In a Commonspace opinion piece published last month, Johnny Melikian and Ramazan Samadov argue that the unblocking of regional economic and transport links represent an unprecedented opportunity for achieving peace and stability in the South Caucasus. Though the authors note that the wounds from the war will take time to heal, it is this connectivity that could prove to be the most significant development emerging from the 2020 ceasefire agreement.
However, progress along this path has been slow, and even when it does emerge, tensions between the sides could still linger. There is therefore the need to build trust and nurture cooperation and communication, and it is here that civil society can play an important role. Part of a Joint Liaison Group on Confidence Building Measures, a group of Armenian and Azerbaijani experts and practitioners facilitated by the LINKS Europe Foundation and the European Union, Melikian and Samadov offer five suggestions:
Comprehensive Study. It is in the interest of both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and of their regional and international partners, that plans for the opening up of connectivity in the South Caucasus are ambitious. They must however also be based on facts and realistic calculations. For this reason, it is important that a major comprehensive study is commissioned as soon as possible that will consider different options and scenarios, mainly from a financial, economic, social and environmental perspective to provide all interested sides with both a base line of the point of departure and a road map for the future.
Regional Development Fund. In parallel, work should start on the establishment of a regional development fund, using the latest best practices approaches, including through the involvement of the private sector. The fund should include the major international financial institutions, as well as the countries of the region.
Widening People-to-People Contacts. The process of connectivity needs to be seen also through the prism of people-to-people contacts. The impact on families and local communities needs to be constantly monitored and assessed, and border communities in particular need to be prepared for what will be a seismic change in their life. A regional commission, with the representatives of border communities should be set up to study, monitor and follow this process and recommend remedial action where necessary.
South Caucasus Social and Economic Forum. The South Caucasus Social and Economic Forum, to be held alternating between the three countries of the region with participation from governments, universities, think tanks, civil society and business. The forum can become an annual feature in the calendar of the region where new ideas are launched and discussed.
Joint Economic Zone on the Armenia-Azerbaijan-Georgia to serve as a showcase for regional trade and industrial cooperation. In this regard the three countries of the region should consider the establishment of a Special Economic Zone near the point where the border between the three countries meets near the so called Red Bridge. The area, part of which is at the moment a dangerous minefield, should be cleaned and should be rehabilitated to be turned into a showcase for regional trade and industrial co-operation.
In conclusion, Melikian and Samadov again stress the need for significant progress in the post-war environment. “The noise and smell of war has dominated life in the South Caucasus for more than three decades. A generation has grown up knowing nothing else, and the next one is following,” they wrote. “We owe it to this and future generations to work for peace and cooperation in the region, and the opportunities that are within the grasp of the people of the region should not now be squandered.”
The Joint Liaison Group on Confidence Building Measures has previously called for the creation of a regional youth centre in Georgia, a common cultural heritage foundation, and other activities in the area of education, media, and deradicalisation. The group has also called on the EU to launch a comprehensive and inclusive diplomatic initiative that can lead to the signing of a South Caucasus Peace and Stability Pact by the end of 2030.
Source: Armenia-Azerbaijan connectivity is crucial for the future of the South Caucasus, and important also for partners beyond https://www.commonspace.eu/opinion/armenia-azerbaijan-connectivity-crucial-future-south-caucasus-and-important-also-partners