21 September 2012 – a good day for the birth of a new peace movement in the South Caucasus

On the 21st of September, the world celebrates the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. The question is, will the South Caucasus celebrate peace as well?

In 2014, Armenia and Azerbaijan will ‘celebrate’ the twentieth anniversary of the ceasefire agreement that ended the war, but froze the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh. 2014 is just two years on, and I wonder how big chances are that in 2014 a true solution to the conflict will be any nearer than in 1994? Frankly speaking, chances are slim, very slim. Even worse: chances of renewed warfare are way higher than let’s say ten years ago.

I’m afraid 20 years simply got wasted. Negotiations have not made any progress at all. Instead, hatred has grown, and less and less people believe in a peaceful solution. This is not a pity, or a shame; this is utterly WRONG! And dangerous. I believe that deep down in their hearts, no-one, apart from maybe a few opportunists at the top, wants a new war. However, people are ready for war, because they increasingly fail to see, or even worse, do not want to see, an alternative.

Who is to blame for this? For about 99% it is the political leadership in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, that clearly lacks the vision, political will and courage to find a peaceful solution. Why? That is a question they themselves should answer. Experts at home and abroad have come up with numerous scenarios leading to – in my view – acceptable compromises. Solving the conflict is not a matter of a lack of good ideas. It is a matter of choice.

People in Armenia, Azerbaijan, those currently living in or originating from Nagorno Karabakh are caught in a negative spiral. The warning signals all point into the same direction: unless each of the sides gives in, compromises – and ‘compromise’ sounds in the South Caucasus very much like ‘surrender’ – there will be war. Since this will not happen, both sides playing this chicken game will end up in a deadly crash. Give it two years or five years, maybe ten, and there will be war. War. Killing. Bloodshed. Tens of thousands people killed, hundreds of thousands threatened and on the run. Economies devastated. Cities bombed. Families destroyed.

I understand how propaganda works. It is based on fear and anger. Fear for ‘the other’, fear to loose what you have. Anger at the other, anger for what the other has or does, anger for what you don’t have because of the other. With a solid grip on all popular forms of media, the authorities control what people see and hear, and influence what they think and feel. The authorities have the choice and the power to prepare society for war or for peace. They obviously chose to prepare for war. No attempts whatsoever are made to diffuse tensions.

If the current situation is for about 99% to blame on the regimes in Armenia and Azerbaijan (and, de facto, in Nagorno Karabakh), what about the remaining 1 or 2%? That is the people themselves, and especially “civil society”, the organised part of society that could (or ought to) function as a counterweight to their own authorities. But they don’t. Yes, there are numerous (internationally supported) peacebuilding initiatives, expert meetings, people-to-people contacts. But that is not enough. The stuff they do, the things they say, are important and brave, but most of the time not going beyond the usual suspects, not reaching out to wider society, or even worse: are directed at an international audience. The EU has heard more talks and ideas about peace than the societies around them… I fear that, in many ways, most organisations lost contact with their surroundings, the society they work in. They do not manage to mobilise people against an approaching war.

Peace activists should be able to tell the truth to their society, that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is real and the road to a peaceful solution is difficult; that compromises are unavoidable, for both sides; that these are however the only option. They should convince the people that the only scenario that is not an option is – what a paradox – the one that is unfolding right now: the road to war. They should help their societies understand that a new war will not solve the conflict. Even in the unlikely case that one of the sides wins the war, it is even more unlikely that this victory will solve the conflict in the long run. It will only be another temporary victory, a next phase in the conflict that adds a new layer of pain and resentment, and new calls for revenge. That is the road to destruction.

During the hights of the war over Nagorno Karabakh in the ninetees, civil society activists played an key role in ending the war.  They organised cross-border Peace Caravans, arranged the exchange of Prisoners of War, helped the Red Cross to identify Missing Persons. Of course times changed, and – thank god – the region is not in a situation of full war yet. 

Still the deep question I am struggling with right now, as an activist and part of an international  peace movement, is: WHERE IS THE PEACE MOVEMENT IN THE SOUTH CAUCASUS? What’s up with the silence? How many more wake-up calls are needed to realise that the time for further ‘analysis of the situation’ or ‘exploring possible peaceful solutions’ is over, and that it is time to act and mobilise people against the approaching war? More investments in the military? More reinforcements at the ceasefire line? More pardoned murderers?

No, people, enough is enough. It is time to make a stance, time to speak out, time to stop the war, before it stops you! 21 September, the International Day of Peace, is a good day to see the birth of a new peace movement in the South Caucasus. We saw the power of the people – once again! – in North Africa. I know that this power is also available in the South Caucasus, and can be used in a positive way to find a peaceful solution for a conflict that should have been solved long ago. If we start now, we actually may be a step closer to peace in 2014 than in 1994. No time to waste: peace activists of the world, unite! I wish you all a great International Day of Peace.

