Publicism: Armenia, the Caucasus, Europe

Caucasus Forum: A Reflection

This publication (2012) is a part of 'Mediation' project and is from a book published by International Alert. It tells the story of Caucasus Fourm, an all-Caucasus network of civil society leaders, which was active in 1998-2004.


The Experience of Caucasus Forum: An Experiment in Holistic Peace-Building[1]


I. The Way It Started


The Caucasus Forum evolved in 1998 from a project of confidence building between Georgians and Abkhazians. The project was supported by the EU and implemented by International Alert, and it was for its supervision that Alert hired me.


The Georgian-Abkhazian Project


In February 1998, I first travelled to Tbilisi and then to Abkhazia to start planning the project. Phil Champain and Sofi Cook went with me. We had been on very good terms since our January meeting in Washington. They flew in from London and summoned me from Ohio to discuss the project. Phil and I hit it off at once when we found out that we both liked to draw diagrams on flipcharts. We drew six circles on a flipchart, connected them with lines and looked at them very hard. The project included six planned meetings, one each between MPs, women, youth and NGO activists, and two - the first and the last - between the organizers. The meetings were to be held in various locations, including former Yugoslavia (Dubrovnik and Ljubljana), in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Crimea etc.


The intended venues were also conflict areas, and the project was designed to combine confidence building with learning about the situation on the ground.


The project had been formulated two years previously; prices had risen quite a bit since. It was clear the budget was not nearly enough to hold all the planned meetings. Besides, we had no idea what the meetings were to be about. We decided with Phil that we would travel to the region and discuss the following option: the first meeting brings together all the people who want to take part in the project, let us say, ten people on each side. At this first meeting, they discuss the vision and content of the following meetings. Then we shall help them, to the best of our capacity, to implement what they agree to do.


It was with this open-ended program that we went to Tbilisi. Here, at George Khutsishvili’s office, I met a number of people who played important parts in the civil dialogue and became my friends: Marina Pagava, Guram Odisharia, Gia Anchbadze, the late Aniko Abramishvili, the late Elsa Ter-Martirosyants, Misha Mirziashvili, Mamuka Kuparadze, Nodar Sarjveladze and others. I also tried to make the acquaintance of Paata Zakareishvili but I did not meet him this time and we only met each other later.


In Abkhazia I met Manana Gurgulia and Diana Kerselyan, our project partners. Manana told me how the project idea had emerged: Kumar Rupesinghe who was then head of our office and Anna Matveeva, whose post I was now holding, had organized a conference in Moscow in which Tamaz Ketsba, Manana and George Khutsishvili took part. It was at this conference that they decided to launch this project. The whole cycle of writing and submitting the proposal, its review and approval by the European Commission took two years to complete. As a result, the project became outdated.


Manana and Diana took me to a club: a gallery café where almost the entire civil society of Sukhum was assembled. I was surprised that they already knew what civil society and NGOs were all about. I had only learned about those things two years previously while writing my MA paper in Ohio. Back in 1990, we had started an NGO in Yerevan with some friends but we had had no idea that what we started was an NGO. I was also impressed by the way Abkhazian NGOs were united and able to do things together. I was already aware that there was much less unity amongst Georgian and Armenian NGOs.


I met Batal Kobakhia at Apsny Press the day before. I noticed how attentive others were to him and wondered why. At the meeting in the gallery, I handed out copies of a paper where I put the empty framework of our project: six meetings of which the first decides what the rest will be about. The agenda of first meeting was as follows: getting acquainted, deciding on rules, discussing the agenda and then working on each of the topics agreed on the spot. All of a sudden, Batal threw the paper in my face and yelled that this was nonsense, we were pulling their leg and he would not work with such an empty paper.


This was the first serious challenge in my new job. I didn’t expect people to yell at me. I had a split second to make up my mind. For some reason, instead of doing something else, I yelled back, “You are talking nonsense yourself! You’re in the midst of a war, people sincerely want to help you and you tell them it is nonsense! The paper is empty because we want you to fill it with your own content! If you don’t want this project, very well. Just sit here in your isolation and go on feeling forsaken by the world!”


Batal walked out. The women tried to console me, they said he was very nice really but that was the way he was, I would get used to it over time. They said he’d lost many family members in the war. So we went on working on the structure and the agenda of the first meeting as if nothing had happened, and even feeling closer together as a result. The women promised me Batal would be back and would join the project.


When I decided to yell back at Batal, I was intuitively using a meditation trick. My yelp showed I had no hidden agendas: I was a regular typical Armenian, I could be nervous, upset and provoked. My yelling back served as a confidence-building measure. Had I been better prepared for this outburst, I would have tried to refrain from yelling. This was certainly a gaffe. It dispelled the official atmosphere and it’s nice that the Abkhazians forgave my unprofessionalism. However, going emotional can be a mediation trick.


It was not long before I got proof that they did not just forgive me but started to trust me a bit. Leila Tania and Lika Kvarchelia gave me coffee and began convincing me that they did want to build confidence with the Georgians but only in the capacity of their future neighbours on a par with other nations living in the Caucasus. Therefore, they said, if we were to do a real confidence-building project, we had to involve people from all over the Caucasus, not just the Georgians and Abkhazians.


This idea evoked something archetypal in me. While working in Armenia during the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1989-1993 and taking part in discussions of the region’s future[2], I became convinced, although I knew very little about the rest of the Caucasus, that the solution of conflicts lay in inclusivity, and a system representing all stakeholders needed to be created, something like a Caucasus United Nations or Caucasus OSCE. At that time, this idea was promoted by Suren Zolyan, now the Rector of Brusov University and then an MP and member of the Karabakh Commission who took part in the Minsk Group negotiations. He called his project the “Caucasus Switzerland”. Its proponents included Ashot Manucharyan, Ara Sahakyan who was then Vice Speaker of Parliament, and others. There were supporters of this vision in other countries too, for example, the German Bundestag member Dietrich Sperling. The idea was about creating a supra-national system that would include the recognized and the unrecognized entities of the South Caucasus. I wrote the vision up and published it in a book about conflicts in the Caucasus[3].


While talking to Leila and Lika, I realized that we were talking civil diplomacy, not Track 1, and yet, what if? What if we can start implementing the vision of a pan-Caucasian peace process? If we succeed, I thought, we would model the official process, i.e. prepare the ground and show the world how this is done.


I said this would change the project and that I would have to go back and ask the Georgians if they agreed.


