“Speaking out for the displaced” – Azeri IDPs and NGOs work together to support displaced people across Azerbaijan
Under EPNK-2 Conciliation Resources (CR) together with its local partner the Society for Humanitarian Research in Baku has helped several Azeri NGOs to work in a coalition, led by Avaz Hasanov of the Society for Humanitarian Research in Baku. The NGOs, who otherwise focus on a range of issues, coordinate their work to foster more grassroots IDP activism and improve the needs and rights of displaced communities in Azerbaijan.
Few grassroots activists have emerged from among the displaced in Azerbaijan to date, and until recently there were no NGOs that represent the interests of IDPs explicitly. In some respects the situation of displaced people in Azerbaijan is similar to that of IDPs in Georgia fifteen years ago. Through patient work over fifteen years, however, and with Conciliation Resources’ support, local IDP activists and NGOs in Georgia have created an active civil society IDP network ‘Synergy’ that addresses the needs of IDPs in their own communities and at local and national political levels. Over time Synergy members have become established sources of advice and information for government officials in relevant Georgian ministries, local self-governance, parliament, and take active part in policy-making that takes into account the real needs of grassroots communities.
In 2013 CR facilitated three meetings in Tbilisi and Baku among Azerbaijani civil society activists and members of the Georgian IDP network Synergy (in March, May and November) to share and compare experiences of displacement between the two contexts and exchange ideas and lessons learned on working collectively to nurture the political participation of IDPs.
Following their first meeting in March last year, a group of Azerbaijani civil society organizations decided to create a coalition “Opportunities through Unity” (“Ob’edinennye Vozmozhnosti”). The group currently includes ten local NGOs and brings together activists and displaced persons from across Azerbaijan, including representatives from civil society in Agdam, Barda, Ganja, Kazakh, Kelbajar, Lenkoran and Mingechevir.
Over the past year the coalition members have been actively addressing displacement issues across Azerbaijan. They have engaged with IDP settlements, government and local authorities, and with the media. The IDP coalition is sharing information about their work with a wider audience through articles in the local media, press releases and press conferences for journalists in Baku and the regions.
In summer 2013 a competition for micro-projects was launched and ten small projects were selected to engage displaced persons and build their capacity and confidence. These projects, with a very basic budget of 500-1,000 Euros each, included computer training, English classes and advocacy coaching and were implemented across Azerbaijan between November 2013 and February 2014:
- Ganja - training on advocacy for IDP rights for 15-20 IDPs, including youth, to help them to make their voices heard at local level;
- Agdam and Kelbajar – Certified computer training for 80 young IDPs;
- Mingechevir – Organisation of an IDP needs assessment through a door-to-door survey and dialogue meetings between IDPs and local authorities (including the State Committee for IDPs) to discuss problems and mutual interests;
- Lenkoran – free legal assistance for IDPs by a local lawyer to support IDPs in addressing problems and complaints at local level;
- Sheki – training for IDPs and local NGOs on advocacy, assisting them on addressing IDP issues and aspirations and opening the door to a dialogue with local government;
- Baku & IDP settlements in the regions – publication of 500 booklets with poems and texts in Azeri for children in IDP settlements to address the shortage of children’s books (especially in Azeri) in IDP communities;
- Baku – support to IDP women in a settlement of 50 families who are accommodated in a former school in Baku. Initiatives include helping women by setting goals for personal development, assistance in finding work but also the construction of a bathroom for women only (which was previously lacking).
These projects are a good example of how small initiatives with a high level of local ownership can contribute to making a difference in the lives of displaced persons at local level even with very limited financial means.
After almost one year the NGOs involved in the IDP coalition already see progress in working together. There is active cooperation and exchange of information and experience among the different NGO partners in Baku and the regions, and they are able to strengthen their activities at local level by working in partnership. They participate in each other’s events and trainings and share findings with their own local IDP communities. There is a lot of enthusiasm among the partners of the coalition and an interest to broaden their activities and, where possible and appropriate, become more visible across Azerbaijan.
CR has also continued its focus on displacement in the Nagorny Karabakh context by commissioning local research into the experience and views of displaced people currently living in the ‘occupied territories’. CR is currently working with a local analyst to edit an initial draft of the research, and making plans to discuss it in a cross-conflict format within its Karabakh Contact Group, with a view to using this material to better inform practice and policy.