Zaal Anjaparidze works as a coordinator of the program on peaceful dialogue in the Caucasus at the International Center for Conflicts and Negotiations. Prior to that, he worked in USAID’s international projects on democracy development in Georgia, the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, and also as the editor-in-chief of the weekly Georgia Today. He also worked as civil society programs manager at Europe Foundation (former Eurasia Foundation) for 11 years.
The 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Karabakh (September 27–November 9, 2020) has left many still unanswered questions and one of them is to what extent conflict prevention tools are integrated in the state policies of the South Caucasian states. Exhaustive answer on this question is necessary for at least two reasons. The first is the need for avoidance of re-escalation of the conflict either in Karabakh or in the other conflict-prone areas such as Abkhazia and ex-South Ossetia. The second is the need for a lasting peace and stability in this war-torn region to secure its long-deserved sustainable development, which is in the interest of the international community as well.
The recent armed conflicts in the South Caucasus leaving aside the issue of winners and losers, vividly demonstrate the need to weigh the lessons (and implications) that derived from these conflicts to avoid the new ones. Majority of indigenous and foreign experts have concentrated on military lessons of the conflict, on the one hand, and geopolitical, economic informational-ideological aspects, on the other. A few writings consider the war and its consequences in the conflict-prevention realm. Absence of the conflict prevention tools and the absence of the conflict analysis framework significantly contributed to the unleashing of ethnic-territorial conflicts in the South Caucasus in 1990s. The necessity of more substantial integration of conflict prevention tools in the policy documents of the South Caucasian states is more than clear in the backdrop of the recent developments in the region and around.
The conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been firmly frozen after the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war and recognition of the independence of these secessionist Georgian regions by Russia. This factor has weakened somehow the attention of international community to these conflicts. Geneva International Discussions have been remaining the sole international arena for discussion of the problems related to these break-away regions. Unfortunately, neither international community and nor Georgian society have not seen any tangible results from the Geneva process. The absence of results during the 12-year international efforts with participation of USA, EU and OSCE as co-chairs, breeds understandable skepticism among the Georgian establishment and political circles. This skepticism is fed by the inability of the international community to address some repercussions of the 2008 war, which are fraught to trigger a new conflict. One of them is continuing moving of the so called “border” inside the Georgian territory along the dividing line between Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia and Georgia proper. The same scenario is observed along the “Georgian-Abkhaz” border. Georgian authorities could have done more to address properly the issues, permanently raised by the villagers and civic activists residing along the demarcation line. One of them is installing cameras along the lines of contact between Georgian and Russian-Ossetian border guards and the places where kidnapping and detainment of residents crossing the demarcation line occurs frequently. Policy documents and regulatory norms contain only general clauses about conflict prevention and don’t spell out clearly what mechanisms of conflict prevention can and should be applied by whom, when, where and how.
Nowadays, greater attention of the international community is turned to the aftermath of the second war in Karabakh, which has created new geopolitical realities in the region. The issue has been widely discussed at the various levels, including expert community. Meanwhile, unawareness of inculcation of conflict prevention mechanisms in the policy documents, policy decisions and concrete actions may backfire for the parties of the conflict and external players and stakeholders with the reescalation of violence. The attempts to re-escalate the conflict are observed in Karabakh at present in the form of periodical skirmishes. These conflict-prone developments must and will compel all the parties concerned to elaborate workable tools for preventing conflict instead of reacting on it both politically and militarily.
Particular mention should be made on the nature of intra-state conflicts, which can be even more complex, in terms of the entry point for conflict analysis. Georgia has witnessed several intrastate conflicts for the last years and one cannot say that conflict-prevention tools were on place, judging by the dynamic of the conflicts. Meanwhile, thorny questions which are arising with regards to those conflicts, are fully applicable to the inter-state conflicts too.
The conflicts in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia have at least one common denominator – deep historical roots of the mutual grievances between the certain ethnicities residing these states. The conflicts in South Caucasus have persisted for many years and involved various issues ranging from cultural to political. To intervene effectively at the national level, it’s necessary to understand national political dynamics. To intervene in specific local communities, it would be more important to comprehend local tensions and their origins.
It’s well-known that the parties of the conflicts in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan each have their own view of the causes, history, and current tensions. Often the history and origins of the conflict represent themselves contested issues. Therefore, early intervention and joint analysis of the conflict could have be employed by the conflicting parties as one of the early steps in a conflict transformation and prevention process. More proactively policy makers and stakeholders in the South Caucasus inculcate effective and contextualized mechanisms of early intervention for preventing conflicts, lesser issues feeding the conflicts will remain unaddressed. This is worth noting because conflict prevention is targeted at addressing the structural conditions and root causes that lead to violence. It is also useful with respect to human security of individuals and communities. To this end, it’s rightful to pose the questions – What policies or groups are attempting to address these issues? How and to what effect?
Analysis of the behavior of the governments of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia regarding the conflicts as well as analysis of the publicly available policy documents in this area reveal an interesting trend. Often conflict analysis is considered as one-time taskto be completed during the specific phase and then forgotten. Although most of the policy documents on this issue are not available, the analysis of the accessible ones allows to assume that the documented analysis with the conflict prevention tools are highly likely not updated regularly. Disruption(s) in this process often lead to the poorly or uninformed decisions about the ways of handling the potential or existing conflicts.
Greater engagement of civil society organizations (CSO) and experts’ community could have been a valuable input to make the process more participatory, inclusive and credible. CSOs working on the field in and around the conflict zones and possess unique experience in Track II diplomacy could provide significant assistance to the state bodies in this regard. Some steps have been made for the recent years. For example, Georgian CSO – International Center on Conflict and Negotiation (www.iccn.ge), regional secretariat of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflicts (www.gppac.net) initiated the establishment of the South Caucasus Women Mediators’ Network, which unites professional and prominent women peacemakers from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as from the secessionist regions. The Network aims at involvement and strengthening women mediators in peace processes before, during and after conflicts to contribute to the sustained peace. To this effect, network intends to increase women’s involvement in multi-channel diplomacy processes. There are many other good practices of CSO’s positive involvement in the confidence building throughout the region. However, intensity and level of CSO engagement still leaves a room for improvement. For the last decades we have witnessed many discussions, including high-profile, about conflict analysis in the South Caucasus. Review of the content of some these discussions display at least one remarkable shortcoming such as inadmissibly low attention to the identification of visible and hidden actors, stakeholders, dividers and connectors, internal and external triggers, proximate and structural causes of conflicts.
Lastly, conflict analysis and identification of conflict prevention tools in the national and regional contexts, are not an end itself. Analysis is only useful if it becomes the basis for further initiatives, such as planning and inclusion of those tools in the decision-making and implementation process. In this respect, the process should engage the question of how to respond to the conflict(s) analyzed and the conflict prevention tools elaborated by experts? In this regard, proactive cooperation of governments with CSOs experienced in peace and confidence building activities could have been one of the approaches.