Right ideas, Right People, Right Time
The Stepanakert Press Club, since the very beginning of its activity at the end of the 1990s has been engaged into the orbit of journalist cooperation, becoming a participant of the peace-building process and people’s diplomacy. As the head of the Karabakhi journalist organization, I have taken part in many peace-building projects and accumulated some experience, letting me come to some conclusions.
The first and most important conclusion, I think, is the vital necessity of the people’s diplomacy. Bilateral contacts on the public level are all the more valuable for one simple reason: the lack of official contacts (I mean, the Karabakhi and Azerbaijani sides). These contacts are not always useful and fruitful, but at least, they are more preferable than the information war.
I think that one of the main mistakes of the political settlement process of the Karabakh problem is the fact that the role of the societies in conflict has been underestimated. Mediators have not paid any attention to this aspect of the problem. Meanwhile, it is a very important factor. However, it is good that recently the societies themselves have started to pay more or less serious attention to it. In this connection, I would like to quote the well-known Karabakhi figure, editor-in-chief of the newspaper “What to do?” Murad Petrossyan: “If the erection of the building of peace has been started (with the active authority of the third parties) without deep-rooted changes in the public consciousness, such a building, even with a completed roof, will sooner or later have the fate of the Palestinian peace… The key of real peace for Armenians is hidden in the Azerbaijani public consciousness; it is not in the hands of the ruling elite. In the same way, the key for Azerbaijanis is hidden in the Armenian public consciousness… The way to success in the negotiating process passes through the moral and spiritual improvement of society.” ( газета “Что делать?” , 21, 2008)
However, the dialogue between the societies in conflict faces political problems. In particular, Karabakhi non-governmental organizations (NGOs) work much quieter in this field. The point is that the opinions of the authorities of the parties to the conflict are completely different on this issue. The Azerbaijani leadership by all means avoids any contacts and cooperation with the Karabakhi side, putting forward two conditions: settlement of the problem and then contact. The position of Karabakhi Armenians is quite contrary and is more constructive; it is just contact. Cooperation can promote the conflict’s settlement. And while in Azerbaijan the organizations cooperating with the Karabakhi (and as a whole, with Armenian) NGOs periodically find themselves under the “fire” of the authorities and pro-governmental mass media, the situation is much quieter in Karabakh, although at times the “excessively peaceful policy” of the Karabakhi NGOs is criticized here, too.
There is another problem as well. All spheres of life in Karabakh are, in fact, in the phase of establishment, including its third sector and public organizations. Available difficulties here are typical for the whole post-Soviet space, but there is a local specific. On the one hand, as in Armenia and Azerbaijan and the rest of post-Soviet space, the Karabakhi authorities are not very interested in independent civil society and strong NGOs, and they mainly support NGOs controlled by them. On the other hand, Karabakhi NGOs have found themselves “between two fires” — since Nagorno-Karabakh is not recognized, many international organizations and NGOs avoid contacts with Karabakhi public organizations. It leads to the isolation of Karabakhi society, which does not contribute to the dialogue between the societies in conflict. It is good that in recent years the situation has been gradually changing. The executive body of the EU, the European Commission, earlier in the year signed a contract with a consortium of European organizations called the “European partnership for peace settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict” to interact with Karabakhi, Azerbaijani, and Armenian societal structures. So, for the first time the EU, not substituting for the OSCE, will realize some projects in Nagorno-Karabakh through that new consortium.
The people-to-people diplomacy is very important, but first of all it needs correct and useful ideas in order not to make the meetings of the representatives of the parties to the conflict just long-lasting acquaintance visits. Even just the “collection” of the representatives of the parties to the conflict at the round table could be considered an achievement in the first post-war years, but now, 16 years later, a new quality is required. New ideas are needed.
Yes, ideas are important, but who will be occupied with making these ideas come true is much more vital. Any good idea can be spoiled and fully crippled if it is not dealt with by the right people. Likewise, it is possible to create something useful from any useless idea if it is in the right hands. Most importantly, it is necessary to save the peacemaking process from interference of the “hawks.” Here we have a clear example. The Armenian and Azerbaijani Ambassadors to Russia, Armen Smbatyan and Polad Bul-Bul Ogly, respectively, (former Ministers of Culture of their countries) with their suites have visited Nagorno-Karabakh twice in recent years. Even a section of the contact line of the parties to the conflict was demined for them (http://www.regnum.ru/news/850145.html , “К миру — через минные поля” журнал Огонек, № 8, 06 июля 2009) . But following each visit, the Azerbaijani ambassador gave a lot of interviews for quite a long time, and the main message of them was the necessity of war (http://www.lenta.ru/news/2009/08/05/polad/). The military rhetoric, as a rule, increases after each “peace-building” action. So the peace-building process and people’s diplomacy has been severely damaged.
An important condition of the peacemaking process is the publicity of the process and activity of the peace-building actors. Peacemakers should be maximally transparent and open. Society should know everything about their activities, projects, and events. Society should trust them, and it is an obligatory condition. The peace-building process itself should be open and transparent. Meanwhile, the above-mentioned visits of the ambassadors (more precisely, the representatives of the Armenian and Azerbaijani intelligentsia) to Baku, Yerevan, and Stepanakert were carried out as special operations. It seems that they want to reconcile the peoples in secret, in order to not let anybody know about it, including the peoples themselves.
The role of the mass media is very, very important. It can play a huge role for the objective coverage of the Karabakh problem and the peace settlement process by giving up the information war and eliminating the “enemy image” so they could exert influence on their governments to intensify the talks and adopt mutually acceptable decisions. Meanwhile, the leading mass media, especially TV channels, are controlled by the authorities. They make politics just by means of such mass media, which reflect the moods of the political elites, not those of the public. The mood of the political elite is presented as public opinion, but the real public opinion becomes “underground.” If they have an appropriate intention, the authorities can change public moods by means of their controlled mass media. More precisely, by relying on public opinion, they can prepare some ground for the required compromise. But on the other hand, by developing the third sector and strengthening the fourth power, it is possible to get a contrary effect: the underground public opinion can somehow impact the moods of the political establishment as well.
And the last conclusion: International NGOs have already worked quite a long time in the region; they did not start yesterday. There are concrete positive results, so I think the time has come to gather the stones, to work, not separately, but within a coordinated program. I think that the time has come for the collective responsibility of civil society and public organizations. And international organizations and funds could greatly support that process, by financing those projects and organizations envisaging responsibility for the normalization of relations, democratization, and problem settlement.
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