I liked the idea. Maybe this made me sound convincing when I talked to Georgians.


This was not news for the Georgians. Back in the nineties, in Gamsakhurdia’s times, Naira Gelishvili proposed an initiative for a united peaceful Caucasus and even put together a group of activists that met with some of the leaders of Caucasus nations. As a result, an NGO called Caucasus Home was founded in Tbilisi. At the start of his second term in office, Eduard Shevardnadze proposed establishing a Caucasus Home that would unite Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Although conflict zones remained outside his initiative, still, should it have materialized, it would have created a new field for activity. However, Shevardnadze’s project was soon extinct because Azerbaijan rejected it.


Later, when the Caucasus Forum was already in place, Michael Emerson came up with his Stability Pact for the Caucasus; similar ideas were promoted on political levels, and some pan-Caucasus projects were launched, such as the project started by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the Article 19 Freedom of Expression project, and the Gringo project launched by the Danish Refugee Council.


En masse, Georgians identify stronger with the Caucasus than Armenians living in Armenia. In other parts of the Caucasus, Armenians have this identity, but Armenians in Armenia, just like Azerbaijanis in Azerbaijan, have weak Caucasus identities. The Georgians are different. There is a reason why Ossetians, including Northern Ossetians, call Tbilisi Kalak, meaning “city”: Tbilisi was for many years perceived as the centre of the Caucasus.


Anyone who takes the trouble to google for my publications on the topic will see that the pan-Caucasus peace process is my fad. Had the Abkhazians agreed to the bilateral process without reservations, I would have probably kept looking for a pan-Caucasus format elsewhere. But since they themselves asked to widen the scope, I did not mind.


Mediators are often non-neutral. Are the OSCE Minsk Group mediators quite neutral? Of course not, because they represent states and mediate in a conflict between a state and a non-state. This is why they try to represent the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh as a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan although this does not reflect the whole picture. Nor were the Friends of the Secretary General quite neutral because they reflected the viewpoint that Abkhazia must be part of Georgia. They were originally called “Friends of Georgia” but Abkhazia and/or Russia objected, and they were renamed.


Even when they are non-neutral or even biased, the mediators can do some good. This depends on the individual or the organization. Paata Zakareishvili has often said that he would like Abkhazia to become part of Georgia. He says this openly. But this does not make him the worst of mediators between other Georgians and the Abkhazians with whom he has been building relations for many years.


In a way, I was neutral: I had no vision of the final status of Abkhazia (or Nagorno-Karabakh). I thought any status would do which would be accepted by the population (preferably including the refugees) and would enable people to leave safely and at peace with their environment. This position of mine has been criticized by the Armenians for insufficient patriotism and by Georgians, for not sticking to the international standard about Abkhazia being part of Georgia. I was proceeding from the assumption that de-facto Abkhazia is not part of Georgia and did my best to bring together members of both nations’ civil societies.


Probably, the Abkhazians were friendly with me partly because I was Armenian, and the local Armenians had helped Abkhazians during the war – in fact, only local Armenians. As to Armenians in Armenia, especially on political level, they were well aware that the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict placed them in worse isolation and blockade than ever: Armenia’s railroad connection with Russia was broken off for many years to come as a result of that conflict. They would have preferred it not to happen.


The Georgians resisted my proposal at first, but not very hard: they needed to meet Abkhazians and start the dialogue. They regarded the pan-Caucasus format as a temporary concession. The idea, was, however, fully approved by those who knew Abkhazia in depth, for example, by Gia Anchabadze, Guram Odisharia and Marina Pagava. Representatives of Georgian pro-Western intellectual circles were more sceptical.


This was the second time when I achieved something as a mediator, and that something had not originally been part of the project. I achieved two things: a) Georgians and Abkhazians would meet in Sochi (we chose less exotic and cheaper meeting places), b) they would meet in a pan-Caucasus format.


Cynics might say that Abkhazians and Georgians would agree to go to Ljubljana or Dubrovnik just for the fun of it, and Sochi is no good for shopping (except perhaps for Turkish leather goods?). Whoever goes to Sochi goes for the sake of work and peace.


Only four people from other parts of the Caucasus were invited to the first meeting. All the rest were Abkhazians and Georgians. The role of the four was to work on the pan-Caucasus format and to facilitate the meeting: to help the Georgians and Abkhazians by telling them about other regions and conflicts and generally keeping them from becoming centred on their problems.


The meeting established a Working Group on pan-Caucasus dimension which agreed to a) make the pan-Caucasus meeting the next event in the project, and b) invite people from other parts of the Caucasus to every event but continue having a majority of Georgians and Abkhazians.


It was decided to hold the next event in Nalchik. It was there that the Caucasus Forum was born.


Another secret mediation trick was that I didn’t say “no” to the Abkhazians. An international British organization comes via Tbilisi, wanting to start a peace process on non-governmental level and agreeing to suggestions made by Abkhazians! I don’t guess this had often happened before.


My frank presentation of the situation and my question, “Shall we do the pan-Caucasus thing or give it up?” was met with support by Phil, Sofi and Martin Honeywell. Martin was then Vice Director of International  Alert and played a key role in the establishment of the Caucasus Forum. They had no political agendas and were not under pressure from official British circles; they were true NGO people and believed in taking risks and acting independently from the government. This is why the Caucasus Forum happened.


In Nalchik, I met Paula Garb. She wanted to attend our meeting, and I invited her. She was just starting her project. I had met Jonathan Cohen back in London, and we trusted each other from our first meeting. Three main Georgian-Abkhazian peacebuilding projects were thus launched almost simultaneously and were cooperative rather than competitive. There was competition too, but in the final analysis, we saw our activity as part of one project. Jonathan, Paula and I managed to make an important mutually complementary intervention in the conflict; we mediated between ourselves without external support. Martin Schumer from United Nations Volunteers helped us at that time; alas, he died young. However, we would not have been able to achieve anything had it not been for our partners: for the goodwill of the Georgians, Abkhazians and other participants from the Caucasus, and their determination to relate to each other.


