29 Dec 2015
Learning from Azerbaijani-Armenian and Armenian-Turkish Problem-Solving Workshops: the Essential Needs, Fears and Concerns Faced by the Societies
This analytic review is based on the results of the Azerbaijani–Armenian and Armenian–Turkish workshops the Imagine Center.
By Philip Gamaghelyan, Sergey Rumyansev, and Pinar Sayan
Table of Contents
The problem-solving workshop methodology
Azerbaijani list of needs, fears, concerns, and hopes
Armenian list of needs, fears, concerns, and hopes
Turkish list of needs, fears, concerns, and hopes
Since 2007, the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation has initiated and facilitated dozens of Armenian-Azerbaijani, Turkish-Armenian, Georgian-South Ossetian, Caucasus-wide, Syrian, and other dialogue initiatives. The Center has been working with youth activists, educators, historians, journalists, analysts, and policy makers – groups that have an influence on the production and reproduction of conflict discourses. Our methodology has been centered on discussing conflict and its various dynamics openly and constructively, treating it as a joint problem to be understood and resolved collaboratively.
The Imagine Center works with the histories of the conflicts, including the historical narratives and their impact on the conflicts themselves and individual and collective identities, conducting analysis of the methodologies of historiography and history education and developing alternative approaches. We also work with the present-day dynamics of the conflicts, attempting to step away from the entrenched and visibly irreconcilable positions and analyze conflicts from the point of view of the needs, fears, concerns, and hopes of the involved societies. And finally we conduct joint visioning of the future, followed by strategy building and implementation of specific initiatives conceived in these planning workshops. Our work with journalists and historians, the on-going “Breaking the Impasse” series focused on contributing ideas to policy-level thinking, and the on-line publication the Caucasus Edition are all products of the joint planning and strategizing of the previous groups we have worked with.
The knowledge created and the data collected through the middle stage of the Imagine Center’s methodology is the focus of this paper that discusses the present-day dynamics in the context of the often-interconnected Armenia-Turkey-Azerbaijan relations. While on the political track, the Turkish-Armenian and Azerbaijani-Armenian conflicts are often addressed separately, the analysis of the needs, fears, concerns, and hopes of these societies in regard to one another exposes many interlinks. On the analytic level, therefore, we see it important to understand not only the bi-lateral relations between any two of the societies, but also the interrelationship among the three. The look into this broader picture, we believe, surely brings complexities into the analysis, yet also provides new insights into possible strategies for moving forward that are not visible when viewed from a narrow binary perspective.
The authors did not have the aim to present a quantitative analysis. Our approach concentrated on the individual opinions. This is more about the dissemination of the experience and some of the results of the dialogue initiatives for a wider audience. The authors of the review also offer their cautious interpretation of the collected ideas and opinions. All of the instances of generalization are only an indication of the prevailing perceptions among the participants regarding the most essential needs and challenges facing the societies that they are part of.
This analytic review is a discussion of the spectrum of the needs, fears, concerns, and hopes (NFCH) of the Turkish, Armenian, and Azerbaijani societies as articulated by the participants of inter-societal dialogues conducted by the Imagine Center since 2007. These are opinions of people primarily with a background in social sciences and humanities, also of journalists and activists. Participants included young professionals, who have been socialized as individuals already after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as middle-aged specialists, who went through socialization processes within the Soviet Union. Opinions and judgments presented below were expressed initially in single-party groups consisting of 6-10 participants from each society, and later shared with colleagues from across the conflict divide during a plenary session. Before proceeding to the analysis of the NFCH, the methodology employed in the middle stage of the dialogue is described below in detail.
The problem-solving workshop methodology
For the discussion of the present-day dynamics during the dialogues led by the Imagine Center, we often rely on the adapted version of the Problem-Solving Workshop methodology where the participants are asked to step back from the conventional positions, identify the groups within the society whose needs they can relate to and analyze, presenting them to their colleagues from across the conflict divide.
Interactive problem-solving, also known as Problem-Solving Workshops or PSW, was developed as an alternative to international relations approaches though it often positions itself as complementary to the latter. It has its roots in Maslow’s theory on the hierarchy of universal human needs. Maslow argued that humans all have similar needs, and some of these needs take priority over others. He represented the hierarchy in a form of a pyramid with physiological needs such as food and shelter at the bottom, safety needs right above them, followed by identity needs such as love and belonging. On the top are the needs of self-esteem and self-actualization. While Maslow believed that a person can have many of these needs simultaneously, he also argued that the ones one the top of the pyramid can be aspired for only after the lower-level needs are achieved (Maslow 1943). The PSW methodology adapted Maslow’s approach shifting the focus of conflict resolution from the interests of the states onto the needs of the people. Different from Maslow, the methodology rejected the notion that needs are hierarchical and argued that they are all pursued simultaneously, while agreeing that they are universal (Burton 1990).
