Anastasia Lavrina by Thais Mallon

A World Water Forum is made of people: Anastasia Lavrina's fight for peace

Water is everyone's right, so is living in a region without armed conflict. Peace is her battle flag and journalism is her weapon, according to Anastasia.

"Technically, I am Russian, but Azerbaijan is my country and, as soon as I was born, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict began, as well as the aggressions and the arrival of refugees. In 1992, when I was still a baby, the Khojaly genocide happened, when, in one night, 613 people from a village were killed by the Armenians. To this day, this massacre is not internationally recognized as genocide. As I grew up, I faced this problem. I saw refugees arriving from occupied territories, in need of medical attention, medicines, equipment and a place to live. In 2016, when I started working at the organization I currently work for, I went to the first area in the military border and met some refugees. It was very emotional. On the way, you see children who don't have schools to attend playing in inappropriate places. When you arrive, they hug you and ask you when their problem will be solved and what they need to do to end the war so that their parents and siblings do not die. That’s when I was struck by reality. Since then, I have been trying to raise awareness about this, not only about the conflict in my country, but in different countries in the region - in Syria, Ukraine, about what was happening before in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. I want to raise awareness and find a way to develop a platform with a lot of journalists and members of civil society who want to join us and make the voices of refugees and internally displaced people be heard loudly."

 

 

A graduate of International Relations, Anastasia Lavrina found, in journalism, a way to give space to the Azeris – as those born in Azerbaijan are called – in the Nagorno-Karabakh War. This war has historical roots, but worsened with the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Since then, between more heated and less heated periods of war, Azerbaijan and Armenia fight for Nagorno-Karabakh, which is historical part of Azerbaijan with social, and cultural national distinctions. Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding regions are under the Armenian occupation, but in law, they still remains as part of Azerbaijan. This has created an unprecedented number of internally displaced people (IDPs) and international refugees forced to live in temporary camps of the governments of Azerbaijan.

The dispute gets even worse because the Sargsang reservoir is in the region taken by the Armenians. In recent years, Armenians have made political use of the water resources and hampered access by the Azeris. In 2014, Milica Marković, a Bosnian member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), issued a report outlining the environmental risks arising from the lack of regular maintenance in the dam and the possibility of the border regions with Azerbaijan being deprived of their water supply, damaging intensive farming, industrial activities and consumer habits. In June 2016, the White House formally responded to a petition on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and the environmental dangers represented by the Sarsang reservoir. In response, the Obama administration expressed its support for Resolution 2085 and called for a meeting of technical experts to discuss water management and inspections in the reservoir dam, but since then, with the change in the White House, the issue has not gone any farther".

As a journalist for Eurasia Diary, Anastasia has connected journalists interested in covering the region so they can see for themselves what is going on and report the facts as primary sources. Available in five languages, the communication channel is an initiative of the International Eurasia Press Fund (IEPF) and the Eurasia Media Network, two entities that publish analyzes of regional conflicts beyond the Caucasus region. "We are a platform for people to express their opinions, and, in particular, exchange ideas on how to build peace – how ordinary people like us can communicate and share experiences to bring about a rapid end to conflicts."

"Journalism is very efficient regarding what it does. It's dangerous, but people understand conflict better. In my experience, this kind of coverage is not difficult as long as you love your work and do it without any negative consequences for yourself. We provide journalists with the opportunity to do what they love: travel, interview and see, with their own eyes, the conflict areas," she says. According to Anastasia, the organization recently started an educational work in the capital, Baku. A center for diversity has been created, where people have the chance to study different languages and, also, to study abroad through study exchanges.

More than talking about water shortage, Anastasia wants to draw attention to the problem of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). "I participated in a panel discussion at the Forum on refugees and IDPs problems, but it was a small one. We have to get more attention, occupy a large auditorium, full of journalists, to jumpstart cooperation among professionals, social and governmental organizations willing to address the issue", she emphasizes.

At 27, Anastasia already knows she wants to start a family and have children, and wants them to live in Azerbaijan. In her view, it is a developing country, with several interesting energy projects being implemented in cooperation with neighboring nations. The economy is doing well, but the conflict with the Armenians threatens the stability of the country. "If we lose our stability we may find ourselves in a war and that is exactly what we don't want. If we do not resolve the conflict, we may never know tomorrow. I really want to see my future family living in proper conditions without risking their lives because of the shootings, with good education, sustainable environment and proper work conditions. I need to help my country. "