Policy Memos

A Return to Tradition? Aspects of Postwar Political Culture in Nagorno-Karabakh

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In the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev’s promotion of democratic liberties and values, including freedom of speech and pluralism of opinion, provided a basis for the development of a number of ethnic conflicts on the territory of the USSR. The succession of events that led to war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis began with a dispute over the jurisdiction of the historically contested Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region of Soviet Azerbaijan. In February 1988, the population throughout the region flooded the main square of its capital, Stepanakert, demanding unification with Armenia. Crowds of people roared, chanting: “Miatsum-Karabakh-Hayastan!” [Reunification-Karabakh-Armenia].

This national celebratory spirit soon faded after war broke out. In fact, the Karabakh war became a tangible breaking point in the people’s construction of time and identity, in which the shape of a new post-communist political culture was born. An extremely romanticized notion of national brotherhood served as the catalyst arousing new social energies. The components of the new political culture that emerged consisted of a combination of reinforced neo-traditionalism and neo-liberal discourse and practice.

Specifically, the renewal of older, patriarchal models of communal relationships became an optimal strategy for resistance and victory. The reinstatement of a philosophy that valued a “return to the village” and reliance on extended family became the primary formula for survival. The transgression of gender roles, including the rise of female fighters, was a second, opposing, strategy by which all resources were mobilized for victory. Paradoxically, however, such practices also served to reinforce traditional ideologies of male domination. [...] 

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About the author

Research Fellow
Institute for Archaeology and Ethnography, Armenia