The PSW approach does not aim at achieving an immediate resolution to the conflict. It is focused instead on moving away from adversarial positions and analyzing the conflict from the standpoint of the NFCH of the involved societies, followed by joint explorations of core dynamics that sustain the conflict and ways of addressing them (Burton 1969; H. Kelman 1972). The PSW renders the intractability of conflicts penetrable by diverting the conversation from the mutually exclusive positions that are often doomed to lead to a deadlock to what lies behind those positions. It is an approach that leads to the exposure of the veiled drivers of those positions – the needs, fears, concerns, and hopes of individuals and societies. Arriving at the level of these not only allows for a mutual acknowledgement of basal exigencies but also empowers individuals to collaborative seek the reframing of positions in the multiplicity of possible ways to satisfy those basal exigencies of all parties involved.
The PSW are not only a means to an end – a methodology, but also a transformative exercise in itself. It is a trust-building exercise in that it allows participants to speak about the needs and challenges of their societies and comfortably express vulnerability while being prepared to listen to the others without the urge to argue back. Coupled with other methodologies such as reflective practice it allows individuals to reach a deeper understanding of each other and to jointly envision ways of moving forward taking into consideration the learning gained through the exercise.
The format of PSW is informal: the participants are asked to collaboratively design the agenda of the meeting and the ground rules, thus breaking with the legalistic atmosphere typical of negotiations (H. C. Kelman and Cohen 1976, 79). PSW should be approached critically as well. First, the totalizing concept of universal human needs that assumes every human to have the exact same needs, does not take into account the unique background, culture, and contexts of various societies; the vast differences that shape the experiences and the identities of people within the same society; and the resulting differences in regard to the perception of needs. PSW is a structuralist approach claiming that the underlying layers of the NFCH condition the relationships of actors and are there to be discovered after removing the layers of positions and interests. Moreover, the approach assumes that a group of participants present at the workshop is able to represent the grand picture of the needs of their society.
Contrary to the above, we come from the position that each person’s opinion is subjective, that a person’s standing in the society and socially imposed categories such as gender, race, ethnicity, economic class, age, and others can affect the perception of needs, and that concurrent groups from the same society can very well form and express very different needs. The NFCH presented here, therefore, do not claim to be representative of the entire Turkish, Azerbaijani, or the Armenian societies. What we represent here are the patterns of the NFCH articulated by many dozens of participants from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey in the span of eight years and representing various generations and professions.
The fears, concerns, and hopes were added to the list when Maslow’s theory was adapted to serve the ends of conflict resolution practice. We analyze here the lists of each group separately, as well as in comparison with each other. As many of the NFCH are mentioned consistently by the participants, they point at systemic problems in the societies that need to be addressed should there be lasting and sustainable peace in the South Caucasus and its neighborhood. These categories are also correlative: a need for physical security can be also expressed as a fear of extermination, or a concern about a new cycle of violence, or a hope for sustained absence of violence. Oftentimes the same group might name one issue both as a need and as a fear. It is important in itself, however, to analyze how the groups choose to frame the issues as the framing and not only the content can suggest what actions are necessary to move toward a solution: a fear of the other can possibly be dealt with the help of trust building, while a concern about restarting or continuing violence might require a cease-fire agreement or an international mechanism for the implementation of a peace agreement.
We acknowledge that the perception of the needs and challenges have been and are changing from year to year. This suggests that the societies are not standing still and always are immersed in certain processes. At the same time, we can talk about needs and challenges that have carried on throughout the entire post-Soviet period and have not lost their relevance for many years.
The accumulated information from the experience of the dialogues in itself may be interesting for many people in these three societies, and for all those interested in the processes taking place in the South Caucasus and Turkey. The analysis of the information and lessons learned from it can also contribute to the development of approaches to improve the efficiency of peacebuilding programs and confidence-building measures aimed at meeting the NFHC of these communities.
Azerbaijani list of needs, fears, concerns, and hopes
Here we analyzed the lists of eleven dialogues attended by Azerbaijani participants – one each from 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015, two in 2009 in spring (1) and summer (2) and four in 2014 winter (1, 2, and 3) and summer (4).The year when the group participated in a dialogue is important as what mattered could be affected by developments of that particular time.
The participants of the Azerbaijani dialogue groups often articulated the need to address the issue of refugees and IDPs. This public need was represented as the necessity for the return of refugees and IDPs to the places of their origin. This will address a certain collective and/or individual frustration among the refugees/IDPs, and the return can bring them some emotional healing/satisfaction. This question, though with various intensity, remained urgent for at least five groups of Azerbaijani participants starting from 2007 and until the recent dialogues in 2014. (2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2014). There was also an accompanying exigency that such a return should be part of the comprehensive peace process. The very possibility of the beginning of such a process is viewed as an important step for the transformation of the conflict.
The need of return was complemented by an often articulated clause on the security of those who return and legality of this process. This safe return should not become a spontaneous and chaotic process. On the contrary, as participants of two dialogues (2012 and 2014) indicated, conditions that will contribute to the successful completion of this process should be deliberately created and controlled. The list of prerequisites may include specific actions, which should be taken without waiting for a possible start of the return process. According to the participants of two dialogues, these include security for those people who live near the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as well as for military personnel. Thus, overcoming the consequences of the conflict, that has led to a massive displacement, continues to be seen as a critical need for the “normalization” of the Azerbaijani society.