Guido de Graaf Bierbrauwer

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13 Responses to 21 September 2012 – a good day for the birth of a new peace movement in the South Caucasus

  1. artsakhliberty says:

    Dear Guido,
    First of all thanks for your concerns connected with the last events in the South Caucasus.
    Being actively involved in peace building initiatives and regional cross-border exchange programs I can surely say that THERE IS NO TRUST among representatives of Karabakh conflict’s sides.
    I really liked that you have used civil society in quotes because civil society supposes opennes and readiness for cooperation which I couldn’t find for me during different peace building programs. As a logical end the all initiatives don’t have a continuation and don’t carry out in the real life.
    Nobody wants to take a ressponsibil for him/her self to implement even 20% that they spoke and promise during face to face meetings. Maybe will arise a question: Why?
    Because they are NOT FREE even in their own societies.
    I am sure that you know the existing situation better than me and others and think you will confirm that peace building is closely connected with democratization.
    I am not proud of the level of democracy and freedom of my unrecognised country but with concrete examples I can affirm that we are more free in our expressions and activities related to the conflict and peace building than our collegues in Azerbaijan.
    Unfortunately, our visions are different even on peace…when Peace should not have an alternative.

  2. Of course you have a point. However, from a little more distance, I do not see that much difference between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis. From both sides I read nationalistic posts (also from civil soiety peace activists), in dialogue sessions I mainly hear people trying to convince the other side instead of listening to each other’s points, I see on both sides pressure from society and athorities on peace activists when they try to paint a little bit more positive picture of ‘the other side’.

    At the same time I think that if we look carefully, we will find people on both sides that share the same analysis and goals. I experienced a lot of positive energy and creative thinking in the different meetings we organised with young activists. Therefore, I think it is possible to design smart campaigns to overcome the chicken and egg problem (the relation between (the lack of) democratisation and the conflict), and to publically campaign to avoid a new war. My personal opinion is that a first step is not to agree on the future of the region, but to agree that a new war is not an option. When people accept that a peaceful solution is the only option, there is enough collective creativity and knowledge to develop good ideas to solve the conflict peacefully. My point is that is may need an new generation of activists to break through the current sociatal and political stalemate, in many ways…

  3. artsakhliberty says:

    In generaly I agree with you.
    I just would like to add that you can not find anybody in Karabakh who wants a new war .(from the both sides: “civil socitey” and government.)

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  11. Of course I understand no-one wants war – as I wrote in the blog. The problem is that I fear that also neither side wants to discuss what to give up (or share, think about that!) to solve the conflict peacefully and to avoid a new war. As long neither side wants to agree on any compromise, and neither side wishes to give up anything, the conflict cannot be solved. So, the 1+1 conclusion is that the only possible solution is either a complete military victory by one of the sides (which I think is extremely unlikely, because of the military strength of both sides), or an agreement based on a mutually acceptable compromise. I believe that this is possible and in the end, would have a more positive effect than even the current status quo. But I fear that instead of exploring these options, one of the sides or both sides will choose the military option. I would really like to help preventing that, but this can only be done if on all sides a large group of people stands up and demands peace trhough a peaceful solution.

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  13. Marten van Harten says:

    “If the current situation is for about 99% to blame on the regimes in Armenia and Azerbaijan (and, de facto, in Nagorno Karabakh), what about the remaining 1 or 2%?”

    Dear Guido,

    I think it is too easy to put blame only those regimes and (1-2%) the people of the region. What about the by-standers, the international community including civil society in the West?

    At least part of the blame can be put on the so-called mediators, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group representing USA, Russia and (through France) EU. Stale-mate diplomacy has been going on for 20 years, freezing the conflict and blocking any peaceful solution that could give a strategic advantage to one of the other power blocks. Anyone concerned with the Karabagh conflict should read Zbig Brzezinski’s foreign affairs study ‘The Great Chessboard’ of 1996, which explains the ruies of the game of peace diplomacy: Keep one eye on the Caspian oil, another eye on Iran (neighboring the Karabagh region but systematically left out of the talks) and forgetting about the people in the South Caucasus.

    Of course, it is also to easy to blame diplomacy, at least the USA and the EU are democratic civil societies in which ‘we, the people’, should control our governments. So where is the peace movement? What happened during the past 20 years to put pressure on diplomacy and to mobilize public concern – not just with the conflict but with the sufferings and the injustice at all sides? The simple truth is that peace activists in the West forgot about their counterparts in the South-Caucasus regions with many excuses – too far away, too complicated, no news headlines,

    From my visits to friends and colleagues in Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the Karabagh zone and the refugee and IDP (de facto) settlements at both sides, I remember how deeply people were and still are affected by the conflict, most families have lost relatives and friends; and especially how isolated they are. Surely the local regimes have interests to conitnue the blockades and keep the people isolated. As Western peace activists, we have furthered some projects etc. but failed to break this isolation through normal people-to-people solidarity, I think that, after 20 years, this gives reason for shame and reflection.

    Amsterdam, Marten van Harten
    (served as liaison officer of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly for Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan including Nagorno Karabagh, 1992-2000)

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