Sevinj Samadzade, change-maker
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. —Margaret Mead
In 1994 when Sevinj Samadzade was born, the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia had reached a ceasefire stage, yet constant skirmishes violated the agreement. In the early days of Soviet Russia, Stalin had arbitrarily drawn national and territorial boundaries deliberately aimed at dividing and isolating cultural groups to better control them. An example is the Nagorno Karabakh oblast—an administrative region—dominated by Armenians inside the boundary of Azerbaijan. Both sides have conducted ethnic cleansings to consolidate power in disputed areas, but one of the worst attacks occurred in 1991 resulting in the massacre of over 600 Azerbaijanis, including women and children, in the village of Khojaly. The attacking Armenians were armed with Soviet weapons. The 1994 ceasefire may have stifled all-out war, but the area still simmers.
The border town that baby Sevinj and her family lived in was bombed, and a few months later her father died of heart disease exacerbated by the bombing. The youth of her generation have all grown up with trauma and/or hatred, Sevinj says, yet the yearning for peace requires the release of anger. “Can you imagine how impossible it is to heal the wound at the same time live with total hatred, an absolute emotional state?” Sevinj asks.
Young people are also a big part of the solution, Sevinj believes. Awareness through education is powerful enough to break down the stereotypes that keep the rage and enmity alive. She is proud to be a part of that process and has found many solid Armenian friends, the active youth from Armenia who are the respective “change-makers” in their country, as Sevinj calls them, the small thoughtful groups that can change the world.
She served as coordinator of the Azerbaijan Confidence-building with South-Caucasus program in 2013, an example of Track II Diplomacy (informal, non-governmental) dealing with the resolution of the ongoing Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Sevinj feels she gained valuable experience and knowledge concerning positive solutions, as well as becoming part of the trust-building process between the organizations of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Despite the loss of her father, despite never feeling secure in her community because of ongoing hostilities, and despite a culture where it was not acceptable for girls to be champions or leaders, Sevinj nevertheless has thrived. Throughout her childhood, she participated in many contests, tournaments, and Intellectual Olympiads. “Interestingly,” she says, “I have always been the winner, both individually and on teams.” She smiles, pointing out that excelling has helped her ignore gender myths.
In her third year as a bachelor student of Public Administration faculty, she is specializing in international relations at the Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. She was appointed as a group leader, a position of great responsibility, and she created and ran a student art club. As a special highlight of her life, Sevinj participated in the Winter University for Young Leaders in 2012 as the leader of her team, competing among four big teams with eighty young leaders of Azerbaijan.
Currently, Sevinj serves as the Focal Point (a main coordinator) of Azerbaijan in the Y-PEER International Network. She describes her team as “absolutely amazing with precious capacities and ambitions.” They hold meetings and activities to promote human rights education, gender equality, ending gender-based violence, and advocacy. She is also a member of the Association of Former United Nations Interns (AFUNI). Sevinj prioritizes community development projects that focus on conflict transformation and peace-building. To help empower women, she started a small enterprise that includes producing jars and jams, a teahouse, marketing in bazaars, and shipping. She won startup funding from the Hansen Foundation to support it.
Academically and practically, Sevinj has focused on conflict resolution, management, transformation, and peace-building for the last three years—a champion of peace, a leader, and a change-maker.