The next often articulated social need was the one for a stable economy and the successful development of infrastructure. This need was also tied to the conflict in certain ways. In one of the groups in 2014, an opinion was voiced about the need for building and restoration processes in those areas where the conflict mainly unfolded. Further economic needs, such as ensuring social, economic, and industrial development, along with stability, the need for paying attention to development in diverse fields were cited by a group in 2012. In 2015, following an economic downturn caused by the decline in energy prices and devaluation of the national currency – the manat, the need for the diversification of economy gained importance. The participants of this dialogue conditioned the success of such diversification with the stabilization of the region.
Over the years, participants in the dialogues reflected on issues that can symbolically be summed up as the well-being of the society. They shared thoughts on what are those social needs that can help establish harmony and overcome potential feelings of frustration. When discussing what the needs of the modern Azerbaijani society are, categories of improving collective self-esteem and self-trust were cited along with the development of mutual-trust.
In this last case, once again, the importance is given to the need of overcoming the conflict and its consequences. From discussions by three groups (2007, 2009, and 2011) we learn that confrontation around Nagorno-Karabakh may be perceived as an identity conflict. Thus the resolution of the latter becomes an important part of the endeavor on the restoration of collective hope in the viability of the Azerbaijani society. Conversely, loss of Nagorno-Karabakh is equated to damage to identity, resulting in the need of recovery and recuperating from emotional shock of loss.
At the same time, the idea of overcoming the emotional shock, the feeling of having undergone a loss, and problems caused on the level of collective identity includes also directives of concrete measures necessary for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to some groups, the Azerbaijani society needs the restoration of territorial integrity, citing it as the main condition for the resolution of the conflict. Only in parallel with this process, the restoration of the feeling of collective confidence is seen as possible, together with confidence in achieving justice and restoring self-trust. Or even, as it was voiced by one of the earliest groups (2007), it was the collective dignity that was to be recovered.
According to the participants of the dialogue process, “return” and “recovery of justice” imply a two-step process. The ultimate goal is to achieve peace, which implies the restoration of mutual trust, followed by comprehensive peace-building. It also implies a joint (for the conflicting societies) movement in this direction and the restoration of a variety of shattered ties. The 2011 dialogue participants believed that without permanent contacts at various levels, the outlined needs cannot be satisfied, and the fears cannot be overcome. They cited the needs to ensure reconstruction of intellectual, economic, political, and cultural infrastructure.
The task of building a democratic society was outlined in the spectrum of the most important needs of the Azerbaijani society by two groups (2011 and 2014). Among conditions for freedom and democracy were the ideas on the importance of the development of the civil society and the creation of real conditions necessary for the realization of the political and religious rights and freedoms. Among such rights, the most critical were considered a strong civil society with ensured political freedoms, including provision of religious freedoms/education, free media, and free speech. In this case as well, the developments were linked to the conflict. Participants considered the post-war reconciliation process an important part of the process of democratization.
To some extent, the needs of the Azerbaijani society are related to alleviating issues that cause anxiety and concern. Among these, first and foremost, the groups mentioned the economic problems also resulting from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The region remains unstable and conflict-prone, and investments necessary for the development of the economy are impeded by the possibility of negative developments on the ground. Therefore, Azerbaijan suffers from economic consequences of the war and conflict and from the absence of investments as conflict and instability loom. In 2015, in the context of the crisis caused by declining energy prices, the risks associated with the dangers of relying on a single aspect in the economy gained new relevance.
In the post-Soviet period, religious institutions and ideology gained unprecedented influence. If in the beginning of 1990s, the “religious renascence” was perceived as part of the anti-Soviet rhetoric and was considered a positive process and part of the “return to the roots”, after a quarter of a century, many of the participants cited concerns about the possible excessive growth of the influence of religion on the society and a concern about the emergence of theocracy.
Among the issues of concern that need to be addressed, the topic of destructive third party influences on the negotiation process has also emerged. A number of groups voiced that there is a pro-Armenian bias in the international community. International politics appears to these groups as subject to the influence of lobby groups resulting in negative consequences. The perception of the international community as pro-Armenian and biased ties to the perception of the impossibility of reliable security guarantees for Azerbaijan. A softer criticism by other groups referred to the influential actors not investing enough efforts into the peace process. Over the years, the absence of interest on behalf of the third states like Russia and others in the OSCE Minsk Group in reaching the solution was cited. A related criticism was in regard to the secrecy of negotiations.
Among other often-cited topics was the role of history in influencing the conflict discourses. In this regard, participants recalled again the role of the Armenian diaspora in the production of the conflict narrative. The Armenians not differentiating between Azerbaijanis and Turks was also of concern. This problem is particularly acute in the context of the genocide discussions when part of the responsibility is attributed to Azerbaijanis.
In the same semantic context, the Armenian state propaganda is seen worrisome and is viewed as anti-Azerbaijani. As examples of action taken in the context of diaspora lobbying and state propaganda, the “war of toponyms” and the destruction of monuments were brought up. The re-naming of places in Nagorno-Karabakh and the damage to historical monuments, identity, and heritage were all seen as pressing issues. The destruction of the Azerbaijani cultural heritage was tied with the effect it has on group identity as well.
