Can I be and should I be neutral?
A brief thread on #Artsakh/ #Armenia/ #Azerbaijan, neutrality and what it means.

Through my work at @CONIFAOfficial I first heard about #NagornoKarabakh in 2014, when they wanted to join the organisation. I had no idea where or what it is.
I did my homework and read about a hundred articles, watched documentaries and read a book about the region. It depressed me, as most stories were about wars, ethnic cleansing and human rights violations.
Still, I decided to see it myself when Nagorno Karabakh invited me...
It was my first time leaving the EU and the first time traveling alone (without my parents or my girlfriend). I was naturally nervous and I haven't heard of my host for days when I landed in Yerevan and thus had no idea if they'll pick me up.
They did. A smiling driver, who I shared no language with, picked me up and drove me to #Artsakh the next day. He was lovely and stopped repeatedly drinks and prepared a lunch for me and my colleague. I forgot my fears and just started to appreciate the hospitality.
Three intense days followed. I met a Foreign Minister for the first time in my life, then a president (Bako Sahakyan) and gave my first ever TV interview still in the presidential office. Everyone, even our driver, insisted to get me some small present to take home.
Most importantly, however, I felt free and surrounded by some of the best people I have ever met. Ironically, I barely have been at a place that felt so peaceful as the conflict zone I was standing in felt. I loved every second and was sad to leave (to Abkhazia).
While on the worst sleep trainer in the world (Yerevan to Tbilisi) I received a tweet from the #Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry. "We saw your post from the illegally occupied territory. You are now persona non-grata". I found my name on a list shortly after.
A year later, I was invited to #Baku by a State University to attend a conference on conflict resolution, fully paid for by the #Azerbaijan government and opened by Mr. Aliyev himself. I agreed, as I was excited to see "the other side" and hear their arguments...
A week before my flight to Baku, they mailed me again. "We know you work with terrorists! Stay home, we do not want to speak to terrorists from Armenia propaganda!". To be honest, the tone of that mail coming from a university shocked me.
On a conference in Germany in 2016, I finally had the chance to speak to several #Azerbaijani researchers about the conflict. They were lovely and we had nice and endless talks, although it was shocking which impressions they had from #Artsakh ("They have no electricity or food")
In 2019, I started to prepare the @CONIFAOfficial #EFC2019 in #Artsakh. Here, things got bad. The #Azerbaijan embassy in Berlin wrote me several times, threatening me directly. "You better do not go, it might get really dangerous during the week you are there..."
They also accused me to be an #Armenia|n propagandist and told me that they convinced the German government to deport Azerbaijan state enemies like myself to Baku to imprison me. I wrote to the politician they cited, who confirmed such talks never happened.
Days later, an employee of the #Azerbaijan UN mission contacted my wife (!) on Facebook. "Speak to your husband and make him cancel the event or you will be a widow afterwards!". She literally freaked out and I did - I asked the #Azerbaijan embassy in Berlin for a meeting.
The embassy offered to meet me in their embassy in Berlin, but strictly refused to meet me anywhere else. Weeks after Kashoggi, I kindly rejected, referring to my own security. They sent me a last passive-aggressive mail and gave up.
Of course I went and thus returned to #Artsakh for what became some of the best days in my life. Again, smiling faces and an unbelievable hospitality reigned during the visit. I remember a guy Martakert who invited me for BBQ with his family. I didn't know even him.
I remember president Bako Sahakyan who ended our formal meeting after 20 minutes saying "let's meet tonight without the suits and all" and the incredible dinner we had in the garden of his house. Everyone felt like a friend I haven't met before. President to bypasser.
While still in #Artsakh, I received about 100 death threads. By mail, via Facebook and here on Twitter. Hundreds more followed the weeks later. The government gave out another statement calling me and others state enemy.
People from the government openly called for bombing me and footballers in parliament. I contacted the Azerbaijan embassy in Berlin again. They just replied that they will get their lands back and I better don't get too used to my friends there.
So no, I cannot be neutral. I can't have the same view about people that were curious about me and invited me to be one of theirs every single time I met or spoke them and a government that threatened to imprison or kill me - and my friends.
I do have a few friends in Baku that I stay in touch with. But the #Azerbaijan government is the most hostile, aggressive, inhumane, horrible and dehumanising regime I have ever had contact with. They never had any interest in debate or dialogue and so I struggle to still have it
On the other hand, I called out propaganda bullshit when my Armenian friends ever echoed any - and they often agreed or accepted that I don't believe it. They were always open for debates and dialogues and other opinions. They actually wanted to hear from my friends in Baku, too!
Now, the regime that met me with hate over the last 5 years is bombing my friends that met me with smiles in #Artsakh to get some abstract legal right over territory. Being neutral means to condemn that and to be offended and disgusted by Aliyev and his actions.
I am neutral when it comes to the political solution. #Karabakh as an Azeri semi-autonomous region, an independent #Artsakh or an integration into #Armenia. I honestly don't care about lines on a map. As long as the people on all sides of these lines can live in peace.
Today, they can't. There is no peace, as long as that dictator in #Baku bombs civilians in what he says is his own country. I doubt that my friends in #Artsakh could live peacefully under his regime, too, sadly. But peace is what matters, not lines drawn on maps.
So, to conclude: Peace matters. #Aliyev is the opposite of peace. He wants war, he wants death and he wants devastation. I am not neutral to this and I don't think I should be.
You can follow @SaschaDueerkop.
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