Opening up the debate on 20 years of peacebuilding
Communities across Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh have been sharing views on the achievements and gaps in 20 years of civil peacebuilding efforts, as well as future prospects, in a series of open discussion events held by the joint expert group supported by International Alert (see also the Project Highlight Reflections from the joint expert group).
The events aimed to widen the debate on peacebuilding in the Nagorny Karabakh context to include more diverse audiences and stimulate public engagement in discussions at the level of civil society. Each event centred on the presentation of 'Advancing the prospects for peace: 20 years of civil peacebuilding in the context of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict' (English/Russian), a report published by International Alert in August which reflects the findings of an expert group from different sides of the conflict. The authors presented their joint publication at 25 events, reaching remote regions, including along the border and the Line of Contact, as well as the capitals. Around 600 people took part, including civil society representatives, politicians, analysts, journalists, academics, students and other interested groups.
At each event, presentations were followed by lively open discussion on questions raised in the joint research and the implications for future peacebuilding efforts in the region. In Azerbaijan, a sense of renewed momentum and appetite for further open debates was felt. Participants described the events as being the first opportunity in a long time for public engagement in peacebuilding discussions. The importance of engaging marginalised groups such as ex-combatants and internally displaced persons in such events was widely emphasised. There were also comments on the potential contribution of the experience amassed by peacebuilders to reaching a peace agreement.
In Nagorny Karabakh, participants noted the importance of exchanging information on peacebuilding efforts between the conflicting societies in order to improve understanding of different points of view. Many also highlighted the need for greater efforts to increase awareness and engagement in peacebuilding activities across wider society, particularly to reach communities in the regions. Support for independent media was widely recommended as a way to challenge the mainstreaming of enemy images and provide alternative narratives on the conflict. Some participants also emphasised social media and new media tools, increasingly popular in the region, as potential channels for engaging more people in peacebuilding discussions and activities.
At events in Armenia, attention was drawn to the value of grassroots work in helping to build public support for a resolution at the political level. Some participants registered demand for more discussions within the society to understand the value of peace, make civil peacebuilding processes more transparent and build public support for them. Others emphasised communication and dialogue between people from different sides of the conflict as vital for building mutual understanding and a foundation for peace.
The events attracted widespread interest across the region. A range of local mainstream and independent media outlets reported on the public debates as well as on the launch of the publication (links to articles can be found in the Project Highlight Reflections from the joint expert group). The authors are now preparing for a new series of local events based around their joint study of the factors behind the Northern Irish peace process.