Stories of Armenians and Azerbaijanis living together throughout the period of the past half century is a central topic of a documentary "Memories untold" created by Nane Khachikyan, from Armenia, and Gulara Azimzada, from Azerbaijan. By implementing their "From Storytelling to Peacebuilding" Micro Project, the two young women wanted to share their own stories of co-existence in the countries divided by a long-standing conflict.

Sharing individual stories

The primary goal of the documentary was to show that peaceful coexistence is still possible. Both women were hoping to inspire more people to work towards the peace-building process. In Gulara’s words "The film is the strongest tool to impact people to change their minds both negatively and positively." 

The authors managed to find interview partners and started the shooting process. In the midst of the project, they had to amend their plans for the film production. In September 2023, the Azerbaijani government launched a military operation against Nagorno-Karabakh, which resulted in many deaths in the regional capital Stepanakert. Tens of thousands ethnic Armenians had to flee. These conditions made the work on the project even more complicated. 

Nane and Gulara's film was aimed at filling the gap the media failed to fill. In Nane’s words "The hatred that is spread needs to be faced. This film is an attempt to tell a story that has not been told to the public. I think it is important to hear stories of people engaged in the peace-building process". 

Challenges and lessons learned in production

In their documentary, they interview four people from Armenia and Azerbaijan, who speak about their experiences of living in the places, where overcoming the burden of hostility towards each other is still a very pressing issue. Searching for protagonists turned out to be a much more challenging task than both of them expected. People were reluctant to talk to them and were skeptical about the project. Another obstacle Nane and Gulara faced was the distance, both figuratively and literally. Producing a movie whilst being geographically separated and not being able to film together even in the post-Covid times is hard work. 

"Merging the two separate sides of the story into one single product is a challenge because of large file transfers and coordinating the vision of filmmakers. It is still difficult to transfer files, edit them, send them back, get feedback, and transfer them again. Online real-time editing does not work for this kind of project. (…) In addition, summer is the busiest time for filmmakers and building a team requires a lot of time and effort", said Nane.

"I have learned to be patient, because it saves relationships, and sometimes I feel anxious because technically we created many obstacles in our way to implementing the documentary. I learned to overcome numerours many rejections in the process of finding my characters, since many of them were highly sensitive old people. There are still a lot of things that need to be done, and peacebuilding is a long process to achieve," – Gulara added. They are thankful for good communication and support from the filmmakers, that Nane and Gulara collaborated with helped their creative process.

Nane and Gulara met during the MEET UP! Youth Conference "Power of Youth" in Tbilisi 2022. The idea of the Micro Project emerged in this vibrant and joyful atmosphere. Both participants admitted that the thought of implementing a project on such a sensitive subject was not an obvious one, since passing the barrier and reflecting on the war that causes so much pain and suffering in both communities is a lot to process.

For now, both producers are reluctant to make the documentary available to a broader public. "In a situation where 120,000 Armenians are being brutally dislocated, we don't think making the film public will be perceived the way we aim it to. Especially since the message we send does not seem to get across what is happening now," Nane explained. 

Watch this extraordinary documentary

Nane Khachikyan studies management at the American University of Armenia. Apart from her studies, she is actively engaged in academic research projects in social science and oral history. Although she works in product management with the focus on environmental resilience, apart from it, she has a strong passion for the arts. Narrative films and animation are her hobbies and recently she opened her production company to be able to explore short narrative films in her free time. 

Gulara Azimzada has recently moved to Dubai to start a new chapter in her life. She is currently working as a real estate marketer and has professional experience in large-scale sports events and expertise in advertisement, branding, communication, and operations. Film production is a hobby she is passionate about and with the "MEET UP" project she is bringing into life the experience she gained in production of documentaries from a creative producer’s perspective. 

Written by Olga Dietze