How the Caucasus Forum Was Born


While we were preparing the meeting in Nalchik, Martin Honeywell asked me, “What is the scenario for Nalchik?” because I invited him to facilitate. We discussed the scenario with Phil and one of our Board members, a retired general who was very understanding. When they said things that reflected their poor knowledge of the situation in the Caucasus, I would correct them very excitedly, almost yelling at them. They had to put up with this. In Alert, people understood that emotional behaviour which is not accepted in the West does not reflect disrespect but only temperament. They realized that while the English are reserved and precise, many non-English have a high context culture, meaning that, for example, if a person is late for a meeting, it isn’t because he does not respect the people he is meeting but because he is doing several important things at once and does not prioritize the meeting against something which is equally important in his eyes. In this culture, raising one’s voice is not a way to insult but merely a sign of excitement and of the desire to convince.


At the end of our working meeting, Martin asked, “Are we going to create a network, or aren’t we? Shall we adopt some sort of document?” “Martin,” said I, “if they wish they will create a network and adopt a document, but how can we make them?” “No, my friend,” said he, “you must foresee everything. We mustn’t impose things on them but you must be ready for this development. Go and write a scenario for the option that they decide to have a network and a final document.”


The least we wanted to achieve was a successful meeting. The best case scenario was a network and a long-term project. However, there was also an option that the meeting would fail. We knew about a failed meeting organized by the George Mason University, when Abkhazians refused to sit in the same room with Georgians, and the Americans had to run from room to room, doing shuttle diplomacy instead of a workshop. This happened because of a mediation error: the two sides had not coordinated the list of participants in advance. Alert had made mistakes too: many years ago Alert sent a mission to Abkhazia that produced a document which was illiterate as well as pro-Georgian. I have read it; it said that the reasons for the conflict were poverty in Soviet Abkhazia and religious tensions, because Abkhazians were Muslims and Georgians were Christians. After its publication, Abkhazians refused to deal with Alert, and cooperation only resumed after Kumar Rupersinghe apologized in person to Natella Akaba when they met at a conference.


I discussed both scenarios with Martin with emphasis on the best case scenario. We did not draft a final document because we surmised that we could not foresee what the participants would want to put there. The only thing I said was that lots of declarations were signed at Caucasus get-togethers, and it only made sense to sign one more if it would lead to action. “It means,” I told Martin, “that if they sign anything, Alert gives them a carte blanche and commits to support them.” This meant revising the Alert strategy because Alert had no plans to implement pan-Caucasus projects. This implied a strategic U-turn, an expanded strategy and more fundraising. Martin said that he gave “them” (and me) a carte blanche and would take care of coordinating the changes with the Board. The general who was then acting Chairman of the Board gave his consent on the spot.


This is how we put it on the agenda, “Should participants wish to create a network and sign a document, they will have this opportunity.”


The first day of the workshop (there were 40 people there, more like a conference than a workshop) was spent on local stories. Every speaker talked for an hour. Everyone was exhausted. The second day was spent on creating a joint platform and visioning, i.e. imagining a network, the future of the Caucasus etc. At the end of the third day, I was dead tired and decided to get a beer. But Martin stopped me. “Do we sign anything tomorrow?” he asked.


- Martin, - I said, - they will sign it if they want.

- No, my friend, - he said. – If they are going to sign anything, they must get the draft in the morning.


He made me, Sofi, Anton who was our interpreter, Diana and a few other organizers gather in the headquarters room and spend four hours on coordinating a document based on the issues discussed during the day. The document was ready by 2 a.m. The next day was spent on agreeing every word. Then the participants went on a trip to Mt Elbrus and I stayed to revise the document and print it. When they returned, the participants organized a dance party and signed the text right in the middle of it. They finished signing next morning before going home.


This was how the Elbrus Declaration came to be.


First Lessons Learned


The Declaration was the result of group mediation: our whole team led by Martin did everything to facilitate the signing of the document. Even the trip to Mt Elbrus was a facilitation tool that served to cheer people up.


The phrasing of the document was diplomatic, not radical, but this was a declaration about cooperation and peacebuilding in the Caucasus. I was, however, aware that such documents are a dime a dozen; what mattered was what would follow.


I also came to the conclusion that I was working on an intersection of interests, i.e. this was not a zero sum game. Let us suppose I want two people to meet, and one is against the idea. I ask him: on what terms would you agree to meet that guy? He tells me his terms. I tell the other guy: let’s agree to his terms if meeting that guy is more important to you than keeping your ground and just sitting here on your own. If the meeting is really important for him, he agrees. The meeting does not go the way he would have like it to go but it does take place. We start the process from a more basic level which is less adequate to the interests of some participants, but we do start it. All participants are sufficiently interested in the process to agree to each others’ terms.


We start discussing the issue but we cannot come to an agreement. We don’t get consensus on some things, for example, on whether Abkhazia should be independent or part of Georgia. Abkhazians say one thing and Georgians another. At this point we stop discussing the content and start discussing the form of the process, i.e. how we are going to continue discussing this and other problems: when, where, why.


At the first meeting in Sochi, before Nalchik, the question arose: what is the Georgian-Abkhazian project all about? Discussing the status of Abkhazia leads us nowhere. We moved on to the process and decided that a meeting of MPs was not feasible (Georgians said their MPs did not officially recognize Abkhazian MPs as such) but we can have meetings of a) the pan-Caucasus group (in Nalchik), b) women, c) youth, and d) ex-combatants. Then we would have a final meeting in which the same people now meeting in Sochi will evaluate the project. There was a but: the meetings would not just be about getting acquainted and discussing issues. Every meeting was to elaborate future joint projects.


The meetings of youth, women and ex-combatants thus got an impetus: the goal was not just to meet and build some personal trust but to design joint projects. We would then help to get financing for the projects and to launch them. Our project thus became a catalyst, an umbrella project that would lead to a snowball of new joint projects.


Now let us think of the best case scenario. Should every meeting have resulted in a joint project which would actually be implemented, there would have been so many meetings and discussions and so many joint decisions would have been made that confidence building would have really made a big leap. I’m saying this to illustrate the role of mediator: when you realize you cannot move ahead with the content, you must go ahead with the process. On concrete points, you can achieve results which are no less important than, for example, the coordination of the Abkhazian and Georgian visions of the conflict. If women work on their issues, young activists on theirs and ex-combatants on theirs, if businesspeople start joint ventures, and finally, if politicians see how this works and join in the process, there will be a realistic chance for the conflict to move in the direction of peace. This was the way we and our partners saw this project.


The mediation (or facilitation) tool is that if we cannot resolve the conflict, we must not just look for a bypass but for a process that will foster the solution of concrete problems, and this will pave the way to a solution of the main problem.


