Friday, November 19, 2010

Ambassador Dieter Boden Speaks at Europe House

Ambassador Dieter Boden, a distinguished German diplomat who has served both as German Ambassador to the OSCE as well as UN Special Representative to the Secretary General, spoke at the Europe House about conflict resolution in the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Ambassador Boden worked in Abkhazia and participated actively in the mediation peace process. He drew attention to the tendency to oversimplify the conflict and suggest that the solution is Russia’s retreat from the territories and that after that the people would be easily reconciled. He said that from his experience speaking with Abkhaz youth he saw a people that were deeply traumatized, distrustful and helpless. He emphasized the great need to build confidence between the people and that the way to do this is implement confidence-building measures (CBM), and the key role of local civil society in this process. These would be projects that would aim to gradually end the patterns of animosity that have become entrenched in the almost 20 year-period since the end of the war. While emphasizing that the conflict cannot be solved without Russia’s help, he warned against the neglect of soft strategies that can help foster peace even in the absence of political opportunity for reintegration.

He spoke also about the EU’s late though vital role in the peace process, especially after the OSCE and the UN missions were discontinued after the 2008 conflict. He pointed at the strength of the EU promoting democracy, rule of law, and human rights, the development of which would bring about stabilization, but also questioned whether or not the EU has a commitment to a coherent political vision for stabilization. The possibility exists that with time other priorities can supersede the interests in peace in the South Caucasus. He sketched two perspectives on why it may not: one is that the Caucasus is an essential part of Europe and cannot afford to step back from involvement there, and the other is that it must maintain involvement to remain a credible global actor.

When responding to questions from the audience, Ambassador Boden pointed to missed opportunities for peace, including intense domestic debate surrounding the word “sovereign” in describing Abkhazia, which delayed the process of negotiation and in that time Russia and Abkhazia had deferred the UN declaration. He also stated the need to admit past mistakes and to build political dialogue around them, like how the first war in South Ossetia was started by the Georgian side. He drew a parallel to his own country, Germany, which has gone through the process of coming to terms with a painful past. Finally, in addition to confidence building measures, he said that another strategy to make Georgia attractive for South Ossetia and Abkhazia is to strengthen domestic democratic institutions.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Media in Armenia and Azerbaijan: Effective or Affective?

Written by Arpine Porsughyan. Re-posted from the Caucasian Knot.

Many academics argue that the influence of the media is especially strong in environments where citizens depend on a limited number of news sources. In contrast, when citizens have alternative sources of information they are less subject to the potential effects of media. Following this argument, how affective is the media in Armenia and Azerbaijan in establishing an image of the “other” in an environment where over 90 percent of the populations choose television as their primary source of information on current events with over 40 percent choosing family, friends, neighbors and colleagues as their second main source?

Well, according to the annual nationwide Caucasus Barometer conducted by the Caucasus Resource Research Centers (CRRC), a rather large percentage of people in both countries appear to agree that the media determines what people think. The figure was 39 percent in Armenia and 59 percent in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, statistics highlighting the number of people who approve or disapprove of friendship between Armenians and Azerbaijanis illustrate that quite well. Only 28 percent of Armenian respondents approve of friendship with Azerbaijanis while just 1 percent of Azerbaijanis approve of friendship with Armenians.

Moreover, as the same theory on media effect also argues, those with little or no interest in politics are more prone to influence from the media. In Armenia, 37 percent of people are not at all interested or hardly interested in foreign policy. In Azerbaijan, that figure is 64 percent, but what about those who are interested in politics and access alternative sources of information? Academics have something to say about them as well.

Some argue that those with a strong interest in politics and access to various sources of information are subject to “biased processing,” the argument being that those that have a strong interest in politics tend to filter information based on their already existing views. Focus groups conducted by CRRC as part of the Eurasia Partnership Foundation Unbiased Media Coverage of Armenia-Azerbaijan Relations seem to support this argument. Focus groups participants, as well as active media consumers in the Armenian and Azerbaijani capitals, showed general dissatisfaction with the current state of the media in their respective countries and demanded unbiased media.

Yet, those same participants held very similar positions on the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, it being the one opined by the State.

Is there hope? Well, as CRRC’s report, Armenian and Azerbaijani International News Coverage – Empirical Findings and Recommendations for Improvement, suggests, “while the media can amplify existing tensions and reinforce differences, it also has the potential to build confidence across existing fracture lines by covering a wider spectrum of issues, diversifying sources, representing more voices than just the elite, and consciously eliminating bias from coverage.”

Social media and projects like this one, as well as Global Voices Online and the Social Innovation Camp Caucasus have been a great kick start to providing a platform for discussing issues beyond the conflict. After all, we have so much in common to discuss and we share similar concerns. In both countries the biggest concern in 2009 was the need to reduce daily spending in basic expenditures, both are worried about western influence, both perceive poverty as the biggest threat to the world, and in both countries, while generally uncertain, a significant percentage hopes that their children will be better off than they are (CRRC CB, 2009).

