Those closest to Nagorno-Karabakh conflict ‘most supportive of peace’

18 October 2018
Kalbajar/Karvachar, Nagorno-Karabakh (Armine Avetisyan /OC Media)

Those who have experienced the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict first-hand and are most affected by the hostilities are more supportive of peaceful reconciliation, a report from UK-based peacebuilding group International Alert suggests.

‘Envisioning Peace’ is the first large-scale study of attitudes towards the conflict since renewed hostilities during the April 2016 Four-Day War.

The study examined ‘grassroot’ views on Nagorno-Karabakh by those living there and among communities in Azerbaijan and Armenia. Respondents included internally displaced persons (IDPs) and those living near the frontline.

The study suggested that those most affected by the armed confrontations  — living in border communities or near the ceasefire line, and those who had personally faced consequences of the war — were more supportive of peaceful reconciliation with the ‘other’ side.

‘These individuals understand the importance of resolving this conflict and can take practical steps to promote peacebuilding initiatives’, said Carey Cavanaugh, the Chairman of the Board of International Alert, who is a former co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group.

The OSCE Minsk Group, led by Russia, France, and the United States, has been mediating the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh since 1992.

‘The further people live from the frontline, the more strongly they speak about patriotism’, the report said.

Powerlessness to resolve conflict

The report noted the effects of long-lasting hostilities on the communities they had to adapt to, making the conflict a constant part of their lives. ‘I haven’t even thought about what my life would be like without the conflict’, one interviewee says in the study.

This sort of coping and a ‘learned helplessness’  — less faith in having a control over one’s surroundings, life, and future  — among respondents could have a negative influence on peacebuilding initiatives aimed at conflict transformation, the report suggests.

Respondents in all three societies expressed a sense of powerlessness in resolving the conflict. This, the study suggests, together with a low trust in external peacebuilding actors like the Minsk Group, the US, and Russia, pose additional challenges to policymakers and peace negotiators.

Protracted conflict, according to the study, was being accompanied by enemy image propaganda, especially by the Azerbaijani state and media.

The study reflected contrasting attitudes of Azerbaijanis and Armenians on transforming the years-old ‘no peace no war’ stalemate. According to the report, respondents in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia identified the status quo with ‘stability’, while for Azerbaijanis, it evoked the concept of ‘justice’, which they associate with the ‘return of territories’.

International Alert called for more support for initiatives that would help all three societies to overcome a trend of devaluing human life, and to explore more about the lives of individuals in the border areas.

The peacebuilding group also underlined the continued exclusion of refugees in all three societies from the conflict discourse.

‘It is important to put the focus back on the individual who has shouldered the heavy burden of war, their feelings, thoughts, fears and hopes. Personal history must be clearly seen and valued. Only then will it become possible to appreciate a person’s worth and activity’, the report reads.

The group suggests ‘open media projects’ as one of the tools to highlight personal stories.

[Read on OC Media: ‘I would never return home again’ — the Azerbaijani IDPs as old as the conflict]

The group advocated for raising awareness of members of the communities about the personal cost of conflict both in humanitarian and economic terms.

‘If people realise that every individual and every family is paying for the conflict and not for peace, this could help to alter the dynamics of the conflict’, the report reads.

The group recommends highlighting how conflict reinforces social justice grievances, a problem seen as important among respondents from all communities.

‘Status quo no longer in Armenia’s favour’

On Monday, outgoing US Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills identified the unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and resulting economic blockade from Azerbaijan and Turkey as contributing to corruption in Armenia.

‘The status quo is no longer in Armenia’s favour […] Corruption didn’t grow because there are evil people here. The ground was pretty fertile for it because you have closed borders and a very small economy, so it’s very easy to control markets’, Mills said in an interview with EVN Report.

In the same interview, Mills said he had been ‘struck’ by a lack of discussion in Armenia on what could be ‘acceptable solutions and compromise’ for Armenians, and said that settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would require Armenia to ‘return some occupied territories’ to Azerbaijan.

[Read on OC Media: ‘Enhanced security’: Armenian settlers in Nagorno-Karabakh]

On Wednesday, acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan shortly commented the statement, saying that Armenia’s position was known to the public and ‘has not changed’.

Russia, another Minsk Group co-chairing country, recently angered Azerbaijani authorities when on 7 October, Svetlana Zhurova, deputy chair of the Russian Duma’s International Affairs Committee, visited Nagorno-Karabakh without their prior permission.

Her trip was part of the ‘Women for Peace’ initiative under Pashinyan’s wife, Anna Hakobyan.

Zhurova ended up being blacklisted by the Azerbaijani government for ‘illegally’ entering Nagorno-Karabakh.

Renewal of talks

The OSCE Minsk Group, created in 1992, remains the only format for peace negotiations. It has yielded no major breakthroughs in recent years.

Azerbaijan’s leadership continues to insist on respecting the country’s territorial integrity and on Armenia withdrawing their armed forces from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions.

Since a change of power in Armenia in May, new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has insisted on including the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities in the negotiation process as a party directly involved in the conflict.

Azerbaijan has rejected the proposal.

Nevertheless, at a Minsk Group–mediated meeting on 27 September on the margins of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, top Armenian and Azerbaijani diplomats agreed to continue negotiations.

Talks between the two are expected to resume during the co-chairs' ‘upcoming’ visit to the region.

Hopes for progress were reignited after informal talks between Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Dushanbe on 28 September. The meeting was the first public interaction between the two countries’ leaders following the change in power in Armenia.

After the meeting, both leaders confirmed that they had agreed to open a direct line of communication between each other through their defence ministries, in order to prevent incidents along the Nagorno-Karabakh line of contact.

For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.

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