Of course, one can question this approach and say that small concrete actions, however successful, may not necessarily lead to a major solution. Our strategy was founded on the assumption that this reservation was not a good reason to stop trying.


Never despair, never stop the process, see a positive side in everything and be able to point it out to the participants, move away from the content and towards the process if the content does not lend itself to resolution, never forsake your goals and come back to them at the next stage of the process. Theoretically, this was our method. It is important to understand and remember this now when it seems that a holistic pan-Caucasus agenda is all but nonexistent.


Another component is finding the point where interests converge, even when it lies very low, right at the beginning of the process. As we bypass the content in favour of the process, we find the “positive sum”. If the parties disagree on something, we descend to a lower level where we have consensus and interest, and work from there. For example, one party wants to do a joint business venture and the other does not, but it agrees to do parallel business projects. In this case, we launch the parallel business projects and organize a meeting of the project managers so they can discuss the results.


It’s a long road that can get longer every day. Its efficiency can go down to almost nil, especially if the other components of the process are lacking, in our case, if nothing happens outside our project to stimulate mutual interests and push other aspects of the conflict towards a stable peace process. Whenever the atmosphere around the peace process improved, our project would achieve meaningful if minor results. Whenever the atmosphere deteriorated, our project would become inefficient.


However, this only concerned the Georgian-Abkhazian project. It was different from the Forum in that it was managed by three partner organizations: Alert, the Georgian organization and the Abkhazian organization. It was comparatively easier to achieve consensus between three actors than between fifteen, and there were about fifteen partners in the Forum.


II. The Struggle for a Holistic Caucasus


Some of the events in the Georgian-Abkhazian project were close in spirit to the ones conducted by the Forum, and could be included in its activity. A book called “Caucasus Writers on War”, including stories by Abkhazian, Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani and Ossetian authors, was prepared and published by Guram Odisharia, Batal Kobakhia and Daur Nachkebia in the framework of the Georgian-Abkhazian project. Guram and Batal travelled all over Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, meeting writers and talking them into giving us their stories to be published in the book. In spirit, this was a typical Forum project although it was part of the Georgian-Abkhazian project.


The Forum spent lots of time on creating and refining its structure and procedures. Perhaps we were spending too much energy and money on this, and not being very successful. It was a big challenge.


Of the entire multitude of projects, events and developments, I will dwell on the following: the story of the UNHCR Working Group, the ex-combatants’ meeting, the mediation mission to Karachay-Cherkessia, the All-Caucasus Youth Creative Game, and the elaboration of decision-making and internal procedures in the Forum.


The UNHCR Working Group


The UNHCR Working Group on Conflict Prevention was established as part of an UNHCR project called the CIS Conference. This conference was held every year for five years, bringing together several hundred civil society actors from the entire CIS who would prepare their recommendations for the CIS Council of Ministers in the sphere of refugees and IDPs. As part of the same plan to enable civil society to influence governments, the UNHCR proposed the creation of several Working Groups including the Group on Refugee Legislation, The Group on Refugee Rights etc. The Conflict Prevention Group was one of them. When Alert and I were invited to join it, it had existed for about two years but unlike other working groups, it was not clear what its results were. When I joined, I learned its history: it had not been planned by the UNHCR but was proposed at a Conference where many of the participants came from refugee organizations; they were interested in conflict resolution and insisted on having an ad hoc working group.


I was invited to this project by Kirsti Floor who was then with the UNHCR, and Elena Sadovskaya who led the Conflict Management Centre in Almaty. I met Kirsti and Elena at the Moscow conference of the Working Group, where I also got acquainted with its participants and was asked by Kirsti to facilitate a mixed sub-group which had two hours to draft an action plan. I listened to the participants of the sub-group, drew a table on a flipchart and proposed to fill the ideas into columns: who, what, when, who can help, what has been done etc. By the end of the session we had an action plan of sorts, and my sub-group was inspired. I was not much of an expert on the matter so during the presentation, every time someone from another sub-group asked a question (the questions were jealous and deliberately tricky) I would give the floor to the person in my sub-group who had suggested that particular idea. We got profound and argumentative answers to all tricky questions. My participant-oriented inclusive approach gave its fruit.


Kirsti asked Alert to lead the working group. I told her we were joining the project at a late stage and the project was too large, stretched all over the CIS, so that the people who founded the group should continue helping us. Kirsti proposed that Elena Sadovskaya’s organization should co-manage the project, and I was happy to accept. Elena had been one of the founders of the group, and besides, I realized Alertwould not be able to work on its own in Central Asia where it had no prior experience.


Kirsti, Elena and I met in London and drafted the general principles of the project. I believed it was intrinsically wrong to discuss conflict resolution unless all parties in conflict were involved. I also believed it was impossible to impact conflict resolution by theoretical means, like recommendations and expert statements. Therefore, I proposed to invite members of civil society from “unrecognized” entities to the Working Group. This was easier to do via the Forum. My other idea was to have three sub-nets: one in Ukraine, Moldova/Transdnistria and Belarus (so called Western CIS), one in the Caucasus and one in Central Asia, because it would be easier to make plans and raise funds for those sub-nets, and also to implement those plans which would be about civil society peacebuilding projects. For all this, UNHCR allocated very basic funds, Alert added a little and Kirsti promised to do some fundraising which she never managed to do because she was ill for a whole year. We didn’t find any more money and had to settle with the minimal option.


The Caucasus Forum was going to have its next meeting shortly, and there we could discuss the idea of the Working Group. Therefore, money was allocated for the three remaining meetings: one each in Central Asia and the Western CIS plus the final meeting of all sub-nets.


The plan looked convincing and theoretically correct. However, inexperienced as I was, I failed to take a whole range of factors into account, and no one had warned me about them. The refugees who were well represented in the Conference were against letting “the other side” join in the Working Group because in their emotional perception, the “other side” was to blame for their having become refugees. Moreover, a number of organizations which had originally been in the Working Group before I joined it were excluded because they did not fit into the Caucasus Forum although they came from the Caucasus. At the next meeting in Geneva, Elena Sadovskaya and I were attacked by critics who were right about some things and unfair about others. They were right in reproaching us for not having discussed the project with all stakeholders in advance. The reason was that the Internet was out of bounds for many people in the CIS and there was no other way to discuss things because surface mail didn’t work either. This was 1999. They began criticizing us exactly at the point when we came all together to discuss things. The critics joined with people who had no reason to attack us but had other concerns: for example, Azerbaijani refugee organizations joined against us because I was Armenian. One well-known Russian activist supported them, probably because he thought the Forum was anti-Russian. Some Armenians also joined because they felt excluded from the Forum. The fact that Kirsti Floor had not been around for a whole year also had a negative effect on the projects. Anyway, the conflict in Geneva was not settled, and this impacted subsequent stages of the project.


