Foreign Policy Blogs

Peace Activist Threatened in Armenia, Azerbaijani Film Festival Cancelled

Georgi Vanyan. Photo: Onnik Krikorian

 

When I first met Georgi Vanyan back in 2009, I couldn’t hide my excitement. For me that middle-aged man who smoked one cigarette after another and had sadness in his eyes, even when he smiled, was equal to a rockstar. I couldn’t believe I was talking to the person who organized Days of Azerbaijan as well as Turkish Film Festival in Armenia, despite regular threats he received and a very little support he had among the Armenian public. He was also the only Armenian I knew, who publicly called Nagorno-Karabakh region an “occupied” territory, not “liberated.”

Our meeting was completely random, we just happened to have common friends in Georgian capital Tbilisi. Nevertheless, we talked for three hours straight, sharing our insights on Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict and possible scenarios for its resolution. He told me about his future project – Azerbaijani Film Festival in Armenia. I said he was out of his mind, but he explained it was “a logical continuation of the previous events,” and that it was worth a try.

So he’s been trying ever since. Vanyan’s Yerevan-based Caucasus Center for Peace Making Initiatives made several attempts to organize Azerbaijani Film Festival in the Armenian capital in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The event got cancelled each time due to the pressure applied on Vanyan and the venue owners.

Last Thursday they tried again in Armenia’s second biggest city Gyumri. The festival consisted of four short films made in Azerbaijan in 2007-2008. However, a group of 50 protesters who reportedly gathered on the city’s Central Square, prevented the event from happening. When the attempt to negotiate with the protesters failed, Vanyan was able to leave the venue only after he publicly announced the cancellation of the festival, according to RFE/RL. Another video released on Youtube, shows Vanyan being assaulted by one of the protesters outside “Asparez” Journalist Club, the event’s venue.

Global Voices reported that in his announcement, Vanyan accused the mayor of Gyumri Vardan Ghukassian of being responsible for the “artificially created tension around the festival as well as possible provocations and violence against the organizers and participants.” The video made by RFE/RL shows Ghukassian leading the protest against Vanyan.

The protest outside "Asparez" Journalist Club on April 12 in Gyumri, Armenia. Credit: www.aravot.am

In his statement released on Thursday night, Vanyan explained that the event had to be cancelled because government and law enforcement bodies failed to guarantee safety for the participants. He also accused the authorities of applying psychological pressure and threatening the organizers with possible bloodshed.

“Later, the organizers of the festival were informed that there were checks installed on the highway from Yerevan to Gyumri and that the bus bringing participants of the festival from the capital would be stopped by hoodlums,” reads the statement.

After the organizers left Gyumri, they joined other participants on the way back to Yerevan and stopped at a roadside restaurant, where the showing of the movies took place with 26 viewers. The majority of them took part in the vote for the Viewers’ Choice award. The next showing is scheduled to April 17 at Helsinki Assembly office in Vanadzor, Armenia.

Several Azerbaijani and Armenian bloggers and social media users expressed their support to Vanyan’s cause. Nevertheless, many underlined that a similar event would not be possible to organize in Azerbaijan either.

Speaking to journalists earlier this week, Head of the Cinematography Department of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism Yusif Sheikhov stated that “due to Armenia’s occupational policy, Azerbaijan is not engaging in any joint activities with the country, and is not planning to do so in the future.” He also added that when it comes to NGOs, which cooperate with the Armenian side, “it’s on their conscience.”

From my personal humble experience in conflict resolution I learned that advocating for peace can be a tough job. Mostly, because the majority of people who live in conflict zones and were affected by wars, do not understand the point of reconciliation. All they know is that they lost relatives, possibly were displaced, or had to flee. What they usually want is for justice – what they perceive as one – to be restored. In conflict zones one can rarely meet sincere peace advocates who would stand up to their own people, and tell them the other side of the story.

In South Caucasus Georgi Vanyan is one of the few.

That’s why in South Caucasus Georgi Vanyan is a rockstar.

 

Author

Nigar Fatali
Nigar Fatali

Born in 1986 in Baku, Azerbaijan, Nigar Fatali received her Bachelor's degree in filmmaking from Azerbaijan State University of Art and Culture.

Fatali has been blogging since 2007, writing about politics, human rights and social issues in Azerbaijan. Since 2009 she has worked as a journalist, associate editor and copywriter in non-profit and private sectors.

She is in her first year of graduate studies in journalism in the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Personal blog: http://nigarfatali.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/fatalin

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