The issues of refugees and the IDPs were mentioned not only among the needs but also among the concerns of the Azerbaijani groups with a slightly different focus. In the needs, the focus was on the return and the safety consideration connected with such a return. As a concern, the dialogue participants expressed almost the opposite consideration about the possible lack of desire among many of the displaced to return to their homes. This concern was linked to the questions of safety and stability, IDPs’ hesitation or unwillingness to return back to their homes without knowing how they are going to live when they return. The cities and villages, where the conflict mainly unfolded, are in ruins now, covered with minefields. In 2014, the participants argued that peace should not be an end in itself, but implies the return to co-existence and mutual adaptation.
The concerns were complemented by the fear of a new war that can negate all the achievements of the post-Soviet period. In 3 groups (2009, 2012, and 2014), the fear of the possible eruption of another hot conflict was listed, which according to 2014 dialogue participants could lead to new losses. In 2014, among such losses the fear of a new defeat was voiced. As an extension of this topic, there were fears about possible new waves of violence and cruelty, as well as possible involvement of Russia in support of Armenia.
In general, it should be highlighted that the vast majority of the fears are associated with the escalation of the conflict and continuation of Armenian aggression. Among them are fears that territorial claims by Armenia will not cease, and on the contrary, will continue to grow resulting in permanent or continuous loss of territories. The fear of a new war and new losses coexists with the fear of Nagorno-Karabakh being forgotten. This fear was projected on the younger generation in particular, but not exclusively. It embodies the assumption that the emotional connection with the lost territories will dissipate over time for the citizens of Azerbaijan, with the older generation losing hope and not being able to see those territories and the younger generation losing the emotional and moral attachment as time goes by. At the same time, one group (2011) feared also the growth of armenophobia in the country, considering such attitudes to be an obstacle to the resolution of the conflict and reconciliation.
Besides possible consequences of conflict escalation, some participants look back with fear to the negative experience of democratization that Azerbaijan had to date. This contrasts with the need in democratization cited by other groups. The participants in the latter years, while sharing the concerns of the growing authoritarian tendencies of governance, at the same time expressed a fear that any move toward a regime change will lead to instability.
The hopes articulated by the participants were reflective of the needs and fears. Dialogue participants in four groups (2007, 2009, 2011, and 2014) expressed a hope for the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and for a future peaceful life routine and coexistence in the region. In the current context of mutual isolation, some hope has remained for the effectiveness of contacts at the level of the civil societies. However, for these relationships to be sustainable, they have to be complemented by the restoration of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The participants of one group (2011) looking into the future expressed hopes for the creation of a framework preventing future conflicts in the Caucasus. The hope for the return of hope itself was raised as a necessary step for making peaceful coexistence conceivable.
Many groups, at the same time, linked their hopes to the prospects of regional integration. Regionalism implied a high level of interdependence in the Caucasus, coupled with independence from third party interference, transparent borders, and an expansion of cooperation in the region. These hopes imply work toward the elimination of mutual hatred in general, as well as more specific steps toward it such as peace-oriented media prevailing over war-oriented media.
Armenian list of needs, fears, concerns, and hopes
We analyzed the lists of thirteen dialogue initiatives attended by participants from Armenia – one each from 2007, 2010, 2011, two each in 2009 – in spring (1) and summer (2), 2012 – in spring (1) and summer (2), 2015 – in winter (1) and summer (2), and four in 2014 – in winter (1, 2, and 3) and summer (4). As in the analysis of the Azerbaijani list, the year when the group participated in a dialogue matters in some cases, as the context of that particular time was affecting the content of the dialogue.
The Armenian participants most consistently articulated the need for economic development, connected to Armenia’s on-going conflict with Azerbaijan ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union that resulted in a halt of any economic ties and communication. The participants see this problem further exacerbated in connection with the struggle with Turkey over the recognition of the Armenian genocide, with Turkey having also closed its borders with Armenia in solidarity with Azerbaijan. With the two of its longest borders closed and Azerbaijan pursuing a policy of economic isolation of Armenia, the latter finds itself left out of projects of regional economic development and increasingly reliant on Russian assistance.
Every single one of the thirteen groups we worked with discussed the need of sustainable economic development. The central theme here was the discussion of Azerbaijan and Turkey having their borders with Armenia closed, referenced by 7 groups of Armenian participants as “the blockade”. The discussion of the need for open borders was supplemented by auxiliary topics such as the conflict leading to the exclusion of Armenia from regional development and cooperation mentioned by 3 groups, the resulting needs for better living conditions mentioned by 3 other groups and for the freedom of movement mentioned by 8 groups.
The Armenian participants often focused also on the need for sustainable peace, otherwise phrased as a need for stability, a need for sincere actions toward confidence building, and even needs for love, peace, and the pursuit of happiness. This cluster on sustainable peace had two sub-clusters – one focused on the need for self-empowerment and taking things into one’s own hands and the other on the need for security and preservation of identity as dependent on the actions of others.
