Public diplomacy and the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

An interview with Dr. Susan Allen Nan
Associate Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
George Mason University 

March 12, 2012
Baku, Azerbaijan/Washington, DC/USA

Azerbaijan in the World: What are the ways in which you think people-to-people diplomacy may help conflict resolution at the stage when a political agreement is yet to be achieved?
Professor Nan: People-to-people diplomacy plays different functions at different stages of conflict.  In the period prior to a political agreement, people-to-people diplomacy can lay the groundwork that will allow an eventual political agreement to be successfully implemented at a later stage.  Track two diplomacy can engage civil society in discussions that will open more people to supporting an eventual agreement.  Furthermore, track two can bring together people who may later need to work together on the details of implementing an agreement.
AIW: Is there a sense, in your opinion, in which this kind of diplomacy may actually hinder, and be damaging for, conflict resolution?
Prof. Nan: People-to-people diplomacy must be carefully structured so that it does not make a conflict worse.  It does no good to bring together people who want only to argue.  People-to-people diplomacy works when the participants want to work together on something of shared importance.  There should be something constructive and realistic that all the participants want to address together.  Also, some individuals are traumatized by their experience of war and its aftermath, and may need their own personal psychological healing before they engage in people-to-people programs.  However, when carefully structured around shared goals and when participants are carefully selected, people-to-people diplomacy does not damage conflict resolution.
AIW: To follow up on the previous question, what do you think people-to-people diplomacy can and cannot do in terms of conflict resolution?
Prof. Nan: Clearly, people-to-people diplomacy has no responsibility for signing official peace agreements.  That is the responsibility of officials.  However, officials cannot reconcile two societies on their own.  Civil society can contribute to reconciliation, both as a precursor to an eventual agreement and also as a component in implementing an agreement.
AIW:  To what extent and in what ways do you think people-to-people diplomacy that have so far taken place between Azerbaijanis and Armenians contributed to conflict resolution between the two countries in the short- to medium-runs?  Should there be any further attempts in this direction, and if yes, then what are the particular mechanisms into which you think they could/should materialize?
Prof. Nan: I am only getting to know the range of the many people-to-people diplomacy programs that have engaged Azerbaijanis and Armenians.  From the bit that I have seen, I see one clear result: there are some Azerbaijanis and some Armenians who know “reasonable” people exist on “the other side” of the conflict.  In cases of such deep divides, it is necessary that some individuals recognize a few reasonable colleagues across the conflict divide.  This makes it possible to engage in real discussions even on difficult issues.  I would like to see a deepening of those substantive discussions in civil society dialogues, as well as a widening of who is engaged.  When there is an eventual peace agreement signed by officials, the people to people relationships will be essential to ensuring the successful implementation of the agreement.
AIW: What do you think is the best mechanism currently available for conflict resolution between the two countries?  Do you share the view of some that the OSCE Minsk Group has failed to live up to expectations and should be replaced—or indeed supplemented—by a more efficient mechanism?
Prof. Nan: During my recent visit in Azerbaijan, I met many people, both inside and outside of government who expressed strong interest in engaging in people to people diplomacy with Armenians.  Azerbaijanis asked me to connect them with others across the conflict divide.  This is exactly what I experienced on a similar visit to Yerevan, too.  Armenians also asked me to connect them with Azerbaijanis in people-to-people diplomacy.  The Minsk Group format serves to connect senior officials, but that is only part of the big picture of a peace process.  People-to-people diplomacy also has roles to play, and some Armenians and some Azerbaijanis are interested in engaging that way.  Young people, journalists, teachers, former combatants, historians, environmentalists, nuclear safety experts, policy experts, and almost any professional can be part of connecting with colleagues across the conflict divide.
All successful peace processes are multifaceted.  There are official peace agreements, and there are complex interrelated dynamics of implementing those agreements.  Civil society is involved in conflicts at all stages.  During a war, it is civilians and the most junior soldiers that suffer most.  During the long search for a peace agreement, civil society can establish relationships between individuals, which will eventually facilitate implementation of agreements.