Overview of the Conflicts
The Republic of Armenia declared its independence from the USSR in 1991. As a post-Soviet country, besides the troublesome processes of transitioning to market economy and other new institutional arrangements, Armenia has also been greatly affected by conflicts that erupted around the independence.
Since 1988, there has been an ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the enclave Nagorno-Karabakh in its south-east borders. The conflict itself has historical roots in the times of the collapse of Russian Empire but the current conflict erupted as a response to claims for self-determination of the people of Nagorno Karabakh and evolved into an inter-ethnic conflict. Large numbers of citizens were displaced, both internally and externally, due to the conflict. In the winter of 1992, the clashes and fighting reached their peak. After that several organizations, such as Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), tried to intervene and in May 1994, Minsk Group of OSCE mediated peace talks between two sides which concluded with a cease-fire agreement. After the conflict, there are still ongoing tensions between two countries. As a result, there are occasional military and civilian deaths. In 2014 the violations of ceasefire regime grew to unprecedented numbers, resulting in about 56% of the total death cases ever since the establishment of the ceasefire regime.
Nagorno Karabkh, which had declared its independence through a referendum in 1991, is currently a de-facto independent but unrecognized state.
The relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan are currently frozen despite the negotiation process which started immediately after the armed conflict. The media coverage of the conflict and government propaganda in both societies further cultivate hostile and hateful attitudes towards each other.
Problems and conflicts of Armenia are not limited with its eastern border. After more than a million Armenians were massacred during the 1915 genocide committed under the Ottoman empire, the Turkish state has continuously refused to acknowledge this massacre and denies any kind of responsibility. As a result, the two countries are engaged in a century-long gridlocked conflict, with no diplomatic relations. Furthermore, as Azerbaijan is a strong ally and historically connected to Turkey, in response to Nagorno-Karabakh war, Turkey closed its borders with Armenia in 1993, greatly impacting the Armenian economy. Despite diplomatic and civil society efforts, relations between two countries have not yet improved in any significant term. For both historical and political reasons, both countries’ people have certain prejudices against each other.
Selection of Civil Society Actions in Armenia
Civil society in Armenia has started to strengthen after the break up from USSR. Since then many NGOs have emerged and numerous cross-border projects have been implemented to contribute to peace-building efforts in the region. The projects involving Turkey and Azerbaijan have aimed at eliminating hostile attitudes, prejudices and build a peaceful future in the region. There has been relatively greater mobility of citizens between Armenia and Turkey, however due to the ongoing conflict and resulting travel restrictions, projects with Azerbaijan generally take place in a third country. Besides local NGOs, many international NGOs and organizations have also been working in the region. However efforts to build trust and dialogue between the two societies involved in the frozen conflict have not been sustainable and therefore civil society organizations have been struggling with a multitude of challenges.
The European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (EPNK) is an initiative, funded by the European Union that seeks to positively impact the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement process.1 It has five member organizations which are Conciliation Resources (UK), Crisis Management Initiative (Finland), International Alert (UK), the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation (Sweden) and LINKS (UK). These organizations also have close links with local organizations in the region. Conciliation Resources is a United Kingdom based, peace-promoting NGO and they have been working to promote peace building and conflict resolution efforts in the South Caucasus region.
Memories Without Borders is a Turkish-Armenian-Azerbaijani documentary, looking at the impacts of troubled histories on individual lives today. The joint work of a team of Turkish, Armenian and Azerbaijani film-makers, the film traces legacies of violence stretching from mass murder in Ottoman Turkey in the early 20th century, to war in Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s.
Since 2006 Conciliation Resources have been supporting a unique bridge-building project involving young Azerbaijanis and Karabakh Armenians. Dialogue Through Film gives young people the opportunity to learn film-making skills and to work together to make short documentaries reflecting the realities of their everyday lives. The Karabakh Contact Group is another initiative which brings together Armenian and Azerbaijani academics, analysts and thinkers, offering them a unique platform to share perspectives from across the conflict divide, including from Karabakh, and work together to think through key dilemmas facing the peace process.