The sub-cluster of needs related to voice and empowerment was mentioned 9 times. These included the need to have the voice of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians be heard in the peace process, the need for restoring self-trust and trust in the other, freedom of media, as well as freedom of taking matters into one’s own hands and the need for the restoration of the voice and rights of the refugees.
The needs for the preservation of identity and physical and cultural security were mentioned 8 times. The cultural security and security of identity were discussed mainly in earlier years of the dialogue events, between 2007 and 2012, when the cease-fire was relatively stable and negotiations on both the Armenian-Azerbaijani and Turkish-Armenian directions were active. They were not mentioned even once during six dialogue events held in 2014 or 2015. The cultural security need was discussed in a form of a need for the preservation of the Armenian identity in general (2009), the preservation of the identity of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians specifically (2007), the preservation of Armenian cultural identity (2011), and the preservation of a positive (non-victim) version of the Armenian identity (2012-2).
In the later years, characterized by the breakdown of both the Armenian-Turkish and Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations, the worsening of political relations and military escalation with Azerbaijan, physical security was mentioned more often. The need for physical security of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians took the central notch (2011 and 2012) within a larger need for physical security of all Armenians (2009 and 2014).
Related to identity and security, the Armenian participants often talked of the need for the recognition of the Armenian genocide. This was discussed by five groups mainly in the Armenian-Turkish or regional dialogues. Three of these discussed it in the context of achieving historical justice, while one discussed as related to the need for respect from Turkey toward the collective pain of Armenians and the other one in the context of the need for Armenians to feel home in Anatolia.
The fears outlined by the Armenian groups can be broken down into two broad categories: one is the loss of identity and physical extinction of Armenians, and the other is the fear of a new cycle of violence.
If the preservation of identity was a prominent topic when discussing needs, losing identity and the fear of physical extermination was even more often cited when discussing fears. Loss of identity in general was cited most often, with some clarifying that they see it happening as a result of potential discrimination and physical threat to Armenian populations under Turkish or Azerbaijani rule, particularly in the case of the return of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control. Other groups went further and discussed the fear for the survival of the Armenian statehood and the fear of physical extinction.
If the fear of extinction of all Armenians was abstract and in one form or another mentioned by a total of 7 groups, the fear of a soon-to-come war or other form of mass violence was referenced by every group. Specifically, the fear of a new war with Azerbaijan was articulated by 8, with others expressing fear of the prospect of a life under the perpetual threat of war. Others yet feared that Turkey will radicalize, resort to pan-Turkism or pan-Turanism leading to mass violence against Armenians and possibly a new genocide.
Only one group mentioned the fear of rising individual-level extremism, in a reference to the glorification of Ramil Safarov in Azerbaijan. Yet it would be misleading to assume that the topic was not a major part of the conversations. Our dialogues are designed along the past-present-future continuum, therefore the analysis of the NFCH follows the analysis of the past. Safarov’s image, according to the Armenian participants, is central to the Armenian narrative and came to be associated with the image of an Azerbaijani person in general, contributing to the fear of murderous intensions of individual Azerbaijanis capable of killing a sleeping colleague.
Of particular concern to the Armenian participants, mentioned virtually by all the groups, were the questions of propaganda resulting in negative attitudes and impacting each side’s identity. Three groups specifically named anti-Armenian propaganda in Azerbaijan as a concern with one more group naming negative propaganda both in Azerbaijan and Armenia.
In regard to the consequences of propaganda, one group named the differing understanding of history, as well as the absence of a readiness to live together. Others referred to the polarization created by the conflict discourses, the enmity between the sides and especially those who after a prospective solution would have to live together, and with such polarization, the hindrance to any possibility of a solution.
Others were concerned with the impact of propaganda on identities. The concern here was not only in the negative attitudes toward Armenians in Azerbaijan, but also the dominance of the victim narrative in the Armenian discourse creating a victim identity. The groups that brought this up also mentioned the above-discussed need of transforming this victim identity. The conflicting yet parallel syndromes of superiority and inferiority were also discussed as one of the results of propaganda.
Lack of ethnic-diversity or diversity of opinions in the Armenian society and the pressures to conform with the mainstream views and not to challenge taboos was also shared as a concern resulting from mutual propaganda.
Lack of democracy or rule of law was articulated as a concern by a number of groups, and was seen as part of the dynamics hindering conflict resolution. One group, at the same time, had the mirror approach, listing conflict as an obstacle to democratization.
Other major concerns raised were related to the arms race and the power dis-balance. These issues were discussed mainly in the later years mentioned 6 times in 2012 and later and only once prior to that. The concern about the arms race applied to Azerbaijan and Armenia, together with its effect on economy and the increase of the war rhetoric, was coupled with the need for de-escalation.
Many groups, at the same time, were concerned with the rapid outmigration of Armenians, which along with the increase of populations in Turkey and Azerbaijan, could create an even greater demographic disparity. The sheer difference in size and population between Turkey and Armenia was mentioned as a concern, along with the slow pace of the otherwise seen as positive shift in attitudes in Turkey toward Armenia and Armenians.
