1 Feb 2011
Vulnerable Status Quo and Factors that can Prevent Armed Conflict
Over the years, there has been a growing interest in the concept of civil society and its contribution to peace. According to “A Dictionary of Civil Society, Philanthropy and The Non-Profit Sector ” written by Helmut K. Anheier and Regina List (2005), civil society is “the sum of institutions, organizations and individuals located between the family, the state and the market in which people associate voluntarily to advance common interests.”
The end of the Cold War saw an increase in intra-state conflicts that correspondingly made civil society start engaging in the area of conflict prevention, management, and resolution.
In the early 1990s, the South Caucasus states Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia gained their independence and sovereignty. Since then these states have chosen the path of democratic governance (adoption of a constitution, division of powers, etc.), civil society (development of the NGO sector and independent mass media), and liberal economy (free market). After the collapse of Soviet Union, civil societies in the New Independent Countries had few chances to emerge. The trends in their developments are similar.
After the ceasefire agreements over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were reached, much effort was spent by the international community towards the final resolution of the conflict, which mainly faced the hard-edged and polarized approaches of the conflicting parties. Also, this conflict has had its deep impact on the societies’ awakening of latent negative feelings, strengthening existing negative stereotypes, and belligerent rhetoric in general. The unresolved conflict continues to decisively influence the political life of Armenia and Azerbaijan while hampering the process of their further democratization—people don’t trust their governments, there is a high level of corruption as well as limited independent media, and so forth.
“Without stability, without a consensus around the rules of the game in terms of democratic institutions, elections, and so on, there will not be a basis for a mutually beneficial relationship based on mutual trust and common values with the EU,” the bloc’s special representative for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, said in a June 12 interview, shortly after addressing the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict also prevents regional development. The conflict is one of the main stones that doesn’t allow regional integration and cooperation to exist, and it also breeds tense relations between Armenia and Turkey, as the Armenian-Turkish border was closed in 1993 because of the conflict. The closed boarders and frozen conflict seriously slow down the process of integration in the region. Azerbaijan and Armenia currently strive towards the non-violent resolution of the conflict by peaceful means; however, there is no complete confidence in the stability and irreversibility of the peace process.
Civil society could also play a crucial role in terms of ensuring regional security (Rooy, 1998, p. 19). People in the South Caucasus are still highly concerned about the possibility of war due to the elusive peace and frozen conflicts. People certainly dream of peace, though they don’t yet feel they can put down their arms because of tensions on the border. Civil society can play an enormous role in the conflict prevention/resolution process as its potential in the South Caucasus is high and needs further development. Effective interaction/cooperation between civil society and international organizations will firmly contribute to the peace, stability, and security of the whole region.
Thus, one of the most important, yet least understood aspects of peace processes in the South Caucasus is the importance of conflict prevention initiatives usually outlined by the international community and carried out by civil society institutions—NGOs and mass media. Public diplomacy makes involvement of civil society in conflict resolution activities possible, along with the efforts made by national governments. That is one of the most influential mechanisms that needs to be strengthened and actively applied to peace processes. NGOs from conflicting sides try to spread the mutual feeling of tolerance that can lead to cooperation and peace building, but still people consider the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as the “intractable one.” Some of the reasons for this are the lack of public diplomacy and contacts between the confronted parties, NGOs and media activists, as well as the lack of media coverage of the other side’s positions and the enhancement of an enemy image through stereotyping.
In addition to civil society organizations, another important instrument in conflict prevention is the mass media, which can play both a positive and negative role in the process. The negative aspect implies information aggravating hatred and hostilities between parties, while the positive aspect brings tolerance and understanding. It can be suggested that media is both a friend and foe to a peace process. The media can foster human security, and there is evidence that media can reinforce motives for fuelling wars. It can be an instrument for peace and conflict management, which promotes messages and strategies that can lead to peaceful agreements and tolerant behavior in a given society. Media can also be a weapon of violence that propagates biased information and manipulates societies or groups in conflict with divisive ideologies and harmful actions. Thus, the media has become pervasive and extremely influential in attitudes towards conflict. The media of sides in conflict contributes to the dissemination of stereotypes and enemy images and rarely focuses on civil society activities.
Another important part of conflict prevention and the peace building process is the private and economic sector. In a speech to the UN Security Council made in 2004, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “the economic dimensions of armed conflict are often overlooked, but they should never be underestimated. The role of business, in particular, can be crucial, for good and for ill. Private companies operate in many conflict zones or conflict-prone countries. The development of economic co-operation and integration can stimulate positive economic changes in each country, providing people with new opportunities. Business itself has an enormous stake in the search for solutions. After all, companies require a stable environment in order to conduct their operations and minimize their risks. So all these are compelling reasons why business should play an active role in tackling these issues, without waiting to be asked.
Economic Cooperation is very positive process, but it seems non-realistic in the situation when every moment people think about the possibility of war.
In conclusion, I would like to mention again the importance of international as well as regional organizations, the private sector, the mass media, non-governmental organizations, and other civil society actors in preventing armed conflict. We should seek to enhance the cooperation and coherence of our actions at all levels, from the global level to enhancing national capacities for the peaceful resolution of conflicts and engaging civil society actors, in order to promote conflict prevention and support peace. The imperative for effective conflict prevention goes beyond creating a culture, establishing mechanisms, or summoning political will. The costs of prevention have to be paid in the present, while its benefits lie in the distant future. In addition, the benefits are often not tangible: when prevention succeeds, little happens that is visible, but the nurturing of societal stability and tolerance can be the foundations of sustainable peace.
H. Anheier and Regina List «A Dictionary of Civil Society, Philanthropy, and the Nonprofit Sector», Haines House, London, WC1N 2BP, 2005.
EurasiaNet, European Union: Democratization key to conflict resolution in South Caucasus, 17 June 2008, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4864e8da1e.html [accessed 26 January 2011]
Rooy, A. V. (1998). Civil society and the aid industry: The politics and promise. London: Earthscan.
United Nations Press Release, April 15th, 2004