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South Caucasus Peace Initiative

South Caucasus Peace Tour

Azerbaijan-2008-12-16-South Caucasus Peace Tour

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Leaders of UPF-Eurasia visited the South Caucasus in December for a variety of events and conferences in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. Activities addressed strategic issues that UPF focuses on worldwide: interreligious conflict mirrored in Muslim Azerbaijan and neighboring Christian Armenia; ideological conflict reflected in the Georgia-Russia struggle which is, in a way, about different concepts of democracy; and social problems arising from years of conflict in the region.

The UPF delegation was led by Dr. Katsumi Otsuka, Chair of UPF-Eurasia, and Jacques Marion, Secretary General of UPF-Eurasia. It included Konstantin Krylov, Secretary General of UPF-Russia, and two leading Russian Ambassadors for Peace: Dr. Vladimir Petrovsky, Chairman of the Russian Political Science Association and UPF-Eurasia Assistant Secretary General, and Dr. Eduard Yakovlev, a medical surgeon and president of the International Super-Marathon Association — also a Vice President of UPF's Russian Peace Council.

Baku, Azerbaijan

The delegation was welcomed in Baku on December 2 by former Prime Minister Rahim Huseynov, Members of Parliament Dr. Ilyas Ismaylov and Prof. Dr. Jamil Gasanli, long-time Head of the Football Federation of Azerbaijan Mr. Fuad Musayev, and Mrs. Zarifa Salahova of the Women’s Association of Azerbaijan.

The following day included a visit to a camp of refugees from the Karabakh war. They met with 40 women, many of whom lost children and husbands during the war, living in very humble, rundown buildings outside of Baku. The visitors could feel the pain and resentment of these people who long to recover their lost homes. A donation was offered by Ambassador for Peace Dr. Akif Kerimov and by UPF-Azerbaijan.

A peace conference began with introductory remarks from Mr. Rahim Huseynov and a presentation on “UPF Approaches to Peacebuilding” and “UPF Vision on Conflict Resolution.” Dr. Vladimir Petrovsky concluded with a presentation on “Human Security and Human Development in the South Caucasus,” in which he proposed a resolution calling for a minimum standard of human security to be officially adopted by all parties in conflict.

Tbilisi, Georgia

The Georgia series of events was organized by UPF Representative Vitaly Maximov and Ambassador for Peace Dalila Khorava, the Minister of Health, Labor and Social Affairs of Georgia’s Abkhazian Government. She organized the events in Georgia, which included a Global Peace Festival.

In August 2008, the Georgia-Russia war brought to the fore the ethnic conflicts that had plagued Georgia at the time of its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In dispute are two autonomous regions on their borders, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. They officially belong to Georgia, but they seceded when the Soviet Union collapsed and claimed independence. Russia supported the secession and has been giving Russian passports to people of these regions in recent years. In the war, Georgia attempted to re-occupy South Ossetia, provoking the (well-prepared) invasion of both regions by Russian troops, and ultimately the recognition of their independence by Russia and Nicaragua.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have clashed over the secession of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan that declared independence. Programs in Georgia offered a neutral setting for Armenian and Azerbaijani Ambassadors for Peace to meet and discuss peacebuilding initiatives. Two Azerbaijani Ambassadors for Peace: Dr. Zemfira Verdiyeva of the Academy of Sciences and Dr. Frangiz Mursalova, Vice President of the Women's Association, came for the Armenia-Azerbaijan dialogue. They were joined by Armenian Ambassadors for Peace Mrs. Santosh Kumari Arora, Professor at the State University of Yerevan, and Mr. Georgy Vanyan, Chairman of the Caucasus Center of Peace-Making Initiatives.

A December 6 seminar had about 80 participants, including Mr. Vakhtang Kolbaia, Vice-speaker of the Georgian Parliament. Mr. Teimuraz Mzhavia, Chairman of Georgia’s Abkhazia government, gave introductory remarks. Other representatives in Georgia of Abkhazia included the Deputy Minister of Labor, Health and Social Affairs and the President of the Abkhazia Academy of Sciences. Representatives of the regional government of South Ossetia included the Administration Minister and the Vice-Minister of Culture.

The UPF presentations were well received by the participants, who included NGO leaders, journalists, and artists. The discussion sessions about the two territorial conflicts (Georgia/Russia and Armenia/Azerbaijan) stimulated interventions on each side in support of dialogue and peace. The two Russian Ambassadors for Peace, Dr. Petrovsky and Dr. Yakovlev, were warmly welcomed.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced because of ethnic strife in the region. The international delegation visited a center in Tbilisi for refugees from Abkhazia who have been living in a rundown dormitory in very miserable conditions since they were expelled from Abkhazia in 1992.

On the morning of December 7 a “Peace Run” was organized by UPF-Georgia and a few local sponsors, including PSP Pharmacy and Georgian Glass and Mineral Water Co., together with Dr. Yakovlev, President. About 150 sportsmen and students took part including 18 handicapped people.

Dr. Yakovlev had said that he did not feel very well that morning and would run only one mile with the runners. A car was on hand nearby. However, after running two blocks, he collapsed with a heart attack. He was put into the nearby car and soon passed away.

As a Russian who came for peace to Georgia – he was wearing a T-shirt with both the Russian and Georgian flags – his death became the center of media attention throughout the day. Georgian officials said that if his family agreed to have him buried in Georgia, he would be honored in the Pantheon of Georgian Heroes. However, his relatives naturally asked that his body be returned to Russia, and Russian local authorities then did their best to support the process of repatriating him to Moscow through Armenia, since there is no longer any direct communication between Georgia and Russia. Read the tribute to him.

Yerevan, Armenia

On December 14-16, the UPF delegation went to Armenia accompanied by Dr. Oleg Mironov, former Human Rights Ombudsman (Commissioner) of Russia and UPF Ambassador for Peace.

A seminar, attended mostly by people not in current political position, was characterized by some openness for dialogue and reconciliation. When one young participant tried to emphasize the “enemy” status of the Azerbaijanis, her statements were countered by other participants who reminded everyone that many Azerbaijanis sacrificed their lives to protect Armenians during the war. In fact the two communities had lived side by side for centuries, and many had intermarried.

While in Armenia, Dr. Oleg Mironov met with his counterpart, the Armenian Human Rights Ombudsman, Professor Armen Harutunyan. The Office of the Human Rights Defender, or Ombudsman, of the Republic of Armenia was created in 2003 with the goal of protecting and restoring human rights and fundamental freedoms.

There are several NGOs working for reconciliation between the two nations, even though they are hindered by government control on the peace process. One of their projects is to establish what they call a “South Caucasus Congress,” transcending national borders. There was discussion about events that can include participants from the three nations.

The conclusion of this year’s effort will be the Moscow South Caucasus Peace Initiative Conference on Human Security in Conflict Areas, to be held in January 2009 in Moscow. The conference will be co-sponsored by the Russian Political Science Association.

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