Azerbaijan International

Winter 2002 (10.4)
Pages 44-45

Article from Autumn 1994

Perceptions of War
Children's Art Depicts a Society in Deep Grief
by Anne Kressler




Posters: Clockwise from above left: Nigar Aliyeva 9; Sasha Morohov 9; Nigar Shamsiyeva 7; Aysel Jahangirov 13.

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) [under the direction of Art Director Katana Sharifova].

Left: Art by Dima Vidrin, 13

The majority of works, painted in watercolor, 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 or revenge.

Studied collectively, they provide considerable insight into the prevailing attitudes about the war, especially in terms of what is not represented in the paintings. For example, the usual glamour, romanticism and adventure associated with war is missing. Battle scenes are depicted against the backdrop of mountain villages and show a strong sense of realism. The children's choices of muted colors are meaningful, too. Perhaps art supplies were limited, but then again, it may have been the oppressiveness of war that has caused them to choose somber browns, blues and greens more frequently than dramatic reds.

Left: Rustam Guliyev, 6

Demonization of the enemy is extremely rare in this exhibition. Armenians are not depicted as monsters, except in the isolated cases of one or two children who are only six years old, and even then, the images are more frightful than hateful. (One sketch looks more like a centipede from outer space than any kind of identifiable earth creature.)

Demonization is a powerful tool that is often used to energize war efforts. Take, for example, the United States' initiation into the Gulf War a few years ago [1990]. Before the attacks were made, a conscious effort was made to win U.S. public support against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He was often depicted as monstrous, villainous and primitive. Insinuations were often made about camels - implying backwardness. [Former] President Bush referred to him as Hitler, attempting to bridge the connection from the unknown (since most Americans had little knowledge about Saddam Hussein prior to the war) to something unquestionably evil in most people's minds. An entire series of "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.

Art: Turkan Gurbanov, 10
For Azerbaijanis, this war is particularly painful since many people used to share deep friendships with Armenians. "We used to be friends," they'll tell you in their efforts to describe this great tragedy. In the past, intermarriages were quite frequent.

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 have even happened. It doesn't make sense to them. Azerbaijanis are very gentle. It signifies that they are ready to meld with different cultures, different trading cultures and different contexts."

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 or driven by hate.

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