Cultural Literacy: Azerbaijan

Here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on Azerbaijan. This is a full-page worksheet with seven questions, so it has utility beyond the classroom do-now exercises for which most of the Cultural Literacy materials on this blog were meant to serve.

Why would a teacher need such a thing? I don’t know that one would. On the other hand, the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which lies between Azerbaijan and Armenia, is contested territory that has produced armed conflict between these two nations. As the Soviet Union was dismantling itself and falling apart simultaneously at the same time in the late 1980s and 1990s, a number of ethnic and territorial conflicts, long suppressed by the Pax Sovietica, flared up not only across the Union, but in Eastern European lands controlled by the Soviet Empire as well. The atrocious dissolution of Yugoslavia is but one example of this dynamic at work in the post-Soviet world.

Another is the the First Nagorno-Karabakh War. I remember following events there all through the late ’80s and early ’90s and especially in the latter period, when I was actively engaged as an undergraduate in a program of Russian and Soviet Studies. Like events in Yugoslavia, the first conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh included war crimes and genocide (clothed, as it was in Yugoslavia, in the revealingly clumsy euphemism “ethnic cleansing”). I understood that the 1994 ceasefire didn’t guarantee peace in the region; it only meant that after six years of internecine ethnic violence, the combatants had temporarily exhausted themselves.

So I wasn’t terribly surprised to hear that on September 27, 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, hostilities between these two former Soviet republics had once again flared. Like the first war, evidence of atrocities surfaced. This time, Vladimir Putin was involved in the ceasefire agreement.Now 2,000 Russian troops  are deployed as a peacekeeping force in the contested territory. In fact, Nagorno-Karabakh, as I understand it, remains disputed, so the world may well see more fighting in the area.

Needless to say, this situation opens up a lot of space for conceptual instruction. Students can see in this, with the right materials and teaching, ancient ethnic hostilities, conflict resolution, the real political and diplomatic consequences of the dissolution of empires, war crimes as military strategy (which connects to ancient ethnic enmities), and a host of other topics in the social sciences. A unit on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would help students to grind their own lens, so to speak, for understanding ancient enmities between nationalities, and how ethnic and territorial conflict, and the issues that drive them, persist in the world. While analysts–and both sides in the conflict, interestingly–appear reluctant to characterize the wars in Nagorno-Karabakh as religious, it does look like there has been friction between Armenian Christians and Azeri Muslims for centuries. In other words, another go-to source for mutual self-destruction to which humans have turned since time immemorial (or at least since formally organized religions have existed) and an important conceptual framework for high school students to understand.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

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