The fact that some Armenians supported the attacks against us could have been used for diplomacy: it made me look neutral, not pro-Armenian. But this didn’t work: Armenians criticized me but the Azerbaijanis did not support me either.


The main emphasis was still on my ethnicity which allegedly reflected on my activities: people believed that the inclusion of some players in the WG and the exclusion of others had been motivated by the interests of “my side”, presumably the Armenian side in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and in the post-Soviet geopolitical layout. For the first time, I felt discriminated on ethnic grounds. They seemed to say, “This guy is Armenian. Whatever this guy does is because of his ethnicity, it cannot be otherwise.”


I have not often been discriminated. I was never discriminated in the U.S. ; when a friend of mine who was the only black professor at his university told me about being discriminated, I could understand it but not feel it because on the surface, nothing like this existed. In Russia, I often witnessed discrimination of people from the Caucasus but not of myself and most of the time not of Armenians because they had become the “valuable Jews” of modern Russia.


In a few years’ time I left Alert; one of the reasons was that I could not help being Armenian any more. It was like what happened to Mowgli when he said, “Ye have told me so often … that I am a man … that I feel your words are true.” It was in the UNHCR project that I realized for the first time that I could be perceived as somebody whose every action is guided by his ethnic interest.


According to the Alert Code of Conduct, which was also the basis for the Forum Code of Conduct, we built our strategies bottom-up, based on the peacebuilding visions of our partners from the conflict sides. The Alert Code also mentioned being unbiased. But I could not be entirely unbiased. There is an “ideal” model of intervention in a conflict, involving two sides and a neutral mediator. A mediator from abroad is supposed to be neutral. To compensate for being foreign, the mediator must become an expert on the conflict, become fascinated with it, study it in detail and fall in love with the locality where it is happening, but remain neutral. The mediator will then remain a “foreigner”, which is supposed to be a good thing. I could not mediate like that, and did not think this would do any good. Others do this but I’m afraid it’s usually useless. I proposed a different peacebuilding model: engaged and biased work for peace; a Caucasus-wide peace movement; the solidarity of all who want to do the hard work of peace. My model was based on the ideal of class solidarity or the solidarity of human rights protectors. I believed this was the only way to get things moving in the Caucasus. In my first years of work, my approach was accepted and welcomed but over time, the “ideal” intervention model described above prevailed in most of the conflict resolution work done in the Caucasus. As a result, there was a widening gap between the agendas of international organizations and those of the parties in conflict back in their localities. The “ideal” model represents a simplistic version of liberal ideology in conflict resolution. It relies on the assumption that if two persons representing parties in conflict can come to terms with the mediation by a third party, then their societies can do the same. This approach fails to include a credible theory about moving from individuals to society; it regards society as a mere aggregate of so many individuals.


It was getting too hard for me to fill that gap and keep mediating between the two discourses, the liberal one and the coalitionist peacebuilding one. If I ever succeeded in mediating, it was not between the parties in conflict but rather between Western discourses and ones coming from the post-Soviet world and from the Caucasus in particular. It was probably my ability to translate post-Soviet and Caucasus problems into the language of Western concepts, and vice versa, to translate Western agendas into concepts that are important in the post-Soviet Caucasus, that made me a successful fundraiser.


Ever since, I’ve been doing the same thing in all my jobs: translating Western notions into local languages and back. I try to explain that neither of the two sides is uncivilized, and try to build conceptual bridges between the two discourses and the two contexts. It’s all about translation. Maybe a true mediator is like a transparent translator, an educator for both sides who helps the West understand the Caucasus, and vice versa, like a professor who teaches students about physics and physicists about students.


In the UNHCR project, I felt for the first time that people were trying to make me into an Armenian nationalist. It felt like being put in a cage. Social pressure built up over time. “Get into your cage! Be part of the social machinery that we can understand and know how to deal with! Give up! Accept the fact that none of us have any future!” The fact that I was an Armenian without nationalist views, a post-Soviet manager and conflict resolution professional, and worse still, very probably a non-mercenary – all this made the pressure go up.


There was another delicate issue. Can a project manager act as mediator? A project manager who handles administration and finance has much more power than any of the participants. This was why we often invited external facilitators so they would not have a hand in the management. Anyway, we all came from this mediating Western organization that had more room to impose its agendas than any of the participants. To compensate, we had to empower the participants, otherwise bias in favour of the mediator would have been excessive. I tried to position Alert as the catalyst of the partners’ peacebuilding agendas: we did not take any leads but we did not impose our agendas either. This didn’t always work.


There were some conflicts at the meeting in Central Asia but on the whole it was a success. The Western CIS meeting also went well; there I had my first chance to meet people from Transdniestria. The Kiev-based organization which was helping us was great in terms of both top efficiency and excellent staff. The Caucasus Forum held its meeting. Time was ripe for the joint meeting of the three sub-networks in Golitsino. It was at this stage that the conflict really broke out, starting from whom we could finance to go to the meeting, and to whether one could consider people to be peacebuilders if they made radical extremist statements that rhetorically demolished the other side. It was hard for me, Martin Honeywell and the other facilitators to handle this; a solution was needed.


I learned a few lessons from this project. Refugee rights’ activists are frequently not peacebuilders. People who have not been exposed to a violent conflict causing death and devastation do not usually understand those who have. The UN and other International Organization projects attract all kinds of people, sometimes totally lacking in values and principles, who are there for the sake of grants or travelling abroad or a chance to provoke others. I got a confirmation of my assumption that it is no use discussing conflicts if you are a highbrow expert who looks down on the stakeholders. The way to promote peace is to work here and now with the people who are in the midst of a conflict. Conflict resolution trainings do not teach one to resolve one’s own conflicts. The efficient method is to organize trainings in which the parties in conflict are directly involved, i.e. to model the resolution of the actual conflict.


