At the beginning of April, LINKS Europe published its long awaited recommendations for confidence building measures (CBMs), drawn up by a Joint Armenian-Azerbaijani Liaison Group after six months of consultations in Baku, Yerevan, and Kakheti (Georgia). In its preamble, the authors particularly noted the need to build trust between the parties as well as promote dialogue in support of what appears to be a new peace process. The report was financed by the European Union’s EU4Peace project.
Restart Initiative welcomes the report and stands ready to support future initiatives emerging from it. We commend the Liaison Group members and co-rapporteurs for their efforts and provide a breakdown of the report’s key findings, conclusions, and recommendations below.
The report authors point out that even if political leaders opt for peace, the journey forward will be long and difficult. “Mistrust, enemy imagery and a security deficit frustrate against even small steps towards peace and reconciliation,” they note. “The quest for peace needs therefore to be comprehensive and multi-layered – recognizing the complexity of the regional and international context, and with due regard to the baggage of history that weighs heavily on the shoulders of both leaders and citizens alike. The task of building trust and confidence have never been so important, relevant, and necessary as now.”
The Liaison Group identified five key areas where CBMs are necessary:
Confidence-building in the field of diplomacy, politics, policy, security and geopolitics
Confidence-building in the border areas, and within the communities directly affected by the conflict, and broader people-to-people contacts
Confidence-building in the field of connectivity and economic activity
Confidence-building in education and working with young people
Confidence-building in public spaces, such as media, social media and public platforms, and on heritage, humanitarian and human rights issues
The Liaison Group also specifically highlighted the importance of inclusivity, particularly in terms of women, youth, and displaced communities. They should be placed front and center, it says. Restart Initiative supports this message and further notes the importance of increasing women’s inclusion in the leadership of initiatives and steering groups such as the Liaison Group.
30 Measures by 2030
In its recommendations, the Liaison Group details the time frame, target group, potential initiators, and potential outcome of its 30 proposed measures. We summarize the measures and recommendations below.
The first is to initiate diplomatic contacts between Armenia and Azerbaijan with a view to holding a South Caucasus Peace, Stability, and Security Conference with the participation of relevant stakeholders that could lead to the signing of a regional, peace, stability, and security pact by the end of 2030. Governments and/or international organizations could be the potential initiators of such a development.
A second recommendation is to prepare for 2025 when the Russian peacekeeping mission in Karabakh might end. Though peacekeeping could be extended for an extra five years, and even beyond that in a different form, this remains uncertain. It is therefore imperative that "discussions and agreements on this topic are done in good time."
An informal 10-person Armenian-Azerbaijani Joint Monitoring Group to monitor obligations from the 10 November 2020 ceasefire agreement, and subsequent agreements and statements, should be initiated by international institutions such as the EU and/or the OSCE working with the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments. Civil society could also play a role.
The Parliament of Georgia could also encourage regional political dialogue with the involvement of the parliaments of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan should also initiate discussions involving municipal authorities in order to establish a mechanism for strengthening communication and interaction between civilian structures in both countries. This would promote relations between the two communities on the ground.
These processes should be dynamic in order to create a cascading effect so that momentum is registered in the process of confidence building. Public discussion in town hall style meetings are also necessary.
A program involving those communities should be developed so that both can Know the Neighbors on the borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, enabling a better understanding of each other. Local civil society, with the support of the EU and other international donors, would be a key actor here. Support programs for civil society to become more mainstream is key. Exchange programs for mutual visits by civil society to Baku and Yerevan should be encouraged in the nearest future. Diaspora communities should be engaged in discussion and kept aware of the processes in play, as well as CBMs introduced. The report notes that a ‘modest start’ in this regard can be made in Europe and the Middle East. Restart Initiative notes that the largest Armenian and Azerbaijani diaspora communities can be found in Russia, though the situation in Ukraine may complicate extensive engagement with those communities at present.
A major economic study should be undertaken to underscore how a resolution of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan can be transformed into a peace-dividend. Working with the donor community and international financial institutions, a South Caucasus Development Fund should be established, possibly in line with the EU’s Global Gateway Initiative and in cooperation with the EBRD. This is something that Restart Initiative has also supported and highlighted in previous newsletters. From 2023, an annual South Caucasus Economic Forum should be held, bringing together business groups and international partners and modeled on the World Economic Forum in Davos. A special Economic Zone should also be established close to the borders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Working with all three governments, an economic zone can contribute to economic development and innovation. Regional tourism is also another important area to explore and develop through the establishment of a South Caucasus Tourism Bureau.
Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian youth could also benefit from a South Caucasus Youth Summer School. Held in Georgia, a South Caucasus Youth Center modeled on the European Youth Center in Strasbourg would be a welcome development to bring young people from all three countries together. Such an initiative, the authors note, will have "immediate and tangible positive results.” A tolerance program can also prevent youth from falling into the trap of radicalization.
Also on the subject of youth, a joint education fund can enable students and scholars from universities in Armenia and Azerbaijan to jointly participate in collaborative projects and attend academic conferences in third countries as well as benefit from scholarships. Music is also an important medium through which to engage youth in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Many cross-border events do take place, but they are largely unknown to the majority of Armenians and Azerbaijanis.
The report highlights some of the outstanding problems that still need to be overcome. One of the most controversial issues remains that of cultural and religious sites. The report calls for graveyards and cemeteries to be recognized as common heritage. Visits by relatives and descendants from one side of the border to such sites in the other should be facilitated in potential cooperation with ICRC and/or UNESCO. A South Caucasus Heritage Foundation should further tackle the serious and sensitive issue of monuments and other sites, again in cooperation with UNESCO and others.
Despite the overall positive outlook in the report, it also doesn’t shy away from problems that will likely emerge, especially in terms of ethnic and possibly religious tension and discrimination. To address this, the liaison group recommends that an Office of Regional Ombudsperson should be established to deal with any complaints in this area. Importantly, gender is also explicitly addressed. The report suggests that a Women’s Regional Task Force should be created, particularly prioritizing women in border regions as well as those displaced by the conflict.
The report further says that, with the support of the EU, think tanks should be commissioned to produce reports offering an alternative vision of the South Caucasus for 2030. Media organizations have a role to play as well, and a South Caucasus Media Platform can contribute to making the media in both Armenia and Azerbaijan less adversarial.
A regional conference for media could also be held. Such initiatives have occurred before, including developing a code of ethics, but the situation prior to 2020 made any outcomes short-lived and theoretical. Annual prizes for the best contribution to a peaceful South Caucasus in the media and on social media could also be awarded annually.
The report ends with an appeal to the governments and peoples of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as the international community to consider the proposals seriously, and particularly welcomes the engagement of the EU in the region.
In sum, Restart Initiative supports the authors’ call for a comprehensive and multi-layered approach to peacebuilding, and looks forward to collaborating and engaging in those areas of confidence building within our competency. We commend the joint liaison group for its efforts and recommend that people read their full paper here.