The Armenian groups shared the worry of the Azerbaijani groups in regard to the negative influence of geo-politics or third party actors. Many of the participants discussed it in the context of the need of taking the destiny of the region into the hands of the local populations.
As outlined by the methodology, the final category discussed in the PSW process were the hopes related to the conflict resolution process. The hopes were most of the time based on the needs, fears, and concerns and articulated as a solution to them. Two groups expressed a hope that it would be the Azerbaijani or the Turkish side that would compromise unilaterally, accepting the Armenian positions.
All other groups, however, focused on hopes for jointly developed solutions. Some hopes contained process suggestions, such as collaboration and changes in the peace process that would make it less state interest oriented and more concerned with the humanitarian issues and the needs of the populations. From the solution-oriented hopes, overcoming stereotypes and transforming attitudes were mentioned, the restoration of trust, and the healing of trauma, followed by a future where everyone has equal rights irrespective of background and sustainable co-existence and stability.
If in the Azerbaijani teams the regional integration models were mentioned often, relatively few Armenian groups mentioned the possibility. One of the groups, however, went as far as suggesting a United Caucasus, integrated politically and economically, as the ultimate solution to the region’s problems.
Turkish list of needs, fears, concerns, and hopes
Groups from Turkey participated in the Imagine Center’s dialogues where needs of the societies have been discussed three times: once in 2012, as well as in winter 2015 (1) and summer 2015 (2). Although the number of the dialogues attended by Turkish participants compared to Armenians and Azerbaijanis might present a limitation when it comes to portraying the larger picture, the outcomes of the PSW bring out clear similarities within these three meetings.
We start the discussion of NFCH of the Turkish groups from fears, as it was the Sevres Syndrome articulated in this category that anchored all others.
All the Turkish groups mention the concept of the Sevres Syndrome, although the 2012 group mentioned it as a concern, while the others as a fear. The Sevres Syndrome is associated with the Sevres Treaty and is a collective paranoia, shared by large segments of the society in Turkey. When the Sevres Treaty was signed between the Ottoman Empire and the Allies in 1920 in order to conclude the First World War, the remaining Ottoman lands were divided between Greeks, Arabs, Armenians, and Kurds. However, the Treaty has never been implemented, as the independence movement led by Mustafa Kemal was successful enough to sign the more favorable Lausanne Treaty in 1923, which is the founding treaty of modern Turkey. Although never implemented, for many Turks, the Sevres Treaty represents the idea that the Western powers are on a constant quest to weaken and divide and rule Turkey. This idea has turned into a syndrome as the power-holders have since been using elements of the Sevres Syndrome whenever the state authority or sovereignty is challenged domestically or internationally.
Despite being recognized as a fear or concern, and stated separately by all groups, some other mentioned fears are also connected with the Sevres Syndrome. While the 2012 group stated the Sevres Syndrome as a concern, they connected it with the fear of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and its possible domino effect for other persecuted groups. The 2012 group connected the genocide recognition also with the legal ramifications of territorial and financial compensations, and stated it as a fear in the Turkish society that prevents it from moving closer to the solution of the conflict with Armenians. Similarly, the 2015-1 group considered losing territory and suffering economically as a fear and connected it with Turkey’s weakening and being blamed. The 2015-2 group went further framing this question as connected with loosing territory and the disintegration of Turkey as a result of anti-Turkish Western conspiracies, all leading to a possible chaos and renewed conflicts.
The other fear stated by the 2012 group was that the reconciliation with Armenians could lead to loss of Azerbaijan – morally, economically, and geo-politically. While the kinship relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey are important for some circles in both countries, the economic and geo-political relations are even more crucial as Azerbaijan is the main resource for Turkey’s prospects of being an energy hub. Turkey closed its borders to Armenia in 1993 as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, when Turkey initiated the normalization process with Armenia, the Azerbaijani reaction was harsh; the natural gas prices were doubled. The group acknowledged that without solving the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey’s hands are tied for any step that it might take toward Armenia. The 2015-2 group stated it as a concern about damage in the economic relations, which can be commented to be related both to Azerbaijan and the rest of economic relations.
Among many concerns aired by the Turkish groups, one was stated by all – the loss of the prestige of the Turkish identity, if the Armenian genocide is recognized, explaining further the resistance of the Turkish society when it comes to the recognition of the Armenian genocide. This concern rests on the assumption that Turkishness is a prestigious identity, not only for Turks themselves but also for the foreign audience. The loss of prestige, therefore, can be in one’s own eyes or, as the 2015-1 group put it, can result in the loss of prestige in the eyes of the West. The 2012 group also stated a related yet distinct concern of giving too much one-sided concessions to Armenians. The emphasis on “one sided” here is another hint of the concern of loosing power, projecting inability to receive reciprocal concessions, and being seen as a weak state.
By stating that Cosmopolitanism could undermine the Turkish unity, the 2012 group suggested that the unity of Turkishness indeed exists in the society. It then sees the possibility of diversity or cosmopolitanism as undermining this unity by the rights given to different groups. The 2015-1 group, on the other hand, claims the opposite, articulating being seen as monolithic as a concern. The participants in the latter group underlined the diversity in the society in the name of ethnicity, religion, ideology and were concerned about the prospects of being seen as one unit, considering that these diverse groups in effect have diverse opinions on many issues, including in regard to the recognition of the Armenian genocide.
