Caucasus Conflict Voices

Strategically situated between Russia, Turkey and Iran, the South Caucasus is a key area of importance for the international community. A bridge between East and West, as well as a new and significant conduit for oil and gas, the region is also one of the most volatile. In the early 1990s separatist movements in Azerbaijan and Georgia saw bitter inter-ethnic fighting turn into full-scale war when the Soviet Union collapsed and Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia declared their independence. Nearly two decades later, conflicts over the disputed territories of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh might be ‘frozen,' but lasting peace remains elusive.

There are also fears that fighting might break out once again, especially as the region remains riven by ethnic rivalry and a bitterly disputed history. Such concerns were highlighted in August 2008 when Russia and Georgia fought a short war over the breakaway territory of South Ossetia. Meanwhile, with skirmishes frequent on the contact line between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, some analysts also fear a new war over Nagorno Karabakh as negotiations continue to falter. Aside from the lack of political will, many analysts argue, societies in all three countries are not being engaged or prepared for peace.

Yet, with media in the region often resorting to propaganda and misinformation, few opportunities exist for objective reporting or moderate voices on the conflict to be heard. Because of this, and naturally emerging from Global Voices' Caucasus editor's own work in this area, he has now set up this special coverage page. It will also cover the increasing use of new and social media in cross-border peace-building initiatives.

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Azerbaijan: Blowing Up in Their Facebook

When Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, two video-blogging youth activists in Azerbaijan, were detained on 8 July 2009 on what many believe were trumped-up charges, supporters and friends naturally used Facebook to campaign for their release. However, spreading networks wide in order to disseminate information and updates, there were obviously risks involved. Reports of the security services monitoring Facebook were coming out of neighboring Iran, and there was no reason to think it couldn’t happen in Azerbaijan.

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Azerbaijan: Another activist arrested, questioned over Facebook

Following concerns that there might be an official attempt to discredit or crackdown on the use of Facebook by alternative voices in Azerbaijan comes news of the detention of yet another activist, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev. Word spread quickly on Twitter and was later verified by a report in English from Radio Free Europe (RFE). As one of seven moderators of a recently launched Facebook page calling for Egypt-style protests in Azerbaijan, Hajiyev is apparently the only one based in the oil-rich former Soviet republic.

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Digital Media in Conflict-Prone Societies

Throughout history, war has affected media, with conflict often creating an information void. In the 21st century, media has begun to affect war more than ever before. Digital media technologies – particularly participatory, networked tools – have increased communication and information dissemination in conflict settings, affecting all sides and involving new producers of news coverage. These new tools can be used to foment violence or to foster peace, and it is possible to build communication systems that encourage dialogue and nonviolent political solutions. The international media development community must adapt its conflict-zone programs to fit a new media environment, designing projects that encompass digital media applications that encourage more open communities and states, provide venues for dialogue, and reduce control of information.

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Accord Nagorny Karabakh project

Since the ceasefire in 1994 Azerbaijan and Armenia have remained in deadlock over Nagorny Karabakh in the South Caucasus. An internationally sponsored peace process based on closed talks between the leaders has yielded several proposals but no agreement.

Accord issue 17 highlights the obstacles to a sustainable agreement and explores the challenge of bridging the gap between potential for agreement at the negotiating table and popular resistance to the compromises this entails. It examines the roles of civil society and the media, the economics of war and peace, and the challenges for further democratization.

With distrust in the process so widespread, we ask whether a more inclusive and multi-faceted approach could better address the dynamics of polarization and provide greater chances of reaching a solution acceptable to all?

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Where Hostile Governments Meet Public Media

How can public media develop in regions where governments are hostile to press freedoms? A look at emerging projects in the South Caucasus—a region of independent former Soviet countries linked both geographically and historically—offers some clues.

We have created a list of five notable public media projects: Institute for Reporter’s Freedom and Safety, Caucasus Center of Peacemaking Initiatives, Internews, the South Caucasus blogosphere and lastly everyone’s favorite Facebook.

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A web of Peace

Social media and conflict resolution in the South Caucasus. The opportunities offered to Armenian and Azeri peace activists, the debate in the region

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La pace sulla rete

Il ruolo dei social media nella trasformazione e risoluzione dei conflitti. L'utilizzo dei nuovi strumenti di comunicazione da parte di attivisti armeni e azeri, il dibattito nella regione

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Un réseau de paix

Médias sociaux et règlement des conflits au Caucase Sud. Les opportunités offertes aux militants pacifistes arméniens et azéris, le débat régional.

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International Crisis Group: Concerns emerging over a new Armenia-Azerbaijan war

While it didn't come as much of a surprise, the latest report from the International Crisis Group (ICG) makes depressing reading. Locked in bitter stalemate since a war over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh during which around 25,000 were killed and a million forced to flee their home, a final peace deal remains as elusive as ever.

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In praise of Twitter Diplomacy

At the beginning of last year, Transitions Online (TOL) published an article of mine as part of a small project documenting positive examples of ethnic Armenian-Azeri coexistence in Georgia. Ironically, even though Facebook had been the main focus of the article, TOL decided to publish it under the headline of "Twitter Diplomacy."

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Adopting a holistic approach in Armenia-Azerbaijan Peace Building initiatives

A comment made earlier today on a previous post regarding the need to diversify the dissemination of news and information online in the area of peace building in order to reach the largest number of people, especially when Internet penetration remains quite low, reminded me of another need which I had also briefly alluded to in a different post. Arif Khalil pointed out the potential for physical activities and events to break down stereotypes and engage a much larger and wider society in the 'real world,' and in particular mentioned using theater to spread a message of peace and coexistence.

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Diversifying Information in Cross-Border Communication & Peace Building Initiatives

In my last post I touched upon the issue of language in cross-border projects intended to encourage and facilitate discussion and dialogue between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. However, even when taken into account, that doesn't mean that online platforms are going to be effective, especially when Internet penetration remains low in the region. [...]

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Reconstructing the Tower of Babel: Unconfusing language in Armenia-Azerbaijan cross-border communication

2010 was a fantastic year for Conflict Voices, a personal project seeking to amplify alternative voices and opinion on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh. [...] In short, it’s been a huge success and not least because, unfunded and unsupported, it’s a genuine grassroots initiative, which is unprecedented enough in the context of the conflict. However, perhaps another reason for its success was accidental and unintentional. [...]

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Skype in Conflict Zones: An example from the Caucasus

In a situation where Armenia and Azerbaijan are meant to be negotiating to end the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, civil society should be very active. However, it doesn't appear as though it is, and not least because few people actually believe that a breakthrough is possible, especially when cross-border activities are far simpler to conduct in the area of Armenia-Turkey relations. [...]

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Online Social Networking in Activism: A Quick Look at Diaspora

When Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, two video blogging youth activists in Azerbaijan, were detained on trumped up charges in Baku, the country's capital, supporters and friends naturally used Facebook to campaign for their release. Indeed, one contact started to add pretty much everyone she could find to the online social networking site, accepting pretty much every request she received even if in many cases she didn't actually know them or have any mutual friends in common. [...]

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Social Media in Armenia-Azerbaijan Peacebuilding and Cross-border Communication

Since taking the first tentative steps to bring bloggers from Armenia and Azerbaijan together online in June 2008, it’s been both amazing and surprising to look back at how new media has managed to encourage and facilitate communication between the two countries. Locked into a bitter conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, the online environment which exists today was unimaginable two and half years ago. [...]

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