Autumn 1994 (2.3)
Perception of War Depicts a Society in Deep Grief
by Anne Kressler
If children's art provides insight into the psychology of a nation in the midst of war, then Azerbaijan can be said to be experiencing deep stages of grief-at least, that's the obvious message in an exhibit entitled "Children's Perceptions of War" at the Children's Art Gallery in Baku (28th of May Street). The majority of works, painted in water color, focus on the loneliness, pain, uncertainty, and fear of this horrible thing called war which has battered and scarred Azerbaijanis and Armenians for the past six years. Generally speaking, the paintings are best characterized by their sadness and great sense of loss, not by anger and revenge (see Back Cover).
Studied collectively, they provide considerable insight into prevailing attitudes about the war, especially in the context of what is not represented in the drawings. For example, the usual glamour, romanticism and adventure is missing. Battle scenes drawn against the backdrop of mountain village landscapes show a strong sense of realism. The children's choice of muted colors are meaningful, too. Perhaps, art supplies were limited but, again, it may have been the oppressiveness of the war on everyday life which has caused them to choose somber browns, blues and greens more frequently than dramatic reds.
Above Left: Nighar Aliyeva, 9
Above Right: Rustam Guliyev, 6
Left: Dilara Talibova, 10
"Demonization of the enemy" is extremely rare. Armenians are not depicted as monsters except in the isolated cases of one or two children who were only six years old, and even then the images are more frightful than hateful. (One sketch looked more like an outer space centipede with a hundred legs than any kind of identifiable earth creature).
Demonization is always a powerful tool that energizes war efforts. Take for example, the US initiation in the Gulf War a few years ago. Before the attacks were made, a conscious effort was made to win US public support against Iraq's Saddam Hussein. He was often depicted as monstrous, villainous and primitive. Insinuations were often made about camels-implying backwardness.
President Bush referred to him as Hitler, attempting to bridge the connection from the unknown (since most Americans had little knowledge about Hussein prior to the war) to something unquestionably evil in most people's minds. An entire joke series-"Saddam Hussein jokes"-spread through the whole society, fanned by television, print media, and political cartoonists.
But in Azerbaijan, which has had ample time for deep hatreds to become entrenched even among children, such demonization is clearly absent.
For many Azerbaijanis, this war is particularly painful since nearly everyone used to share deep friendships with Armenians. "We used to be friends," they'll tell you in their efforts to describe this immense tragedy. In the past, intermarriages were quite frequent. (See Azerbaijan International, Winter 1994, "We Used to Be Friends," by Svetlana Turyalay.)
Paolo Lembo, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Representative, who has been living in Baku for the last two years recently observed, "Azerbaijanis are very mild by nature. You rarely hear anyone speaking aggressively against Armenians. It's very strange. In other countries where I've worked under similar circumstances, there's an immense hatred that permeates the entire society. You feel it everywhere. But not in Azerbaijan. It's as if the people are in a state of shock and disbelief that this war could even happen. It doesn't make sense to them. Azerbaijanis are very gentle. It signifies that they are ready to melt with different cultures, different trading cultures and different contexts."
Above Left: Sasha Morojov, 9
Above Right: Turkan Gurbanso, 10
Bottom: Nighar Shamsiyeva, 7
It would seem that these children's paintings confirm Lembo's impressions-that the people making the deepest impressions on these youth are not characteristically vengeful and driven by hate.
From Azerbaijan International (2.3) Summer Issue 1994.
© Azerbaijan International 1994. All rights reserved.
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