We convene discussions between Armenian (including from Nagorny Karabakh) and Azerbaijani activists and experts, with specialists from outside the region. These provide participants with a rare opportunity to exchange information face-to-face, share perspectives from across the conflict divide and jointly think through the issues facing the peace process.
The Karabakh Contact Group, as this series of discussions is known, is a flexible and confidential format in which controversial issues can be discussed, assumptions tested and ideas generated. Through joint analysis and structured dialogue, it creates a space where potentially ‘overlapping voices’ from Armenian and Azerbaijani societies can come up with new approaches. It then provides a channel through which non-governmental analysis and recommendations can reach policymakers, both local and international.
People involved in these conversations are invited to take part on the basis of their expertise and their ability to influence others in their society. Meetings have included civil society activists, academics, journalists, think tank experts and former politicians. A participant explains the value of the discussions for him:
We have big dreams. The Karabakh Contact Group helps me to make my dreams more achievable. As an informal dialogue activist in Azerbaijan, I now have the opportunity to bring my ideas to the table and make proposals to feed into the formal negotiation process, having tested them out first hand within this format.
Experts from the region are joined by international participants, invited for their expertise on a specific topic and experience of working on other conflicts. The meetings typically last 2-3 days and take place in a location that is accessible and acceptable to all participants – many discussions are held in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
A series of five Karabakh Contact Group meetings have examined the issues arising from the framework drafted by international mediators to resolve the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, the ‘Basic Principles’. The specific topics were:
- forced displacement
- negotiating status
- access and freedom of movement
- security and peacekeeping
- a popular vote on final status for Nagorny Karabakh
Following each meeting, we publish a policy brief, which highlights the main issues and challenges discussed during the meeting, and makes policy relevant reflections for further discussion. Wherever possible, we organise events in Baku, Stepanakert and Yerevan to stimulate debate and wider public discussion around these publications.
The Karabakh Contact Group meetings have continued despite tensions and incidences of fighting during the past few years, including an outbreak of serious fighting in April 2016, which created a new set of challenges.
This work is part of the the European Union-funded European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (EPNK). The Karabakh Contact Group has also been funded by the UK Government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund.