Written by Anush Petrosyan
Much academic discussion has centered on diasporas in the previous decades, as the interdisciplinary field of diaspora studies continues to develop. As Féron and Lefort write, “the study of the relations between diasporas and conflicts often follows a securitization trope… which is notably fed by, and feeds into, xenophobic discourses about migrants, in Europe and elsewhere” (2019). The consideration of diasporas as troublemakers, especially those that are believed to be conflict-generated within the frames of securitization or ethno-nationalist belonging is not only empirically, but also factually and ethically incorrect. It entails risks of misrepresenting and homogenizing a social group that is by nature heterogeneous.
The complexity and diversity of diasporic groups makes the study of diaspora-homeland relations complicated, as the standardizing approach leaves gaps open that could otherwise be filled with hope. While studying the more “mobilized” sections of the Armenian diaspora, Khachig Tölölyan argues that “this diaspora is neither a uniﬁed social formation nor a monolithic polity” (2007, 108), given that the Armenian diaspora, or the Armenian communities living outside of the borders of current-day Republic of Armenia came into existence in diverse timelines as a result of diverse reasons. Thus, the Armenian diaspora worldwide cannot be considered conflict-generated entirely and conflict alone cannot be considered as the only driving force for the transnational movement of Armenians, who as Tölölyan writes later in the chapter, “living outside Armenia are sometimes Armenian in name only; they are in fact assimilated people with vague memories of having an Armenian heritage… and Armenian identity is one of several identities that compete for their time and attention” (ibid, 109). In this sense, it would be naïve to imagine that there is one way through which the Armenian diaspora reacts and contributes to the discussions when it comes to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As Tölölyan writes regarding the influence of the Armenian diaspora on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict “neither the diaspora nor its major institutions have acted monolithically” (ibid, 114), especially considering the different agendas and ideological convictions each sub-category of the very diverse Armenian diaspora has.
While the collective diasporic actions of the mobilized Armenian communities or major institutions have been loud and more explored in academia, as well as more extensively covered by the media, the activism of the less mobilized groups of Armenians living outside Armenia has gone mostly unnoticed. People who have research or practice-oriented experience in the field of peacebuilding have attempted to put the word out for an all-inclusive peaceful solution of the conflict, especially when tensions occurred among diaspora groups both during July skirmishes as well as during the 44-day war in 2020, but these actions have remained mostly marginal and did not reach wider audiences.
One of these collective actions was the issuing of a statement under the hashtag of #WordsNotSwords during the July skirmishes in 2020 that within days had a spillover effect into the diaspora settings with violent tensions rising among Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Turks living outside of the physical borders of their respective countries. While the conflict transportation into the settings of the countries of residence received wide range of coverage, the statement remained trendy among small groups of people and media platforms that are engaging in cross-border coverage, intentionally searching for stories of co-created attempts of peace promotion in the region. The statement, which in the end received little attention, called for respecting the right to peaceful assembly. It was not only signed by members of the Armenian diaspora, but also co-created and co-signed with members of the Azerbaijani diaspora. As Arzu Geybullayeva writes, it was originally signed by six members of the Armenian and Azerbaijani diaspora communities on July 23 (2020). Within days, this campaign was joined by hundreds of Armenians and Azerbaijanis living in diasporic settings. The text said:
As members of the Armenian and Azerbaijani emigrant communities across the world, we condemn the ongoing acts of violence and bigotry perpetrated by individuals within our communities towards one another, in the name of patriotism.
While our societies have fundamental disagreements regarding the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, fistfights in streets across the world do nothing to advance the cause of either side. Instead, they are an affront to basic safety and human dignity.
As fellow immigrants, we call upon all members in our Diaspora communities to engage in peaceful activism, to respect the rights of others to do the same, and to reject violence, dehumanisation, and discrimination. 
The call was one of a kind that made the less mobilized and peace-oriented community voice its disapproval with continued nationalistic manifestations and the depiction that there is one united diaspora with one agenda. It was an attempt to use the online space to break the silence and paint an alternative image of the Armenian and Azerbaijani diasporic groups. As Geybullayeva presents the testimonies of the original authors, it shows that individuals, at least, living outside the South Caucasus see an opportunity of engaging in dialogue where borders are not closed. They also notice that transporting violence into the host settings does not bring credibility to these communities. As Philip Gamaghelyan, assistant professor at the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego and co-founder of Imagine Centre for Conflict Transformation, noted, “yet it harms the image of both communities and the South Caucasus in general in the eyes of the world, needlessly endangers the already difficult lives of migrants, and further shrinks the space for dialogue” (ibid.).