Martin and I had to deal with all this. To calm down the fifty to seventy persons who gathered in Golitsino and resolve the controversy, we proposed creating a sort of ‘High Court’: a group of intermediaries whom the others trusted and would abide by their decision. It was more or less clear who these “judges” were to be. We proposed Paata Zakareishvili from Tbilisi, Batal Kobakhia from Sukhum, Natalia Ablova from Bishkek and Eldar Zeinalov from Baku. Every one of them had unquestioned authority in the CIS civil society. Batal was the man whom Alert and I lobbied as the “unrecognized entity” representative to be included in the Working Group. Paata and Natalia, both old-timers of the CIS conference, agreed that it had been, to put it mildly, a lack of foresight on the part of Alert and the Conflict Management Centre to exclude or try to exclude any of the old Working Group members, even though by omission and not by malicious intent. Eldar thought the same. Alongside Batal, he was a signatory of the Elbrus Declaration, i.e. a founder of the Forum, and one of the key Working Group members.


We thus had three people from the Caucasus and one from Central Asia; three men and one woman. We didn’t have any Armenians but one Azerbaijani and one Abkhazian; two came from conflicting parties and two didn’t. We talked to each member of the “High Court” and asked to help. They all agreed and started work at once: they had meetings, interviewed “witnesses”, and eventually made a number of decisions that calmed down the general public and appeased the hottest tempers. This way, the Working Group survived. Six months later, the next CIS Conference was held in Geneva, and Batal Kobakhia and Alan Parastaev from South Ossetia were its full-fledged participants. No one minded their participation; there were also guys from the Northern Caucasus there, from Chechnya.


Several months later, at a DRC Conference in Baku (it was my last time in Baku but hopefully not the very last) I met Andre Kamenshikov and agreed that Alert would hand the management of the WG over to Andre’s organization, which was what he wanted. The project was too complicated, Alert was unable to pay sufficient attention to it and I had to strengthen the Caucasus Forum. Now that the organizations had been identified and in touch with each other, it was easy for them to do projects with Alertor the Forum or with each other. The ties established then gave rise to projects in the future. Kirsti agreed that the management of the WG would now be Andre’s job; I have no idea what happened to the WG afterwards. I remember hearing from Batal or someone else in the Forum about another meeting or two, but that’s all I know.


I thus found out that from a mixed and scarcely manageable group which calls itself civil society, one can select people of authority, appeal to their conscience and ask them for help – and they will appeal to the conscience of others, and people will listen to them. Peer mediation is a real power and an efficient tool in the CIS; if only we had the chance to use it.


Alternative systems of dispute arbitration do not work well in our societies because there are few people of unquestioned authority, and they are especially scarce amongst lawyers and former judges who could mediate and resolve disputes outside the official judicial system. There are few people whose authority is strong enough for others to accept and implement their decisions. Our experience shows that these people exist, and few though they may be, I’m sure there are more than just our foursome. We mustn’t look for former judges or people who think they have authority but for those who really do. This is the way this works in the criminal world but is not supposed to work amongst ordinary people. However, there is a nuance: had Alert not given conference participants the tip that the decision can be handed over to that foursome, people would not have found this solution themselves. However hard we tried to make them understand that the decision was in their hands and Alert would back them up if they proposed a fair process of decision-making, they could not make up their minds. Empowerment did not work. People were not used to taking the lead unless for escalation; they could not make a creative move for fair conflict settlement.


We prompted them by showing that we trusted those four people unconditionally and would accept any decision of theirs. For authority to be recognized by the parties in conflict, someone must thus give the process an impetus by showing that they recognize the authority of certain people, otherwise people might not get the idea to do this, or will not propose the truly respected candidates as a result of a habit, common in the Caucasus and former USSR in general, never to propose any candidacy but your own. The actor that gives an impetus to the process must also have some authority; perhaps not enough to be the arbitrator but enough for people to pay attention to his/her suggestion that a certain person has authority.




The meeting between ex-combatants was one of the most important events at the time when the Forum had just been created. People still remember it, including, strangely enough, those who did not take part for some reason. When we launched the Georgian-Abkhazian project, we were aware that a bilateral meeting between ex-combatants would not work: people who had fought against one another could meet by chance in twosomes at some sort of peacebuilding meeting, but bringing together a considerable number of ex-fighters from both sides would have been impossible and wrong too. Therefore, the meeting of Forum coordinators decided to have a meeting of ex-combatants from all over the Caucasus. The Caucasus Forum was full of energy and felt it could handle a project like that. The method of the meeting was discussed in detail and intelligently implemented in the following two months. Every Forum coordinator was to identify two ex-combatants who would be willing to meet with other ex-combatants. Those coordinators who did not have sufficient skills or training to act as psychological assistants were to find experienced professional psychologists to accompany the delegation. As men who had fought in wars, the ex-combatants were a natural peacebuilding resource because they wanted the wars to start again even less than someone without their experience. However, in the event of a new war they would fight again, and so they wanted to talk to their colleagues and potential enemies about the rules of combat which were, alas, violated more than once during the wars in the Caucasus. They also wanted to discuss psychological and social rehabilitation, ways to help persons who have limited physical abilities as a result of being wounded in the war, and support to bereaved families. If possible, they wished to elaborate a joint platform.


There weren’t regular soldiers in our group but just combatants who volunteered to the war. Only from Russia, we had young men who were drafted and had fought in Chechnya; Lusya Pavlichenko brought them from Novocherkassk. We also had combatants from Abkhazia, combatants and refugees from Georgia, combatants from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and various parts of the Northern Caucasus. Only Azerbaijanis did not show up. Despite this regrettable fact, the meeting was a success. Emotions were high but the coordination of a number of principles and documents went surprisingly smoothly and efficiently. People from a military background were dignified and principled; they did not like to bother with trifles, acted responsibly and had strong moral values. A minor issue was that differences in military rank sometimes made it difficult for people to talk as equals.


We decided against bringing any foreigners to the meeting, either as facilitators or observers; the whole crowd came from the Caucasus. The facilitators were those Forum Coordinators who brought delegations from their regions. There were about eight facilitators; they all met as a group each night and stayed up late to coordinate the process for the following day. The combatants’ group seemed to shed a bright light on everyone because the facilitation group also worked smoothly and efficiently. The tension of this meeting really threw the coordinators together; the ties are still there many years later although the Forum has been “frozen” or “sleeping” for a while, the way some conflicts are.


We learned the following lessons about mediation from this meeting.

