Conflict Resolution and Education

December 6, 2008

With some media outlets reporting that momentum to striking a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan continues, the reality on the ground in both republics is that the two populations are not ready for resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict based on mutual compromise. The situation is reportedly worse in Azerbaijan, but many Armenians also seem unwilling to consider the return of at least six of seven regions currently serving as a buffer zone.

Fourteen years since the 1994 ceasefire agreement that froze the conflict between the two over the mainly Armenian-populated territory of Nagorno Karabakh, nationalism has been used by the authorities and opposition in both countries to either come to power or retain it. Nevertheless, if the situation might at first seem unresolvable as a result, an interesting example of how things could be exists in Armenia.

At the Mkhitar Sebastatsi Educational Complex in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, there is sign that new teaching methodologies could change traditional, repressive and often nationalist attitudes in society. Favoring flexible and open student-orientated teaching methods, the children are quite unlike most others in the country. Few would have thought, for example, that a year ago an event such as a Days of Azerbaijan could be held in Armenia.

A public school in Yerevan began on Monday a four-day series of events designed to promote Armenian-Azerbaijani reconciliation by enabling its students and teachers to hold discussions with visiting public figures from Azerbaijan. 

The Days of Azerbaijan at the Mkhitar Sebastatsi Educational Complex will also feature presentations by the visiting Azerbaijanis and their Armenian partners as well as an arts exhibition and the screening of a documentary film on the conflict between the two South Caucasus nations. The events are sponsored by the British Embassy in Armenia and the Armenian Center for Peace Initiatives, a non-governmental organization. 

The Azerbaijani delegation that arrived in Yerevan on the occasion includes three human rights campaigners, a journalist, a writer and an NGO activist. 

 

"This is just an attempt to give our students and teachers a better idea of our neighbors and to discuss our outstanding problems in the process," Ashot Bleyan, the Mkhitar Sebastatsi director, told RFE/RL. He expressed hope that such initiatives will make Armenian society "more tolerant." link

However, not everybody was tolerant of such a controversial and unexpected event, and especially when the school is run by a former Minister of Education widely considered a "traitor" by nationalists in the country precisely because of his position on the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and relations with Azerbaijan. Regardless, a report on the web site of an NGO linked to the school shows that new approaches could contribute to peace-building initiatives.

 
Indeed, visiting the school with Al Jazeera English yesterday was enough to leave with the impression that they can. Unfortunately, however, the Mkhitar Sebastatsi educational complex is experimental and no other state-run schools are comparable. It is also unlikely that such a school exists in Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, a new project which starts in January to facilitate communication and contact between Armenian and Azerbaijani children might also result in some changes in the negative perceptions most have of the other.

 

90 participants from Armenia, America and Azerbaijan will work online to explore media literacy and the role that web-based social networking can play in changing stereotypes and perceptions.
• 30 participants from Armenia, America and Azerbaijan will travel on overseas exchanges to work with their DOTCOM peers to motivate change in their communities.

• Media produced during the program will be released via the Internet and through a network of global NGO’s and media organizations, using Web 2.0 tools such as personal blogs, mySpace, Flickr and Youtube to reach audiences worldwide.

• Community service projects with youth and community groups in the U.S. and abroad will provide an opportunity for students to engage in community service in a tangible, concrete way with their DOTCOM peers. 

• A participant-run weblog and online community will provide an open exchange of news and images from participants’ communities and countries, allowing for dialogue and exchange among participants on current events and social issues. link

 

Most consider this to be the main obstacle to peace between the two countries. Another is the lack of democratic thought in both countries, but in both cases education is key to changing the situation and ending the stalemate.