Lessons learned from peacebuilding in the NK conflict context – reflections from the joint expert group
International Alert is supporting a core group of five Azerbaijani and Armenian analysts and civil society leaders participating in an expert dialogue group to meet and jointly research and discuss mechanisms of public participation in peace processes in other conflict contexts. Based on their findings, the participating experts hold public events in their societies, encouraging discussion around fresh ideas and insights for public debate in the Nagorno-Karabakh context.
The participants of the group are: Avaz Hasanov, Gegham Baghdasaryan, Gulshan Pashayeva, Masis Mayilian and Mikayel Zolyan.
Following their first meeting in November 2012, the group embarked on a research initiative in their societies to identify the achievements and shortcomings of civil peacebuilding efforts in the NK context to date. To this end, the experts from Baku, Yerevan and Stepanakert spent three months conducting focus groups and interviews with over 100 key civil society actors involved in peacebuilding in the NK context, as well as extensive desk research. This participatory process helped to engage wider civil society in looking back as a starting point for discussion of experience from other conflict contexts.
In August 2013 the resulting joint publication was published with the title “Advancing the Prospects for Peace: 20 years of civil peacebuilding in the context of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict” (publication available here).
In the paper, the experts highlight the main successes as well as areas of difficulty experienced by peacebuilders in the region over the past two decades in their efforts to contribute to facilitating a peaceful settlement of the NK conflict. They also identify the needs and potential entry points for more effective peacebuilding work.
Joint messages of Armenian and Azerbaijani experts on 20 years of peacebuilding in and on NK
In their joint research report, the experts agreed on numerous common messages, for example:
- In the Karabakh conflict-context, where the societies are completely isolated from one another, peacebuilding initiatives have been the only way to mitigate the radicalising effect of nationalist rhetoric promoted within the societies.
- A difficulty highlighted is that cross-conflict peacebuilding initiatives between civil society groups depend on support from international organisations. As one participant commented: "Every time, we need a third party to make us sit down at the negotiating table. That is the problem – our lack of civic maturity." On all sides, civil society is seen to be weak and in need of support to strengthen and broaden the reach of alternative thinking on the conflict in society.
- The experts raise the concern that the younger generation has little experience of contact with the other side and is influenced by nationalist rhetoric and enemy images in the media. They therefore recommend a greater focus on efforts to reach young people and strengthen alternative voices in the media.
- Peacebuilding processes over twenty years have led to the emergence of a number of civil society leaders with a clear understanding that mutual trust and compromise are essential for achieving peace. These individuals can play a crucial role in promoting greater understanding and dialogue across the conflict divide. As change agents they provide a key entry point for future peacebuilding work.
Roundtable discussions in local communities across the conflict divide
Following publication in Russian and English in September 2013, International Alert supported the Armenian and Azerbaijani experts in distributing the joint paper in their communities as well as to the authorities in the region and the international community. In September 2013 - January 2014 the experts organised more than thirty roundtable discussions across the conflict divide, in the capitals and in remote regions including along the line of contact, to discuss their findings with a wider audience. There was widespread interest in the topic and in total around 600 people from a diverse range of sectors participated in the discussions. These events also received positive coverage in the media in the region which widened the audience even further. See the following links for examples:
The full text of the International Alert publication, Advancing the Prospects for Peace: 20 years of civil peacebuilding in the context of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, can be downloaded from the Resources page here.