(1)   Bring together civil peacebuilding professionals from the parties in conflict in the Caucasus, and if they wish, they can organize a meeting between the least compatible groups or types of people;

(2)   Good quality preparatory teamwork and the profound commitment of the mediators can work wonders;

(3)   A meeting which is well prepared, with various factors and details accounted for, will be a success;

(4)   Despite seeming complexity, the most successful projects are the ones motivated by the wishes and visions of grassroots actors, i.e. the very people we are working for. This last point is often theoretically acknowledged but practically not implemented either by international actors trying to achieve something in the region or local ones who uncritically agree to become partners in initiatives handed down from the top.


A meeting is just a meeting after all. Is it a valid result? Should one spend considerable moneys on just having people meet and talk?


In recent years, the European Union Neighbourhood Policy has acquired a new official dimension called “people-to-people contacts”. Europe makes sure Europeans and non-Europeans meet each other. Europeans are not hard to find nowadays in the Caucasus yet this dimension is one of the main focuses of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and Eastern Partnership (EaP) programs.


In the Caucasus, isolationism is another way of making war; people are isolated from the rest of the world and even from their neighbours, to say nothing of their recent enemies. The very existence of the other party and of “unrecognized entities” is denied for many reasons. The conflicts have become a lever that the leaders at the top use to retain and fortify their grip on society; this is also instrumental for the authorities’ personal mercenary motives and/or for preventing democratic trends, i.e. not letting people decide about their own lives, choose lifestyles, engage in politics or other activities, and limiting their freedoms in every other possible way. “Divide and rule” is an excellent maxim for this purpose; the governments seed mistrust and create enemy images, and even if two neighbours are not at war, they are prevented from meeting and relating to each other lest they join ranks and move against the guys at the top.


Bringing together people who would not have met otherwise due to conflicts that have frozen the Caucasus: this has become my key maxim which I used to justify the need to finance conflict transformation projects although none of them promised a miraculous settlement of the conflict.


This begs the question why the ex-combatant meeting had no follow-up. However, it did have indirect follow-up events. It flowed into another large event: the Moscow meeting of people with limited abilities from the entire Caucasus. This meeting led to many joint projects, including ones between the Abkhazian organization led by Alkhas Tskhagushev and the Nagorny Karabakh organization led by Vardan Tadevosyan. Armenian, Georgian, Ossetian and other ex-combatants with limited abilities initiated joint projects in the framework of the Philosophy of Independent Life approach. Another follow-up of the ex-combatant meeting was a conference held in Tsakhkadzor, Armenia, which discussed traditions of peacekeeping in the Caucasus and ways they can be applied now; Professor Sergey Arutyunov, a major authority in Caucasus studies, took part in this event. It was at the ex-combatant meeting that someone proposed the idea about codes of ethics of Caucasus nations containing something which could now be used for conflict resolution. The Georgian and Ossetian groups of ex-combatants continued meeting and keeping in touch. However, the disintegrative policy which started with the rise of Saakashvili to power prevented this rather intensive communication from having an effect on later developments. The second Chechen War started soon afterwards; then there was the Rose Revolution in Georgia. Official governments did not welcome the success of civil peacebuilding, and the international community was getting more and more responsive to governments and chose to do governments’ bidding in this and some other issues rather than trust the civil society. The civil society itself was helping this quite a bit: part of it was trying to be more “Catholic” than the governments, and part was shamelessly trying to use its non-governmental status to promote the agenda of its side in the conflict, or simply pursued mercenary goals and used gossip and other similar means so well-spread in the Caucasus to undermine the authority of those of its colleagues who initiated genuine civil movements.


After the meeting, I kept in touch with the ex-combatants (they resented the ex, saying that the wars were not over yet, and regrettably, they were right in at least two cases, Chechnya and South Ossetia). The inoculation of dignity that I got from those men – combatants from Abkhazia, Georgia, Northern Caucasus, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh – helped me throughout my life. Those people hold their heads up high at all times, whatever social problems peaceful times may bring them. They stand guard to their ethnic groups in a very literal and much respected way. They are the Ambassadors of Good Will forged in wars; they bring the strongest peace message that I have ever heard: we have fought, we know what war is about and we want to act together to stop it happening again. If we fail, we want our children to stick to humane rules even while at war.


What made the combatants different was their integrity: they never accepted bribes and were never economical with the truth. They did not allow falsehood into their lives.


The Mission to Karachay-Cherkessia


Unrest began in the Karachay-Cherkessia Republic (KCR) when presidential candidate Derev failed to get elected. The situation in KCR would get tense once in a while; it was there that many years after our visit, female protesters occupied the presidential palace, and the Representative of the President of Russia, Dmitry Kozak, knelt in front of them, promising to handle their complaints. This was a daring and very Caucasus thing to do, and Kozak has been respected ever since in the Caucasus. This is how things stand in the Caucasus: you don’t need to be brave, because you’re not allowed to. Just behave decently, side with regular human - humane - values, and you’ll be respected. They will forgive your being passive in the fight against lawlessness and injustice, your being unable to stand up for the whole truth. The Caucasus is like that: it is suicide to stand up for the whole truth. If you want to do some good, mustn’t you be clever here?


At the time of the conflict over Derev’s election, Forum members from KCR asked the Forum to send over a field mission that would make an unbiased report about the unrest. The information flow was weaker at that time and there was less manipulated information too, so that our mission was also about informing people.


We took great care to plan the mission. We met a few days before the trip, discussed it in great detail, put together an action plan and a list of pre-arranged meetings. We also took a lot of trouble with staffing the mission. Unfortunately, Tamaz Ketsba from Abkhazia had to cancel his participation at the last moment, and we went without him.


The situation in KCR was really tense. We were not received by top level officials but second or third. Even they did not want to see us at first but then realized that our delegation of five was quite representative and agreed to receive it.


The Cherkess and Karachay barely communicated with each other, staying away from shops and cafés owned by someone from the other ethnic group. We talked a lot with people in the streets, in our hotel, in public places and offices; we talked to government officials and the general public, trying to appease them and point out that political disputes must not show on interethnic relations. It was a hard and almost hopeless job. People listened to us and studied us, wondering how come five people from various parts of the Caucasus, including an Armenian and an Azerbaijani, are doing this together. What is this Caucasus Forum? Can they be for serious? Do these things happen?


