A model for cooperation in the South Caucasus

Over the last three months International Alert and our partner, the Caucasus Business and Development Network (CBDN), have been hosting a series of festivals in the South Caucasus to promote regional economic dialogue and cooperation, including CBDN’s own Caucasian Brands.

Caucasian Brands is a series of regionally produced food and drink that demonstrate a common interest in and effective model of economic cooperation in the South Caucasus. Today, through the joint efforts of experts from across the region, CBDN has successfully created a range of regional products:

  • Caucasus Honey: A unique variety of honeys from across the South Caucasus
  • Caucasus Tea: A set of teas and herbs from different regions of the South Caucasus
  • Caucasus Cheese: A new type of cheese, created by Turkish, Armenian and Georgian cheese makers
  • Caucasian Bouquet: A collection of wines from the wine-growing regions of the South Caucasus

Over 20 years of protracted conflicts and closed borders have left people in the South Caucasus isolated from one another, contributing to mutually exclusive narratives and negative stereotypes in the societies. In economic terms, the conflicts are arguably the main impediment to regional cooperation and equitable development.

For us, regional economy-based dialogue and cooperation are both the means of achieving a more peaceful and stable Caucasus, as well as what peace in the Caucasus could look like – economically connected and cooperating.

CBDN’s work aims to remove impediments to regional cooperation and identify catalysts for positive change. The main aim of the CBDN’s current outreach campaign is to challenge entrenched attitudes by promoting and advocating for regional cooperation and dialogue as a positive benefit of peace in the South Caucasus. Through festivals and exhibitions, we show communities across the South Caucasus the positive examples, or precedents, of regional cooperation.

The recent festivals in Kutaisi in Georgia and Gyumri and Yerevan in Armenia provided attendees with the opportunity to learn about CBDN, sample the Caucasian Brands, share opinions and discuss opportunities for broadening the engagement of business communities in promoting peace and cooperation in the South Caucasus.

As an MP in Kutaisi commented: “Fellows, what you are doing is so right! It is impossible to achieve peace in the Caucasus without a fair balance between peace and business, and it comes only through cooperation.”

Fantastic organisation by CBDN colleagues from Abkhazia, Armenia, Kars, Kutaisi, Nagorny Karabakh, Tbilisi and South Ossetia, and a pleasant and friendly atmosphere, helped us to boost CBDN’s profile and raise awareness about its work among the locals and guests. The food and drinks on display proved popular with members of the local authorities and business community alike.

The Deputy Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Hermine Naghdalyan praised the high quality of the products and emphasised her support for CBDN’s work in creating possibilities for all sides to work together, even when the conflicts have not been politically resolved. Likewise, the Mayor of Gyumri Samvel Balasanyan expressed genuine appreciation for our work and emphasised his support in finding creative ways for cross-border and regional cooperation.

The festivals also attracted the local business communities. Many of them commented that the festival was a great opportunity not only to learn more about Caucasian Brands, but also to meet CBDN representatives, establish contacts and learn more about the practice of a particular sector in other places.

“This festival did not only familiarise us with these products, but also allowed for a comfortable friendly chat with people from other regions,” said one businessperson at the event in Gyumri. “I wish everyone new experiences and good mood!”

CBDN’s cross-regional work on the beekeeping sector was highly valued by the representatives of the local beekeeping associations, who were eager to find out more and discuss areas for further cooperation. “Your work on [the] beekeeping sector sounds impressive,” said the head of the beekeeping association in Yerevan. “We should meet to discuss in detail … and try to find areas for cooperation. It will also be interesting to discuss [the] findings of your research on this sector.”

Overall, festivals provided an incredibly useful platform for people to meet and discuss CBDN and its guiding principles. It also positively demonstrated that holding different positions on the core conflict issues is not an obstacle for genuine and effective cooperation between entrepreneurs from the opposing sides.

Today, we are in the process of organising further outreach campaigns in other regions of the South Caucasus. To find out more about CBDN and future events, please visit www.caucasusbusiness.net

This initiative is implemented with the financial support of the UK government’s Conflict Pool and the European Union, within Alert’s ‘Business Advocacy for Peace’ project.