perspectives of cooperation with Azerbaijan. The reason is in a unique transformation of respondents’ perception of all phenomena within the systems “values-objectives” and “values-means.” In this sense, cooperation is also treated as a way of improvement of the social and economic situation in Armenia (the economic reasonability of cooperation), and as an instrument for the conflict settlement (the political reasonability.)

The logic of the economic reasonability is also can be seen in the assessment of possible relations with Turkey. Despite the absolute firm position on the attitude to the Genocide of 1915 and the process of its recognition by international community, development of relations with Turkey, first of all, economic, is considered by population as possible and desirable. Cooperation in tourism and economy was supported by 39.4%, in the politics and diplomacy – by 12.5%, development of communications – by 32.1%. At the same time, 12,7% of respondents finds that any forms of cooperation are not reasonable.

April 22, 2005