Arpine Porsughyan is freelance researcher, formerly a Regional Research Associate at Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), and the co-author of Armenian and Azerbaijani International News Coverage – Empirical Findings and Recommendations for Improvement.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Award Ceremony of the JRFP-Azerbaijan

Here are some photos from the award ceremony of the first stage of the Junior Research Fellowship Program – Azerbaijan (JRFP) that was organized in a cozy Baku restaurant. The winners of the competition for the best policy essay were awarded iPods, and other participants who had submitted essays received book vouchers. Participants had put in months of hard work, and gone through various trainings, both online and in person, to learn more about research and academic writing. So recognition seemed to be in order -- appropriately, the ceremony was followed by a karaoke party.

More pics to follow – it was the closure of only the first stage of this program, generously supported by the OSI Think Tank Fund. The program is now in the second stage, with more in-depth training in research skills. Stay tuned for updates!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Dr. Ronald Suny Lectures in Tbilisi

On October 27, CRRC attended a lecture by well-known and accomplished scholar Dr. Ronald Grigor Suny, presently director of the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies and the Charles Tilly Collegiate Professor of Social and Political History at the University of Michigan. Dr. Suny presented his upcoming book, “The Young Stalin: The Making of a Revolutionary.” In his dynamic lecture, he explained his aim to approach the biography of one of the most written about historical figures of all time.

He takes the stance against one of the traditional views of biographers -- that the fame that the individual achieved was present from childhood, and the author’s task entails describing the development of these inherent traits. Much like the shift from the model of the absolute and unchanging concept of the nation to the now widely accepted view that a nation is the result of social construction and human manipulation, Dr. Suny invited the audience to consider that Stalin was not born a monster, but rather to consider what contributed to his development and formation.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Overcoming Negative Stereotypes in the South Caucasus

CRRC hosted a presentation on October 27 by Onnik Krikorian, a British journalist of part-Armenian descent and the Caucasus editor for Global Voices, entitled “Overcoming Negative Stereotypes in the Caucasus: New and Social Media in cross-border communication and conflict reporting.” Onnik spoke about the rise of the influence of blogging, Global Voices’ role in promoting grassroots individuals and groups speak their mind and connect with others, circumventing often biased and insufficient media sources. He drew upon CRRC's work on Armenian and Azerbaijani news coverage, which found both sides generally biased. Using CRRC data taken from a previous post, he looked at the unsettling numbers of Armenians and Azerbaijanis disapproving of friendship with the other group: 70% of Armenians disapprove of friendship with Azerbaijanis and 97% of Azerbaijanis with Armenians. He shared his own story of connecting with Azerbaijanis in Georgia, as he was not able to travel Azerbaijan. Through Facebook, skype, blogs, and other means of social media, he was able to put many Azerbaijani and Armenian bloggers and activists in touch, starting to corrode seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Both Armenians and Azerbaijanis attended the presentation.

See Onnik's project site,and his slides from the presentation here:

Monday, November 01, 2010

Friends Are Hard To Come By: Friendship Divides by Gender in Azerbaijan

Close friends are an important part of life, whether we are starting a new school year as a child, a new job, or in the context of a stable and familiar environment. Whatever the backdrop, close friends help provide a social safety net where individuals can feel understood and protected against perceived obstacles and hardships. In short, friends are an important part of a sense of well-being and belonging, which affects attitudes across a wide spectrum of issues.

The Caucasus Barometer 2008 survey asked people about the number of close friends they have. Close friends were specified to mean “people who are not your relatives, but who you feel at ease with, can talk to about what is on your mind, or call on for help.” In Azerbaijan, 27% of respondents said that they had no close friends. When the results are disaggregated by gender, show a clear divide: women have far fewer close friends. Thirty-seven percent of women reported having no close friends compared to only 17% of men.

The difference is clearly striking – far more Azerbaijani women than men report having no friends. Why? Who are these women? We probed further in analyzing who these women are who say they have no friends, by examining various factors, such as frequency of religious attendance, education, internet usage, settlement type and age. The latter two revealed interesting results.

When we isolated the data by looking at the Azerbaijani women who said they had zero friends. Focusing on the settlement type, about a third of the female respondents asked in the capital and in other urban areas replied that they no friends compared with about half of rural women respondents.

The other factor that proved significant was the age of the respondents. When aggregated into three age groups, only 30% of women under 35 said they have no friends, 37% of women aged 36-55 said the same, compared to nearly half of older female respondents.

Why are so many Azerbaijani women, particularly older rural women, lacking close friendships? Perhaps the isolation of rural life combined with fewer possibilities to do communal activities are leaving women with no one to call a friend. Are they less likely to be involved in public life and activities outside the home? What could contribute to a more socially active and connected female population? Bring your ideas about this issue by responding and sharing your opinion, experience or research.