The 2015-2 group conceptualized the state-society relations as problematic and underlined the need for it to change. It described Turkey as a very state-centric society where the state is conceived as sacred and the rights, freedoms, or welfare of the citizens can be abandoned for the survival of the strong state. Related to that, the 2015-2 group stated the need for strengthening the civic relations in terms of education, economy, communication, and information, which can also be seen as a tool of changing state-society relations. Groups also put it as democratization in a more general sense.
Another category of needs articulated by all the groups can be broadly called as a need for empathy or mutual empathy. The participants in 2012 group phrased it as a need to articulate victim mentality, in reference to lack of remembrance of the Turkish victims of the Balkan and Caucasus wars and their suffering, including millions of deaths. The suggestion was that a culture of remembrance and mourning of past injustices, including the Turkish (Muslim) ones, would make it easier for the Turkish society to have empathy with others.
At the same time, the 2012 and 2015-2 groups defined empathy in wider terms as the reshaping of the image of self and others and the recognition of the pains of a multiplicity of different social groups. All those points underline the need for developing empathy for the others’ by evaluating, recognizing, reshaping one’s own and others’ identities. The 2015-1 group also makes reference to the diverse groups in the society by stating ‘Recognition of multiplicity of different social groups pains’. As the “enemy of the state” changed and evolved throughout the decades, there have been many victims in the modern Turkish history including Kurds, Alevis, Greeks, leftists, rightists, nationalists, Islamists, atheists, liberals, as well as Armenians. The participants underlined the need of the society to be recognized as diverse and having diverse pains. This connected also with the concern stated earlier in regard to being seen as monolithic.
The participants in the 2015-2 group articulated a hope of the Turkish society to become a world leader economically and culturally, and the 2012 group took it further with a hope of Turkey becoming such a great power that no one could make any claim against it. That group projected this power to the genocide recognition question by expressing a related hope that all claims about the Armenian genocide will go away. While the 2012 group narrowed the hopes of the Turkish society in this relationship down to preventing genocide recognition, the 2015-2 group articulated a larger hope in regard to leadership both on economics and cultural fronts. While agreeing that the society was state-centric and sanctity was attributed to the state, the 2015-2 group also expressed a hope for a reform of education and legal systems away from nationalistic and toward civic values.
Cross-analysis of the lists
Concluding the review, first of all it should be stressed that the three countries are in an unequal position. For “big” Turkey, relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia are often seen through the prism of the relations with other “big” actors such as the EU, NATO, and Russia. This explains the extensive focus on the Sevres Syndrome and the concern about the loss of prestige in the eyes of the West, while discussing the Turkish-Armenian-Azerbaijani relationship. The rift with Armenia is primarily concerning because of its impact on the relations with the West. Close relations with Azerbaijan, while important, are rarely mentioned as they also are overshadowed by relations with “bigger” partners. The closed border with Armenia is rather a regional problem, pressing for the authorities and residents of the border areas, caught up in the economic and infrastructure impasse, yet it is hardly mentioned by the groups of Turkish participants who for the most part come from Istanbul and Ankara. At the same time for the Armenian and the Azerbaijani groups the relations with Turkey are critical. Both the Armenian and Azerbaijani participants reference the close relationship between Azerbaijan and Turkey, both economically and symbolically, often referring to the phrase “one nation – two states”. That same concept, however, was not referenced by the Turkish participants.
At the same time, the importance of the inter-relationships for all the three societies increases in the context of the Turkey-Armenia-Azerbaijan triangle. Perhaps paradoxically, the alliance between Turkey and Azerbaijan does not translate into better awareness about each other. In our experience, Armenian and Turkish, as well as Armenian and Azerbaijani participants are relatively well aware of the developments in the “other” society, while Azerbaijani and Turkish participants exhibit little mutual awareness in regard to each other’s internal developments.
Key topics in both bilateral (Turkish-Armenian and Armenian-Azerbaijani) and trilateral dialogues are the discussions on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the issue of recognition/non-recognition of the Armenian genocide. As is evident to date, on the political arena the sides of the triangle have greatly succeeded in creating problems for one another, rather than cooperating and developing partner relations. This situation is reflected in the prevailing NFCH that can be reduced to two important blocks – economy and conflict. For Armenian and Azerbaijani participants, the economic benefits in case of the resolution of the conflicts are seen to be stability and diversification of sectors. At the same time, Turkish participants, in case of a solution, expressed much more ambitious hopes for Turkey to achieve a significant (leadership) position in the region.
For the Azerbaijani groups, the cornerstone issue was the right of return for the refugees and IDPs. This question was viewed from an economic angle, as well as from an emotional and symbolic perspective. For Armenia, the priority is the economy and stable development, which was seen as practically impossible without open borders and the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Unlike in the Azerbaijani groups, the question of refugees was rarely raised, conditioned by a better integration, outmigration, and the loss of hope for a safe return of the refugee community.
