Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Tchambarak and Ichevan: women proposing peace

Over the past few days, I organized two forum discussions for the Resource Center Resource Center on the topic of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. One was held on May 12th in Tchambarak and another on May 15th in Ichevan. Both of the forums were run by Anahit Bayandur, co-president of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly Armenian Committee and really a fascinating and intelligent woman. I will not go too much into detail about Anahit because it will undoubtedly remain insufficient of her vast experience and capabilities, but she is truly one of the most progressive and liberal minded Armenian women I have ever met.

I specifically wanted to target this issue of women and peace because of the observations I made from the past two forums I organized. For those who are familiar with development work, I think in general it is ever so important to note the role of women and how important they are particularly in the underdeveloped regions. In Armenia, as we have been going out to the Tavush and Gegharkunik districts, the vast majority of participants in the forums and events have been women. This is primarily because most of the men are away or serving in the army. Understood. Yet, nobody can deny the importance of the role of these Armenian women in the daily lives of these regions.

When Anahit led the forums, she posed questions to the audience and wanted to get their feedback about the current situation regarding the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. In Tchambarak, the response was unanimous. They all kept repeating and explaining, “no, we don’t war, that is for sure…” Tchambarak has felt the effect of war on their own city and they explain they do not want to suffer anymore.

I would like to take a moment and briefly discuss some of the observations from the discussion forum held in Tchambarak. As mentioned before, most of the participants were women yet there were two men present as well. When discussing what actions need to be taken in order to improve their situation, the women were proposing ideas such as cultural events, meetings for the youth and other forums and discussions to hold so that the people of Tchambarak can become involved and active in their future. The two men were proposing other ideas. One of them mentioned that it is important to strengthen Armenia’s army, this will ensure their protection and safety and the enemy will be afraid to attack. While the other was also proposing that no compromises can be made revolving the NK region.

And the women kept expressing other concerns. They explained how neither Azeris nor Armenians want to continue to feel the affects of the war. Neither Azeris or Armenians want to lose their sons and/or husbands. This is what they kept reminding themselves throughout discussion.

Is there a tendency for women to be more concerned with peace and diplomatic ways of resolving conflicts while men tend to resort to the use of force and violent means?

Then there was the forum held in Ichevan. Once again, the majority of the participants were women and also two men. There were even more interesting observations there as well.

Here are some of the quotes from the forum held in Ichevan and some of the comments that the women expressed (which I translated into English ):

“…the treaty [ referring to a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan ] is just a paper, it’s not going to change anything.”

“Education is not developing, which is why were are not going forward.”

“In U.S., there can be 100’s of ethnic groups living together and their rights protected- but here we have one more group and that’s it.”

While the men were pointing out the following:

“…if Nagorno Karabakh and the war is left to Azerbaijan, it could have led to genocide.”

“…if you have the forces to keep yourself armed and protected, than you’re all set.”

I am particularly convinced that in a conflict situation, women can truly play an important role in bringing about a peaceful resolution. The only question is, to what extent are they given the opportunity to do so?

[ Forum held in Ichevan ]


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