The Words of the Marion Family

People-to-People Diplomacy in the South Caucasus

Jacques Marion
January 23, 2009
Regional Secretary General, UPF-Eurasia

Moscow, Russia - A January 23 conference addressed human security issues in the South Caucasus conflict zones and recommended people-to-people diplomacy as a way to resolve long-standing conflicts related to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. This was part of the South Caucasus Peace Initiative (SCPI) set up by UPF-Eurasia in early 2008 and the Russian Political Science Association.

Held at the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences, the conference was the culmination of efforts during 2008 to create a foundation for the South Caucasus Peace Initiative in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, as well as in other interested countries, including Russia. The conference was co-sponsored by the Russian Political Science Association.

The South Caucasus embodies aspects of three strategic issues that UPF focuses on worldwide: the inter-religious dimension of the Middle East conflict (Islamic Azerbaijan versus Christian Armenia); the ideological dimension of the North/South Korea conflict (the Georgia-Russia struggle is also about different concepts of democracy); and the Millennium Development Goals dimension (the widespread social problems created in the region by years of conflicts).

More specifically, the South Caucasus Peace Initiative aims to contribute, by means of "people-to-people diplomacy," to the resolution of the long-standing conflicts in the region. The situation in the South Caucasus, especially after the war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008, still threatens international peace and security and brings harm and suffering to the civilian population. This peace initiative promotes a collaborative effort by governmental and non-governmental (including faith-based) organizations along with the private sector aimed at resolving conflicts in the South Caucasus.

Participants in the conference, including Russian and international scholars and experts, as well as representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and other countries and international organizations, considered various security dimensions of the Georgia/Abkhazia, Georgia/South Ossetia, and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflict zones, with the focus on human security and human development problems in the conflict zones.

The participants proposed to jointly elaborate on the minimal human security standards to be applied in the South Caucasus conflict zones, in accordance with the UN human rights standards and international humanitarian law. The conference focused the debate about the sovereignty and border/territorial issues in the South Caucasus in a broader humanitarian context, thus contributing to peace and security in the South Caucasus and beyond.

The conference was well attended, with more than 20 speakers and discussants, and more than 40 participants, representing major academic institutions and think tanks dealing with the Caucasus studies in Moscow. The key presenters included Dirk Hebecker, Senior Human Rights Adviser, UN country team in Russia; Alexander Nikitin, President Emeritus of the Russian Political Science Association and Director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies at MGIMO University; Alexander Gorelik, Director of the UN Information Center in Russia; Natalia Krutskikh, Adviser to Department of International Organizations, Russia’s MFA; and Oleg Mironov, Professor, Russian State University of Humanities, former Human Rights Ombudsman in Russia.

On the SCPI side, Konstantin Krylov presented the South Caucasus Peace Initiative overview, as the SCPI Coordinator. Dr. Vladimir Petrovsky chaired a special conference session on Human Security Challenges in the South Caucasus and made a presentation on Human Security and Human Development in the Conflict Zones.

Although very few people representing Georgia’s position in the conflict attended the conference, the discussants provided rather balanced analysis of the August 2008 events in the South Caucasus. The conference was marked by a heated debate between Dr. Rouben Zargaryan, Adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, and Mr. Elnur Sultanov, Adviser to the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Moscow. However, both discussants behaved in a polite way (‘nothing personal, only business’ style).

The conference was also attended by representatives of other embassies in Moscow, including Mr. Benjamin Wolf (US Embassy political officer) and Ms. F. Jehren Yezgan Aetiz, Adviser to the Embassy of Turkey. Like the representatives of the Embassy of Azerbaijan, they were interested to learn more about the SCPI and agreed to the follow-up meetings.

As a result of the conference, a hard copy Academic Report on the situation in the South Caucasus was produced and disseminated as well as a CD disc with all conference papers and background materials.

The most significant result of the conference is the recognition of the SCPI as a key player in the ‘Caucasus studies business.’ As Dr. Alexander Nikitin, a dedicate partner of UPF, put it, “That was a meeting point between those who study the Caucasus and those really doing things in the field.” The participants at the conference discussed a broad variety of follow-up activities which could bring more partners (and, hopefully, more resources) to the South Caucasus Peace Initiative. 

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