The repercussions of the Karabakh conflict still have a palpable impact not only on the conflicting countries, but are also deeply rooted in their societies. The lives of people have become intertwined with the conflict; it has become a part of their identity. These societies still talk about peace, but it is not perceived as a goal in itself, but rather a means of achieving other purposes.
In their study on perceptions of peace conducted in Armenia, Karabakh and Azerbaijan, the experts of International alert have come to this conclusion.
A discussion entitled “Envisioning Peace: An Analysis of the NK Conflict Resolution Strategies” was held at the YSU Hall after Palyans on April 22. Journalist Mark Grigorian, who co-authored the report, Maria Karapetyan, a member of parliament from My Step bloc faction, Gegham Baghdasaryan, editor-in-chief of the Analitikon monthly journal and chairman of the Stepanakert Press Club, Tatul Hakobyan, coordinator of ANI Armenian Research Center and expert with the Civilitas Foundation and Sophia Pugsley, the Caucasus Regional Manager at International alert were among the speakers at the discussion.
The meeting was organized by the Public Journalism Club in collaboration with the YSU International Cooperation Office.
The discussion was focused on the exploration of peace perceptions alongside a research, which encompassed all the three sides of the conflict.
International alert has a vast experience of participation in the Karabakh settlement initiatives at various levels. Over the span of 20 years, the organization has conducted its own research around the issue presenting not only alternatives to war and aspects of the conflict transformation, but also the strategies adopted by the sides of the conflict and mediators.
Sophia Pugsley, the Caucasus Regional Manager at International alert, opened the discussion by speaking about the mission of her organization and the work that was being done with the sides across the conflict divide.
“The foremost idea of this survey was to find out how people, who live on both sides of the conflict divide, actually envisage their role in the conflict resolution, or whether they envisage that role at all,” said Sophia Pugsley, adding that the viewpoint of the young people on the issue was of crucial importance in this sense, since they were the ones who were going to continue the ongoing processes.
Unlike other studies dedicated to the conflict, the research carried out by International alert had a cyclical structure, with interviews and discussions held on the topic and experts presenting their thoughts following the publications, said Gegham Baghdasaryan.
“If we try and compare the situation with the past experience, I must say that we are now waging information warfare against both external and internal adversaries. Something that has to do with the latest developments in the country, which in their turn lead to excessive manipulation of the conflict, even more complicating our task,” said Baghdasaryan.
To sum up the report, it may safely be said that the lives of people have managed to intertwine with the conflict over the years, he added.
“When people in Artsakh talk about the conflict, they say it has become a part of their everyday life, rather than their identity. In this context, we need to break people from the habit of thinking about the conflict as something ongoing,” said Gegham Baghdasaryan.
He added the results of the survey revealed a common feature of the three conflict parties, that is - neither side considers peace as the highest goal itself, but only a means of achieving it.
“Such a contemptuous approach to peace is simply unacceptable,” said Baghdasaryan.
Mark Grigorian spoke about the differences in how the conflicting parties understand peace.
“In fact, each side has its own unique perception of peace. If for Armenians here and in Artsakh peace equals to stability, for Azerbaijanis peace means restoration of justice,” said Grigorian, adding that the conflict had taken a foothold in the societies to an extent that it had become a “part of identity”.
“And when it does become a part of your identity, you find it hard to get rid of it, or you just don’t want to do that at all,” said Grigorian.
Maria Karapetyan, a member of parliament from My Step bloc faction, spoke about the transformations unfolding in the conflict settlement process.
The negotiation process has become more transparent and the sides have reached a common ground concerning the messages they deliver, said Karapetyan.
“There are no internal and external messages in this process that were created for internal and external audiences respectively. Now what is being said here is repeated outside and vice versa,” she added.
In this context, expanding the discourse of the conflict settlement process was crucial, she said.
“There is no need to wait for an opinion on the matter from the ruling leadership or some political figure. The discourse on the conflict and peaceful resolution should involve as many people as possible,” said Karapetyan.
Political expert Tatul Hakobyan mentioned that the Armenian side had two priority questions to answer in the current situation: if it was ready to pay for peace and what price it would pay.
“Peace comes with a price, and we have to understand and embrace it. So we have to ask ourselves if we are ready to pay that price or not,” he said.
The meeting was followed by a heated debate between students and the speakers.