The Karabakh Contact Group (KCG) 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 provides a channel through which non-governmental analysis and recommendations can reach policymakers, both local and international.
The KCG brings together Armenian (including from Nagorny Karabakh) and Azerbaijani activists and experts with specialists from outside the region. It provides a rare opportunity for them to exchange information face-to-face, share perspectives from across the conflict divide and jointly think through the issues facing the peace process. Participants are invited to take part in a KCG meeting on the basis of their expertise and their ability to influence others in their society. They have included civil society activists, academics, journalists, think tank experts and former politicians.
Experts from the region are joined by international participants, invited for their expertise on a given topic and comparative experience from other conflict contexts. Meetings, held under the Chatham House Rule, typically last 2-3 days and take place in a location that is accessible and acceptable to all participants. Most meetings have taken place in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. The December 2014 meeting took place in Washington DC.
A series of five KCG meetings have examined the issues arising from the framework drafted by international mediators to resolve the NK 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 NK
Following each KCG meeting, Conciliation Resources has published a Policy Brief. These Briefs highlight the main issues and challenges which were discussed during the meeting and make policy relevant reflections for further discussion. English and Russian versions are produced (some also in Armenian and Azerbaijani). The Policy Briefs are presented to international and local policymakers and, wherever possible, events have been organised in Baku, Stepanakert and Yerevan to stimulate debate and wider public discussion.
Following the December 2014 KCG meeting in Washington DC, one participant explained the value of the KCG for him:
"We have big dreams. The KCG helps me to make my dreams more achievable. As a Track 2 activist in Azerbaijan, I now have the opportunity to bring my ideas to the table and make proposals to Track 1, having tested them out first hand within this format."
Despite the outbreak of serious fighting around NK in early April 2016, which created a new set of challenges, Conciliation Resources met with KCG core participants in June 2016 who expressed strong support for the continued usefulness of the format.
Conciliation Resources devised the KCG in 2010 in the framework of the European Union-funded European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (EPNK). The KCG has also been funded by the UK Government’s Conflict, Stablity and Security Fund.