Promoting Youth Engagement in Conflict Transformation

14 Jun, 2013


Promoting Youth Engagement in Conflict Transformation

Sustainable Cooperation through Education and Networking

by Medea Turashvili, Project team member, Caucasian House Georgia

Ethnic, political, territorial, civil and religious conflicts have been roiling the Caucasus for the past two decades. In Georgia, which has undergone four armed conflicts and hosts more than 250,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), it is impossible to avoid dealing with conflicts.

Georgians, Abkhazians and Ossetians once lived in one state called the Georgian Soviet Republic. The collapse of the Soviet empire turned out to be an unexpected development, leading to ethnic clashes and armed conflicts. Now, the new generation of Georgians, Abkhazians and Ossetians must bear the brunt of those mistakes.

That “new generation” has realized that mistakes cannot be swept under the carpet forever, but must be dealt with. So, a group of Georgian, Abkhazian and Ossetian activists and volunteers came together to foster ties despite an environment of hostility, stereotypes and division lines. 

This is an incredibly challenging effort. Whenever an Abkhaz (or South Ossetian) civil society representative decides to meet a Georgian counterpart, he or she takes a risk of being criticized, labeled or even physically attacked by radicals or politicians. It seems that preventing and dealing with conflicts is more difficult than fomenting the conflict.

With the commitment of Abkhaz and South Ossetian partners, Caucasian House-Georgia, a Tbilisi-based non-governmental organization, has been carrying out the project “Sustainable Cooperation through Education and Networking” for the past two years. The project is co-financed by the Foundation and aims at raising the professionalism of emerging civil society leaders in the South Caucasus region who will play an active role in conflict transformation through direct cooperation.

This project is unique: it is developed and implemented by Georgian, Abkhazian and South Ossetian activists without international organizations or partners. In the first meeting in the “South Caucasus Summer School” in 2011, we identified the needs of the civil society in the Caucasus, brainstormed project ideas, and learned the project management cycle.

In 2012, we started to implement those project ideas. A total of 54 people took part, from different conflict regions, and with different backgrounds and experiences. The implementation process was not problem-free, with the political situations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia creating barriers. However, the determination and commitment of our Abkhazian and Ossetian partners made the project implementation possible. The first workshop of conflict-sensitive journalism took place in September 2012, and the second one on post-war justice issues took place in November 2012, both in Istanbul, Turkey.

Bilateral meetings (such as Georgia-Abkhazia or Georgia-South Ossetia) proved to be extremely stimulating. Despite some initial antagonism, the meetings always turn out to be very cordial and productive. The bilateral platform provides everyone an opportunity to express himself or herself openly in an exchange of arguments. As our Abkhaz participant noted, “I was always interested in how people live in Georgia, on what they base their decisions when reporting conflicts and ethnic problems. As a result of the meetings, I realize that we (Abkhazians and Georgians) lack information about each other; we create the perceived reality about the other. I used to report on social and economic issues, but now I have decided to do conflict reporting.”

After the educational component, participants are tasked to organize roundtable meetings, publish articles or op-eds to popularize the idea of peace and cooperation and provide the audience with a diversity of viewpoints – including perspectives from “across the conflict divide.” They also aim at attracting more stakeholders to the process, such as local governments, local civil society representatives and activists, in order to ensure broader participation and awareness in the conflict transformation process.

Closed physical borders push us into the virtual space of the internet for the post-meeting interactions, information sharing and planning. The facebook group “South Caucasus Summer School” unites 52 participants of the project. That’s where most of our interaction and planning takes place. Actually, the disadvantage of physical isolation has contributed to participants’ increased social media skills. Apart from the facebook activities, they created a blog and are identifying ways to manage and contribute to it.

The project is ongoing. It will be completed by a final forum of some 20 selected participants who will come together to discuss issues related to the regional media, justice and security and produce non-papers and articles. These materials are intended to be published for the wider audience to serve as a food for thought for all stakeholders included in Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-South Ossetian conflict transformation.

Obviously, people who were directly affected by the wars are least interested in the resumption of hostilities. Confidence building and conflict transformation is the best instrument of conflict preventions, but this is a difficult task. Civil society endeavors face two challenges: not only the need to convince the general public, but to make sure to bring the decision-makers on board. This kind of mission needs to be supported and encouraged.

Our project results show that cooperation of opponents is possible on mutually beneficial issues. Our vision is to ensure sustainable peace in the region through the cooperation of all affected parties. This is possible through exploring areas of cooperation, such as education, human rights, and social research, and implementing incremental steps to bring about change.