Nagorny Karabakh

International Alert has launched a new report on the successes and challenges of 20 years of civil peacebuilding in the Nagorny Karabakh conflict context. The report, entitled Advancing the prospects for peace: 20 years of civil peacebuilding in the context of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, reflects the findings of five experts from different sides of the conflict.

Almost two decades after the ceasefire agreement of 1994, the official peace process on the Nagorny Karabakh conflict mediated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) under the 'Minsk Group', has been unable to reach a peaceful settlement. In the meantime, civil society groups in the region have sought to advance the prospects for peace at different levels of society outside of the political negotiations.

The authors of this new report are five experts brought together to study public participation in peace processes in other parts of the world and stimulate broad debate in their societies around new perspectives on transforming the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. As a starting point for their comparative work, the group investigated perceptions of civil peacebuilding efforts over 20 years in their own conflict context of Nagorny Karabakh. They have produced this landmark joint report on their findings and reflections.

In the report, the experts highlight the main successes and challenges experienced by peacebuilders in the region over the past two decades. They also identify the needs and potential entry points for more effective peacebuilding work.

A key message emerging from the research is that, in a context where the societies are completely isolated from one another, peacebuilding initiatives have been the only way to mitigate the radicalising effect of nationalist rhetoric promoted within the societies. Respondents in the study highlighted the positive transformation of those engaged in peacebuilding activities towards less radical, more constructive attitudes to the other sides. However, they emphasised that this benefit cannot be achieved through participation in one-off events. As one study participant noted: "A more serious transformation of young people's world view can only be achieved through steady, prolonged work."

A difficulty highlighted in the paper is that cross-conflict peacebuilding initiatives between civil society groups cannot emerge independently, but depend on support from international organisations. In the words of one participant in the research: "Every time, we need a third party to make us sit down at the negotiating table. That is the problem – our lack of civic maturity." On all sides, civil society is seen to be weak and in need of support to strengthen and broaden the reach of alternative thinking on the conflict in society. Another obstacle identified is the disparity between the level of investment in war and the resources available for building peace.

The authors emphasise the need for better coordination between different projects and actors, as well as the need for broader dissemination of information about peacebuilding activities taking place, in order to reach and engage new people across more diverse sectors of society, and not just in large cities. They also raise the concern that the younger generation has little experience of contact with the other side and is influenced by nationalist rhetoric and enemy profiling in the media. The five experts therefore recommend a greater focus on efforts to reach young people and strengthen alternative voices in the media.

Peacebuilding processes over 20 years have led to the emergence of a number of civil society leaders with a clear understanding that mutual trust and compromise are essential for achieving peace. These individuals can play a crucial role in promoting greater understanding of the views from the other sides of the conflict and increasing openness to dialogue, and provide a key entry point for future peacebuilding work. Their peacebuilding expertise, vision and motivation can be drawn upon to promote a culture of peace and bring about change in their societies.

With support from International Alert, the authors plan to organise inclusive discussion events based on the report across their communities and also to present their findings to the authorities in the region and the international community.

Read the report in English here and Russian here.

This initiative is part of the European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (EPNK), supported by the European Union.