Local NGOs in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorny Karabakh have organised and participated in dialogues between the parties involved in the conflict, they have worked for the release of POWs, organised youth camps, and led civic education and conflict resolution training programmes as well as skills training programmes for refugees and IDPs. The aim of these activities has been to keep the lines of communication open, to allow individuals from Armenia and Azerbaijan to meet, to combat processes of de-humanisation and enemy stereotyping, and to foster social attitudes more receptive to reconciliation and dialogue. One of the first initiatives, the 1991 Peace Caravan, organised by the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (HCA) chapters in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, provided the context for Armenian and Azeri civil society activists to meet on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border at Kazakh-Ijevan (referred to as the ‘peace corridor’) to discuss prospects for the resolution of the conflict and to issue a joint appeal for peace. The HCA chapters in the Caucasus, which are part of the larger HCA global network of organisations, also established ‘The Transcaucasus Dialogue’ in 1992 to coordinate and support the work of the individual HCA chapters in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Nagorny Karabakh as well as their regional cooperation. In 1992, Anahit Bayandour (Armenia) and Arzu Abdullayeva (Azerbaijan) were awarded the Olof Palme Memorial Fund Peace Prize and in 1998 Abdullayeva also received the ‘European Union and US Government’s Award for Democracy and Civil Society’.
Another successful initiative was a conference in 1995 held in Bonn, Germany, with the support of the organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The conference resulted in a series of agreed confidence-building measures including the release of hostages and POWs, and mutual visits by civil society activists, journalists, and students. In the following years hundreds of hostages and POW exchanges took place as part of the agreed confidence-building measures, but as Mary Kaldor and Mient Jan Faber argue, due to political circumstances and a lack of momentum this process came to a standstill in the late 1990s. From the late 1990s there have been various regional meetings and initiatives. These include the 1998 Nalchik seminar, leading to the creation of the Caucasus Forum, one of the longest-lasting and most important forums for NGO cooperation, and the 2001 Tsakhkadzor conference, which created opportunities for civil society activists to discuss pathways to peace. These meetings were an example of local NGOs cooperating with international counterparts, being facilitated by International Alert. One can also note the founding in 2001 of the Caucasian Refugee and IDP NGO Network (CRINGO), established in order to assist the displaced population.
More recently the Consortium Initiative, implemented by a coalition of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) made up of Catholic Relief Services, Conciliation Resources, International Alert, and the London Information Network on Conflicts and State-building (LINKS), has sought to bring a more comprehensive approach. The Consortium Initiative represents a government-funded initiative (it is funded by the United Kingdom government) aimed at a more strategic approach of intersecting strands taking in political and civil society dialogue, conflict-sensitive development and public awareness of the conflict and peace process. It is also explicitly aimed at including all the constituencies in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Karabakh and among displaced communities with a stake in the resolution of the conflict.
Regional approaches have frequently been necessary given the constraints imposed by authorities on meetings with representatives of the other side in each other’s countries. Although this has diluted the potential for direct Armenian-Azerbaijani dialogue by situating contacts within a regionalist agenda, it has at times been the only way to incorporate Karabakh Armenians due to Baku’s reluctance hitherto to approve meetings between Azeris and Karabakh Armenians in particular. It has also been one of the few means of fostering a sense of pan-Caucasian commonality of interest in a region riven by conflict, blockades and front lines.
In addition to NGOs, there are some smaller grassroots organisations comprised of refugees, the mothers or wives of soldiers, and families of hostages or POWs. These organisations often work with NGOs and there is an increasing tendency for these organisations to institutionalise over time and to register as NGOs themselves. Armenian diasporic communities, particularly those in the US, have lobbied for foreign aid and publicised the Armenian position. Although diasporic NGOs and individuals from the US, Europe, and the Middle East have contributed to humanitarian aid and development initiatives since independence, there has been little in the way of cooperation with and support for local NGOs involved in peacebuilding and conflict resolution initiatives in Armenia. On the contrary, some diasporic organisations, especially nationalist political parties, have taken more intransigent positions.