Although this statement generated some discussion among social media, mainly Twitter circles of Armenians and Azerbaijanis living outside their homelands, the discussions soon died down and could not spread roots long enough to counter a deadlier and more costly war in the autumn of 2020. Geybullayeva concluded her article saying, “It is too early to say whether with all the signatures collected #WordsNotSwords will change much of the negative rhetoric that continues to this day. But it is heartening to see that among the two communities there are at least 160 who condemn violence and respect people’s right to peaceful protest.” Indeed, breaking the silence for peace publicly at a time of high tensions was hope-inspiring for many, but the abyss of apathy and desperateness for co-beneficial peace is yet largely empty. It is important to mention though, considering the Lederachian approach to conflict transformation, that the low number of participants in such activities aiming at creating peace discourse in settings of deep distrust and high conflictual tensions is well-justified, as expecting change at once would mean believing in cheap hope. As Lederach writes, “Distrust assures us that we are not dipping into and promoting a cheap hope; it keeps us authentic” (2005, 60). Therefore, the low number of signatories of similar statements does not promote hopelessness, but on the contrary, it shows the possibility to transcend the space of enmity gradually. It also suggests that in peacemaking numbers should not be the indicators of an outcome, as the pinch of yeast promotes the rise of bread (referencing Lederach’s famous comparison of breadmaking and peacemaking).
Some Armenians and Azerbaijanis living outside and within the borders of their homelands put out another co-created statement during the 44-day war in 2020, that originated in the webpage of Caucasus Talks. The platform has been transnationally created and managed, and it builds on a cooperation between people from the South Caucasus who live both within the borders of the region, and in diasporic settings. The new statement was signed by hundreds of people, by Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Armenia, Azerbaijan and outside of the borders of these states. It also called for a broader transnational attention involving non-Armenians and non-Azerbaijanis to spread the word for a peaceful settlement of the conflict highlighting the importance of international players in the region. The statement was a manifestation against war and militarist positions calling for the search of pathways for peace and advocating for “immediate ceasefire and inclusive negotiations encompassing all of the Armenian and Azerbaijani parties to the conflict.”
Although the statements alone have not had enough weight to change the situation on the ground, they have created virtual spaces for dialogue and discussion among transnational people, including but not limited to Armenian and Azerbaijani diasporic groups. The transnationality of the statements and the actions generated by informal networks and organizations of Armenian and Azerbaijani descent have added an extra level of security protecting those from crackdown, given that they are not under the threat of centralized governments in the homelands. Transnational spaces provide a chance for people otherwise locked within the borders of nation states in the South Caucasus to come together and learn about the stories of the other. The transnationality of diasporas is not only a source of conflict transportation or violent spillovers, it is also a space with vast transformative power, if intentionally noticed and supported as such.
In the conclusion of an article on the Caucasus Edition as a decentralized transnational network (2022), Gamaghelyan writes that,
With liberal democracy on the retreat and illiberal forces ascendant, decentralized and non-hierarchical transnational networks are emerging as a key structure that might sustain peacebuilding efforts in the short-term and pave a post-Westphalian pathway for grassroots political engagement in the long-term (14).
Given the growing physical and virtual transnational spaces, future research could consider further examining the transnationality of peacebuilding efforts that aim to transform protracted violence into dialogue based on mutual respect. Peace research especially has a duty to go beyond the accepted norms of considering diasporas as transporters of conflict, and on the contrary, look into the possibilities it entails for overcoming the closed borders of the South Caucasus.
Gamaghelyan, P. (2022). Caucasus edition: Decentralized transnational network as a pivotal structure for peacebuilding in non-democratic environments. Action Research, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/14767503211070513
Geybullayeva, A. (2020). As Armenians and Azerbaijanis clash worldwide, activists petition for peaceful dialogue. Global Voices. Retrieved from https://globalvoices.org/2020/08/03/as-armenians-and-azerbaijanis-clash-worldwide-activists-petition-for-peaceful-dialogue/
Féron, É., & Lefort, B. (2019). Diasporas and conflicts – understanding the nexus, Diaspora Studies, 12(1), 34-51. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/09739572.2018.1538687
Lederach, J. P. (2005). The moral imagination: The art and soul of building peace. Oxford University Press, Incorporated.
Tölölyan, Kh. (2007) ‘The Armenian diaspora and the Karabagh conflict’, in Hazel Smith and Paul Stares (eds) Diasporas in conflict: peace-makers and peace-wreckers, Tokyo: United Nations University Press, pp. 106–28
OC Media (2020). Peace Statement. Retrieved from https://oc-media.org/peace-statement/
 Fighting between Armenians and Azerbaijanis spills beyond Caucasus | Eurasianet
 As Armenians and Azerbaijanis clash worldwide, activists petition for peaceful dialogue · Global Voices
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