15 Jul 2013
Interview with Avaz Hasanov, Society for Humanitarian Research
1. How does Society for Humanitarian Research currently contribute to the conflict resolution field as well as the peacebuilding initiatives in the region?
The Society for Humanitarian Research under my leadership had been an active participant of civil society peacemaking process over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict initiative since year 2000. We are an NGO which generally deals with human rights advocacy, analyses of migration issues and conflict resolution. Nevertheless, recently we had been conducting projects which dealt with the problems of war victims and their own engagement into the peacemaking process, which overall positively effects conflict resolution.
The official means of conflict resolution seem to have reached the dead-end. In the atmosphere where many obstacles prevent the establishment of good relations between nations, initiatives by civil society towards peacemaking cause annoyance. The officials accuse the Armenian side for not abiding international legislation, as they refuse to withdraw from occupied territories. They internally criticize the members of civil society who try to establish relations with Armenian civil society, presumably this policy targets public disapproval. At the same time, the spirit of reconciliations preserved in the society. In any case, every individual who intend to establish good relations with Armenian people, become targets of criticism by officials and society.
We do not lose our hopes that the conflict can be solved by peaceful means, despite all of existing problems. First of all, no major contribution had been made towards the peaceful resolution of the conflict till now. Several problems, which prevent productive negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia are still relevant and have to be resolved. What are those problems: resolution of current humanitarian problems (especially release of war prisoners, search for lost), lowering the level of hatred between two nations, raising the possible options of conflict resolution and through it, gaining support of societies. Our NGO, as a member of civil society is obliged to motivate the discussions of mentioned problems in both societies. We believe, people who do not give credit to each other and to the possibility of peaceful resolution of the conflict, hardly can reach a constructive solution. The solution will be possible to be reached only after the society will be confessed in it and when they will receive society’s approval. We have to confess people in this formula. Very recently, people believed that “the great powers” will solve this problem and both in Azerbaijan and Armenia people believed the result would have been beneficial only for them. Now, people start to relies that the resolution of the conflict is ultimately depends on Azerbaijan and Armenia. “The great powers” can only mediate the process.
2. How do you assess the situation with conflict resolution programs in Track II level in Azerbaijan and Armenia?
It would have been foolish to consider public diplomacy in Azerbaijan right now a serious tool. The work of peacemakers in Azerbaijan is much harder comparing to Armenia. Therefore, the argumentation against the peaceful resolution stands weak against their arguments: our lands are occupied, we have around 1 million refugees and IDPs, we haven’t occupied Armenian lands and don’t have any territorial claims!
I believe, Armenian government if not explicitly, but at least is interested in peacemaking process. Although it is hard to observe the real situation from over here, as far it goes, it seems like that. Nevertheless, it is surprising that activities of both civil society representatives seem to be coordinative and complementary. From this, it can be said that public diplomacy was developed symmetrically. If Azerbaijan lacks political and financial resources for peacemaking, the atmosphere in Armenia seems to be more favorable towards it. The diaspora is not afraid to openly support these processes and there are much more international foundations, comparing to us.
Although Azerbaijan possess much bigger financial resources, all of that money goes to strengthen Azerbaijan’s international position regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, fighting against Armenian lobby and reinforcement of its own diaspora. As Azerbaijan’s diaspora does not have any experience and strategy in peacemaking, they mainly broadcast the propaganda of our position.
Unfortunately, the influence area of peacemakers in Azerbaijan is very small. The number of people working in this area is very limited and new generations show little interest in it. But if we do consider the relations which are established the youth of both nations over social networks, it provides some hope. People who deal with peacemaking do not get credit from the society. Media is not interested to publicize their opinions. Television networks deny peacemaking. The society hardly can imagine any alternative way of conflicts resolution.
3. What do you think about the current level support for Track II programs from various stakeholders such as international organizations and community, governments and civil society?
I would like to underline the immense support from international organizations, especially independent foundations, which help to organize the meetings of public diplomacy activists and latter support their projects. It is important to remember that initiatives of civil society members had been supported by OSCE and European Union. Nevertheless, as officials from Azerbaijan and Armenia were intolerant towards these initiatives, further broadening of the process was impossible. In the last 10 years we observe a more systematical and coordinated fulfillment of projects serving the peaceful resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The roles of the US and Great Britain in this process are especially significant. On the other hand, the decrease of financial and political support received from European Union, had caused delays in the work of public diplomacy. We clearly realize that, great financial capabilities of political elites in these countries cannot, nevertheless motivate the sign of peace agreement. In order to do that, we need to guarantee the adequate approach by the societies.
It is paradoxical, but officials from both sides recently had been vocal regarding the public diplomacy alternatives. However, the government does not donate financial resources to support these initiatives. In this situation, international donors hesitate to donate money to projects which are long termed and sometimes do not exhibit any sensible results.
4. Some argue that Track II diplomacy efforts are ineffective since their reach is limited and a small number of people impacted as a result. What can you say about the importance of Track II public diplomacy work in the Nagorno-Karabkah conflict in response to these criticisms?
I hear this kind of arguments during my work all the time. Sometimes I suspect that this kind of approach may demoralize the motivation of people working towards peaceful resolution. Everybody views public diplomacy as an ineffective mean, nevertheless doesn’t want a war and expects international pressure on Armenia to withdraw from occupied lands. I consider this kind of approach as distractive from real issues of the problem and they are mostly derived from ignorant approach. The work of OSCE’s Minsk Group had resulted with the address to both presidents, that they start working with their own people and bring them towards understanding and tolerance.
If we are talking about the peaceful resolution of the conflict, it should be clear that the mutual trust is essential in order to achieve it. Each side should explain to its nations the benefits and losses of peaceful resolution, so they will not meet the aggressive response. It is obviously impossible to achieve, if the position is so much intransigence. The main duty of public diplomacy activists is to create bridges between nations by considering needs and capabilities of society towards the peaceful resolution. The nation, which desires to resolve the conflict peacefully, has no other choice, but to reestablish this bridges, make people believe in the importance of peace.