In the needs and fears sections, however, both Armenian and Azerbaijani participants gave great importance to the questions of security of those inhabiting the zone of conflict and prospective returnees and the fear of a possible escalation of violence. The question of survival and the fear of a new cycle of violence was also shared. The Armenian participants gave a big importance to the need of the inclusion of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians in the peace process and the protection of their rights. While the Azerbaijanis stressed the need to include the IDPs and refugees into the process.
All the parties expressed hopes for achieving solutions, normalization, and reconciliation. Although the Turkish groups articulated that while they see the prospects of rapprochement with Armenia as an attractive possibility, it loses its attractiveness significantly when seen in the context of possible reciprocal losses in the relations with Azerbaijan.
Participants from Azerbaijan and Armenia have identified the issue of maintaining the collective identity, including a cultural identity, as one of their core needs and expressed a fear or a concern of losing it. If for Armenian participants this question was linked primarily to new cycles of violence and physical survival, Azerbaijani participants linked it mainly to the losses suffered during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and loss of cultural heritage.
In the Armenian groups, the issue of the recognition of the genocide by Turkey, and by extension, the hope for achieving (historical) justice, bore urgency. Lack of progress in understanding each other and the absence of the recognition of the genocide leads to the fear of possible reoccurrence of genocide in the event of a rise of “new pan-Turkism”. Physical survival is a fear articulated by the Armenian participants not only in relation with Turkey, but also with Azerbaijan: it comes up in the context of the discussion of a possible new war, the alliance of Azerbaijan and Turkey, as well as in the context of Safarov’s glorification in Azerbaijan and the resulting image of a joint Turkic enemy. Often, different in essence events in Turkey and Azerbaijan are seen by the Armenians as interconnected and intended to damage Armenia or Armenians.
While the Armenian groups see the recognition of the genocide as a central step toward the normalization of relations and the establishment of trust, the transformation of the enemy image, and reduction of fear, the Turkish groups describe the recognition of the genocide as one of the dominant public fears and connect it with the Sevres Syndrome. The participants articulate that for the Turkish public, the resistance to recognition is explained by the fear of possible losses (including territorial) if the recognition of the Armenian genocide is initiated, followed by a weakening of Turkey. It is believed that recognition will not only fail to solve any conflicts, but, on the contrary, will open an even larger Pandora’s box for many other groups to demand justice and may cost Turkey the loss of statehood. And for the Turkish public, the weakening of the state is an issue of identity, or at least the loss of prestige for Turkish identity. Turkish and Azerbaijani groups are united by their perception of a bias on the part of the international community, which is seen as sympathetic to Christian Armenia to the detriment of its Muslim neighbors.
For groups from all three countries, issues of democratization and more freedoms are urgent in different categories, but more frequently in the needs and hopes. The development of civil societies, the freedom of media, and other issues do not lose their urgency. The issues in the educational systems and hopes for their successful development in the future are also deemed important by all three groups.
The Armenian and the Azerbaijani groups were united in their concern of the negative interference of the third parties and strongly articulated the need for taking the matters into their own hands. This could serve as a common ground on which the further Armenian-Azerbaijani collaboration to solve their conflicts could be built. Since both groups, and particularly Azerbaijanis, also referred often to the need for regional integration, that could open up possibilities for articulating a role for Turkey and possibly other regional powers in envisioning such integration.
The authors of this review, as well as the dialogue participants, did not have the goal to present the whole spectrum of needs, fears, concerns and hopes that are urgent for Turkish, Armenian, and Azerbaijani societies. Often having a proactive stance in their societies, the dialogue participants have conveyed to us the NFCH that are significant to them. Further, in a recent variation of the PSW methodology, we started asking the participants to identify their own needs as members of the society, rather than those of the society in general. Such rephrasing provides us with a much more nuanced picture of often divergent needs and fears that can co-exist in the same society. As not enough data is accumulated as of this writing through this new approach, further analysis will be necessary integrate the learning.
The analysis of the lists of the NFCH developed in the span of over 8 years by dozens of participants from Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, at the same time, points toward a number of core dynamics that will have to be addressed on the road toward a sustainable solution to the existing conflicts. These point to the obligation to address the needs of the forcefully displaced, the cessation of imminent threats of violence, historical reconciliation, as well as the democratization and regional economic integration and more.
The analysis also points toward a number of topics that need to be researched further. Such topics include understanding the consequences of the strategy of isolation lead by Azerbaijan and Turkey in regard to Armenia; exploring possibilities restorative justice in regard to the displaced populations; questions of diversity and the state of the minority rights; understanding, exposing, and addressing the taboo topics in the societies to advance pluralism; exploring possible scenarios for political and economic solutions to existing conflicts and more.
The editorial team of the Caucasus Edition plans to commission analysis on these and other topics to joint teams of scholar-practitioners and analysts from across the region.
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 We would like to underline that when speaking about Armenians, Azerbaijanis, or Turks we have in mind the following the participants of the dialogue initiatives that are citizens of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey and the participants of the dialogue initiatives that have self-identified as Armenian, Azerbaijani, or Turkish.
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