Children, soldiers and tanks

A tech festival in Baku has sparked discussion on whether it's acceptable to fly fighter jets over the capital of a country that has just come out of war

The roar of fighter jets is ineluctably associated with war. I believe that for many people it causes fear and panic, or at least anxiety and discomfort. But the Azerbaijani authorities have a different logic, which they seem to have been guided by when organizing Teknofest-2022. I hate to admit it, but their calculation turned out to be correct.

The event took place in Baku at the end of May and was presented as an aerospace and technology festival. But most city residents remember it for the deafening noise of fighter jets, which lasted days, and is now a trending topic on Azerbaijani social networks.
Some worried about the effect the sound would have on war veterans and others with such experience. It's unlikely that veterans want to hear it again, they wrote, and plenty of other citizens with similar experience surely don't need it either.

But those upset by the aerial performance were immediately branded with the charge of anti-patriotism. Many Bakuvians say they felt joy and pride, not fear.

History is replete with examples of people being taught to feel euphoria at the din of war.
This applies not only to Azerbaijan - any society is suggestible, and easier to militarize than to introduce notions of peace. It seems to me such euphoria is never really natural. And most importantly, it has not yet benefited a single society.
This is why military fanfare - air shows, parades, salutes and gunfire, the entire romanticization
of war - is gradually going out of fashion in all developed nations, though perhaps more slowly than we would like.

The celebration of victory in the style of “look what cool tanks we have, we can do it again” are being replaced by days of commemoration of the dead and “so it doesn't happen again.” In London, on Victory in Europe Day, a memorial service is held in front of an obelisk in memory of those who died in the two World Wars, and there are no military parades.

Children dressed in military uniforms no longer evoke tenderness. On the contrary, many psychologists (mainly Russian, because this tradition is widespread mainly in Russia and the post-Soviet space) now oppose this tradition.

And such sentiments as “women give birth to future heroes” are more often interpreted in modern society as “women give birth to cannon fodder” not just by feminists, or even only by women.
The Azerbaijani opposition is even more militant than the government when it comes to children. For example, well-known opposition leader Tofig Yagublu recently complained to the authorities that they did not allow children to climb tanks in the war trophy park. After that, Azerbaijani anti-militarists mocked him for a week. On one hand, it is somehow embarrassing to make fun of Yagublu - he is also a veteran of the first Karabakh war and a former political prisoner. On the other, you expect more constructive criticism and suggestions from a man of such background.
And again, the same paradox - Yagublu expresses the opinion of the majority that children would really enjoy playing on tanks. But that's why we are adults, to understand that not everything which gives children joy is for the benefit of their health.

I also liked to play war games as a child, musketeers and gang shootouts. Children (and many adults too) like wrestling - maybe it's in the structure of our psyche, or it happened historically, I don't know. But the task of civilization is precisely to change historically established things and to control the inherent aggression of the species, and not to cultivate it. To get rid of the cult of force and violence.
The romanticization of war is possible mainly through focusing only on the "before" rather than the "after" picture of militarism. A tank or soldier may look attractive in themselves - but it means war, massacres, ruined cities, blood, smoke and darkness.

And even if the soldier is "ours", it isn't inherently good. It would be better if they didn’t exist at all, neither “we” nor “them”. The romanticization of war is mostly a series of platitudes. And the public continues to believe that “educating patriotism in children” means instilling militarism in them.

For those Azerbaijanis who buy their children out of army service, as happens in the vast majority of wealthy families, there is a gloomy irony in a “patriotic” upbringing. Their children will be photographed against the backdrop of tanks, while strangers will be in the hatch.
Iraj Iskenderov
Trajectories is a media project that tells stories of people whose lives have been impacted by conflicts in the South Caucasus. We work with authors and editors from across the South Caucasus and do not support any one side in any conflict. The publications on this page are solely the responsibility of the authors. In the majority of cases, toponyms are those used in the author’s society. The project is implemented by GoGroup Media and International Alert and is funded by the European Union
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