From 14th – 16th February 2012, International Alert hosted a “Lessons Sharing” event in Tbilisi, Georgia – a useful and exciting opportunity for Alert, our partners and beneficiaries to look back at an important peacebuilding project engaging Armenian and Azerbaijani youth, including some from Nagorno-Karabkh. The event was the culmination of our US State Department-funded “Trust-Building Across the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Divide” programme, that included “Schools of Peacebuilding” and joint initiatives implemented across the conflict divide.
The schools provided safe spaces for groups of youth to meet, build trust and confidence, and to foster interest-based cooperation across the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict divide. The schools engaged and supported young activists with a common professional background and interest in grassroots peacebuilding initiatives. Opportunities for young people from the conflict sides to connect in person are becoming more and more rare; for many, this programme provided the first chance to meet someone from “the other side”.
The four schools were organised over the course of 2011, with each of them focusing on participants from a different background: political scientists and sociologists, artists, gender activists and economists. The schools consisted of week-long courses that taught tools for conflict resolution and provided a structure for discussion and analysis of relevant issues. Our approach ensured that they offered participants both opportunities and encouragement to work with each other, including designing small joint initiatives that they would implement after the school. The participants also took part in less formal activities, such as cultural excursions and evenings of music and dance, so that they could build cross-cultural relationships outside of the sessions.
Upon their return from the schools, the youth implemented these joint initiatives, aimed at promoting cooperation and professional exchange across the divide, and have a positive impact on their societies. They also ensured that the participants had the opportunity to continue their engagement with peacebuilding beyond the schools they attended.
The “Lessons Sharing” event validated the approach of the project and the utility of combining professional development with conflict studies. There was lively debate about the effectiveness and appropriate level of commitment needed by young people to be active in peacebuilding initiatives and to make change happen in a conflict-affected society. The participants themselves stressed the critical need for sustained courage and engagement, and recognised the strength of the inter-personal links they had created with each other.
Partners and donors provided reassurance that even the more symbolic activities have a place in promoting peaceful conflict resolution, and that participants should not be discouraged by the limited opportunities afforded them within the scope of this activity. Participants discussed potential areas for future engagement, how to continue agitating for peace in their respective societies, and how to spread and widen the impact and effort of their activities. Some groups even have plans to apply for funding directly from donor agencies.
Although this programme has now ended, Alert will continue to engage with the youth who have been a part of this project through our other projects focused on the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.