Eurasia Partnership Foundation is based on three capitals of South Caucasus region. It has been an important NGO in promoting peace and dealing with particular conflicts in the region. Eurasia Partnership Foundation had a cross-border project on Unbiased Media Coverage of Armenia-Azerbaijan Relations in order for a cooperative network of media workers to eliminate biases due to Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Peace Dialogue is an Armenian-based NGO which has been working in the peace-building field and, with its partners, has tried to create a peace movement and culture of peace in the Caucasus region. The ongoing conflicts validate militarization of the involved societies with its huge budgetary allocations. The situation has allowed many to maintain their political power and those in power have been able to distract attention away from the ongoing socio-economic, political and human rights problems in the conflict affected countries. Peace Dialogue aims to raise awareness about the troubling human rights situation in the armed forces in Armenia and to create a public demand for solutions4. The organization strives to mobilize local, national and international actors who can have a positive influence on the situation. The initiatives of the organization mainly aimed at encouraging societies to use their creative and intellectual potential to achieve understanding among conflicting parties, promoting non-violent problem solving practices, and mobilizing society’s efforts in achieving sustainable peace in the Caucasus region.
The Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation, which is an independent, nonpolitical organization dedicated to positively transforming relations in conflict-torn societies, has also implemented a number of projects bringing together young people from Armenia and Turkey. The organization has an educational focus and works with various groups such as youth, educators, journalists and media professionals. Started in 2007 as an Azerbaijani-Armenian dialogue project, Imagine has developed into an organization that sustains networks of professionals committed to working across conflict divides towards creating linkages and improving understanding between their societies. Today the Imagine Center works with youth, historians, educators and journalists and carries out an expanded scope of activities, including applied research, conflict resolution methodology development, as well as dialogues, trainings, workshops in Armenian-Azerbaijani, Syrian, Georgian-South Ossetian, and Turkish-Armenian contexts.
In 2014, a consortium of 8 NGOs (four from each country) founded the Support to Armenia-Turkey Reconciliation Process. The programme is implemented by a Consortium of eight civil society organisations from both countries with the financial assistance of the European Union under the Instrument for Stability. The overall objective of the Programme is to promote civil society efforts towards the normalisation of relations between Turkey and Armenia and towards an open border by enhancing people-to-people contacts, expanding economic and business links, promoting cultural and educational activities and facilitating access to balanced information in both societies. This programme is administered by Hrant Dink Foundation. One of the components of the programme, the travel grant funds citizens of each country to cross the border. Academics, students, musicians, painters, civil society workers, artists used this grant to travel to the other country. Moreover with this consortium, a fellowship scheme was founded to promote long-term cross-border exchange of professionals in different sectors.
Armenia-Turkey Cinema Platform was established in 2007 by Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival and Anadolu Kültür to promote ideas and cooperation between two countries’ filmmakers. Since 2008, films were funded and aided in meeting for filmmakers.
Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor is an Armenian-based NGO which has been working in the sphere of peacebuilding for a long time. It has been working with partners in Azerbaijan, Karabakh and Georgia within joint initiatives and projects to achieve mutual trust and dialogue between different representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan, such as students, journalists, NGO workers, relatives of missing persons, representatives of local government, etc. It has also been working on human rights violations in the armed forces trying to present the real picture of human rights in the armed forces and the situation of militarization and arms race in the region. HCA Vanadzor has also been working on the Armenian-Turkish relations by bringing together teachers and students through summer camps and training-seminars within the program of Support to Armenia-Turkey Reconciliation Process.
The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) is a non-governmental organization based in Leiden. IHJR is uniquely positioned at the crossroads of academia and advocacy. Since its inception in 2004, IHJR has been committed to promoting reconciliation, tolerance, and understanding in historically divided societies. 6 IHJR has implemented projects focusing on Armenia-Turkey relations and project is titled as “Ani, Kars and Gyumri: Journey towards Understanding” which aims to promote Armenian-Turkish relations through rediscovering shared values of culture and history.
For a more detailed report of Armenia-Turkey relations from 2010 you can check European Stability Initiative’s Turkey – Armenia Manual which offers information and contacts for researchers and institutions working on Turkey-Armenia relations.