Prepared by CRRC-Armenia International Fellow Benjamin Barnard
On 27 March 2012, EPF, in cooperation with the Swiss Peace Foundation, hosted a seminar aimed at exploring civil society’s role in building peace within the South Caucasus. The conference, held in Bern, Switzerland, was attended by a wide-range of civil society representatives, including World Vision Switzerland and International Alert Brussels, as well as the Swiss ambassadors to Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
In order to identify possible opportunities for civil society to impact upon the peace-building process, the seminar focussed on current research data on the attitudes of those living in the region to peace and to each other. It was hoped that, from such a foundation, it would be possible to develop confidence-building initiatives aimed at reducing mistrust, holding governments accountable for their decisions, and supporting current European conflict resolution activities.
In light of such a task, CRRC Regional Director, Dr. Hans Gutbrod presented data-sets providing information on values and attitudes in the South Caucasus and on the potential role of civil society in the peace-building process. Each of these was followed by expert analysis of the meaning of the results and a question and answer session.
In addition to Dr. Gutbrod’s presentations, CRRC-Armenia Country Director, Dr. Heghine Manasyan presented a data-set highlighting some of the main challenges to peace-building in the South Caucasus today.
The findings Dr. Manasyan presented indicated that such challenges were substantial. For instance, a significant majority of both Armenians (64%) and Azerbaijanis (99%) disapproved of doing business with each other.
Equally as concerning for those who aim to build peace was the fact that, in each of the countries involved in the analysis (Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia), overall levels of trust in the EU and the UN had fallen from their 2008 levels.
Perhaps, though, such results should not be viewed as step backwards, but as indicating a new way forward. The same survey revealed that the majority of respondents from both Armenia (72%) and Azerbaijan (53%) would welcome greater involvement from Russia in finding a solution to the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. Such results might suggest that, in some areas at least, there is a prevailing attitude that certain issues within the South Caucasus would be better dealt with by neighbouring countries which hold a better understanding of their intricacies.
Of course, such a solution will not be suitable in all cases, and the important role of the EU, the UN, and other international organisations in peace-building should not be undermined. Indeed, Dr. Gutbrod’s final presentation, which focussed upon the potential bright spots for peace-building in the region, highlighted that, while levels of trust in the EU may have fallen, the majority of citizens in each of the surveyed countries remain in favour of membership.
Additionally, in its concerted attempt not to be overwhelmed by the pessimism that often accompanies attempts at peace-building, the seminar’s final panel session identified several areas of commonality and encouragement. One such area was that the majority of respondents were in favour of the investigation and prosecution of suspected war criminals, thus displaying a universal respect for justice and human rights.
If the seminar and the results presented within it demonstrated anything, it is that peace-building is a difficult and complex process aimed at solving a wide variety of differing yet interlocking problems. As such, it would seem that resolving such problems will require an equally wide variety of solutions. But the results presented, and even the very existence of the seminar, demonstrated the existence of the most important starting point for peace-building; a universal agreement that the current situation is unacceptable.