The European Parliament is set up as a circle. There is an empty space in the centre, then an inner circle of seats and several outer circles. The idea is to stimulate exchanges between the different members of the European Parliament in an open, non-hierarchical way. The exchange that took place on 19th October 2011, The European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh: Progress and Prospects, was about the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh that started more than 20 years ago and remains unresolved to this day. It is of interest to the European Union (EU) because the region is regarded as within Europe’s neighbourhood and because of the importance of the region to Europe’s energy needs.
International Alert and four partner organisations – Conciliation Resources, LINKS, Kvinna till Kvinna, and Crisis Management Initiative – make up the European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict Over Nagorno-Karabakh (EPNK). The EPNK is funded by the EU and has been running now for one and a half years. The exchange in the European Parliament, which was co-hosted by MEPs Evgeni Kirilov, Vytautas Landsbergis and Charles Tannock, and which Alert chaired as EPNK’s lead agency, was an opportunity to showcase some of the Partnership’s peacebuilding achievements – from film-making and media work, to international exchanges on successes in peacebuilding, training, research, political dialogue and improving women’s participation in peace processes – and to further encourage and work with the engagement of the EU in pushing for a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
EU representatives attending the event included diplomats from the European External Action Service (EEAS) – the foreign policy wing of the EU, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) with interest in the region, and the new EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus. The Armenian and Azerbaijani Ambassadors to the EU were also present to respond to the presentations from the EPNK organisations and MEPs.
Interest in peacebuilding within the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is high, as confirmed by the over 100 participants and audience members attending the event and exchanging views across the circular space. The EPNK presented something of the cumulative impact of their wide range of activities targeting different stakeholders in the conflict, and encouraged the EU to continue to support peacebuilding efforts – which are not easy in a context where engagement by a political entity like the EU can easily be interpreted as siding with one party or the other. The sensitivities and complexities of EU engagement were registered, but so was the urgency to find a peaceful solution amidst an intensification of combative rhetoric on all sides.
A glimmer of a solution was illustrated powerfully by the presentation of films and exhibitions, produced as outcomes of the EPNK’s work, that accompanied the discussions and the event. A short film made by the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) and screened during the discussion focused on dialogue between young Armenians and Azerbaijanis. In the film, young people from different sides of the conflict talked about their personal journeys from ignorance and prejudice of the other side, to a more informed understanding that comes from face-to-face interaction.
The discussions were accompanied by a photo exhibition portraying highlights of the five member organisations’ work and achievements, and by the screening of other short films, made by Conciliation Resources and CMI, during the reception which followed the formal debate. “We are all human beings who deserve a life of certainty and hope for the future” was the lead message of Alert’s photo exhibition on the human side of this protracted conflict, parts of which were displayed both in the European Parliament and at Tour & Taxis, a public cultural centre in the centre of Brussels (find out more).
The event was a celebration of the achievements of the EPNK work on creating the conditions for improving relationships across the conflict divide in this difficult conflict context. It is this kind of dialogue and transformation of attitudes that can spark the innovation and imagination required to find solutions to intractable conflicts such as this one. Political leadership is needed to create space for such dialogue and engagement. The EU is part of this leadership – underlined and encouraged by this exchange in the round at the European Parliament.
To find out more about EPNK, read the Partnership's brochure.
This initiative is funded by the European Union