Derev was a Cherkess, the “offended” party, and it was easier to find Cherkess people willing to talk to us than Karachay who would dare to say anything apart from official clichés especially if they were public officials. Some Cherkess told us they wanted to secede from the KCR. They already had maps with theoretical borders drawn based on the difficult past of this long-suffering republic. For me, the turning point was our meeting with the Minister of Nationalities who had just returned from Moscow. He was a young Karachay, educated and civil, a true expert who held a PhD in ethnic studies of the Caucasus. After listening to him, I really understood what was going on and felt there was a good chance for a solution if there were educated guys like that amongst the Karachay. A few months later I learnt that he had been forced to resign and left to teach at a university.


What we heard and understood we set down on paper in full detail as best we could. The report of the Caucasus Forum was never published but was widely disseminated, and I was later told that it had been read in both White Houses. It was not focused on facts but on recommendations. It was nothing outstanding but it was a text coordinated by the five mission participants and later by the fifteen Forum Coordinators who signed their names on it. The report was popular in Karachay-Cherkessia too, and we were told that Karachay, Cherkess, Cossacks and Abazins all liked it. Perhaps its biggest strength was that it was a kind and respectful report. It did not have any of the superciliousness that often shows in reports by IOs and even NGOs; its tone was appeasing rather than neutral, and it avoided unbalanced judgments which are so common in journalistic scoops.


Grassroots diplomacy was thus gaining strength. It was still more or less possible to travel across the Caucasus at that time. It feels strange now but that was a time when Russia blocked Abkhazia and Georgians didn’t need visas to enter Russia. One could make an appointment with a top official in the name of a network that was not even registered as an NGO. Freedom was in the air like spring, and it was up to people how to use it: for war or peace, destruction or creation. Alas, most people chose war and disintegration. As a result, spring and freedom were in the air no more, and people deserved this because they had made their choices – to kidnap, swindle, steal, take bribes and torture other humans.


It was all over this region, tense as a bowstring, that we travelled at our own risk, unprotected, uninsured, relying on our friends and connections and the gamble that we were hosts as well as guests because we all came from the Caucasus. As I walked down a street in Cherkessk, I gazed around and saw the passers-by quickly look away although they had been staring at our backs a moment ago. We had women in our mission but we didn’t have any special concerns about them; to the contrary, we felt safer in their presence because it conveyed the message that our mission was peaceful. Had this courage and readiness to be of help in times of trouble been understood and used by those who supported peace initiatives, had the powers-that-be relied on it, had it spread wider and reached the society at large, our peace mission would have become the embryo of the future peace process in the Caucasus.


A similar mission was later organized by Guram and Batal within the writers’ project; the mission was less stressful but also marred with some difficulties. In addition, later on we organized visits to some of the regions in the framework of the youth journalism project. An Armenian and an Azerbaijani went to Javakheti and Kvemo-Kartli together and wrote a report. However, journalists are not peacebuilders, and there is nothing special about working as a stringer in a conflict. What’s really rare are real people, genuine peace messengers using realistic modern methods to deal with the situation (not the legendary “women who throw their head scarves on the ground” which are so common in the mythologies of all nations in the Caucasus and the ‘Wider Near East’). If I could find the time and some like-minded people, I would launch peacebuilding courses for young people coming from conflict areas; one of the things they would do would be travel together to problematic locations and try to understand what is going on, learn not to do any harm and do some good...


There were other missions later. Yet it is this first peacebuilding mission of the Caucasus Forum which remains unforgettable for me. I would not have dared to go on my own. I would have not accepted this much responsibility. It would have also been less interesting because I felt that it was this model of accountability to the entire Caucasus that made the conflict parties express themselves “the right way”, i.e. with dignity and candour, without focusing on trifles, and made them ready to listen to us and sometimes change their views. I would have not gone with foreigners either. For the mission to work, we had to be invited, the Forum had to be willing to dispatch the mission, people had to be willing to come over from their regions, come together and become a team... Missions like that are, regrettably, very rare, and even when there are people who are ready to organize them and have the right skills for it, they do not find support. Perhaps this experience was not lost on people; in a recent report on South Ossetia made by Larissa Sotieva, I recognized that very same prudence, responsibility and balance, the same integrity, the same tone as in the first report. Larissa’s report was different in two respects: it was much more in-depth than ours because she has profound knowledge of her own country, and she wrote it on her own without coordinating it with anyone whereas we coordinated every little detail many times over.


The All-Caucasus Creative Youth Game


The All-Caucasus Creative Youth Game was held in February 2003 at the time of the Forum’s short-lived golden age and maturity. It was one of the last events in the framework of a two-year project of civil society capacity building in the Caucasus supported by the Big Lottery Fund. A creative game is a method of group work which can be used for developing skills and thinking abilities, for making decisions in a situation of extraordinary uncertainty, and for strategic planning based on in-depth review and reassessment of existing views and concepts.


The project was planned to involve young people but it was not clear exactly how and in which ways. The Forum could, for example, hold a tender and finance ten low-budget projects in various regions of the Caucasus. The projects would have probably been traditional ones: during the first meeting which discussed “forgotten regions”, most youth project proposals were about playing a joint game of football or some other sport, or giving a karaoke to a village club. Would those projects promote ties between young people from various regions and help them learn more about each other? Would they teach them to raise concerns and jointly address their own future? We tried to make sure the Forum only handled those projects that were directly within its mandate: doing things on an all-Caucasus scope, not just in some of its areas.


The creative game was organized at the end of the Big Lottery-supported project, at a time when many negative tendencies in the Caucasus were accelerating and we wanted to find a way to work with young people that would have at least some strategic effect. In various regions where the internationals were working, a variety of projects were being implemented but they were still not enough. In some regions, there were no projects at all and traditional projects were important but the Forum had a special dimension for this, called “Forgotten Regions”. This was a time of “donor fatigue”, maybe as a result of the political crisis, or for some other reason. People were bored with implementing and sponsoring projects, they felt that civil society projects failed to produce visible or significant results, and so on. Old methods seemed no longer useful and new ones had not emerged yet. It is fun to arrange a meeting of people who would never have met otherwise but we wanted to do more: hold the meeting and make the most of it! So what could we do? Give them training on skills of implementing civil society projects, so that they would go back home and have no fundraising channels for these projects?


In those circumstances, I and Nune Dilanyan who was Deputy Executive Secretary of the Forum in Yerevan had an idea to hold a youth meeting in the form of a creative game. We prepared very thoroughly. First, our team held a game of this kind for high school students in Abkhazia on behalf of the UN and the Sukhum Youth House. We realized that problems would arise if all the facilitators in an all-Caucasus creative game were Armenian, and therefore we organized a training game in Armenia at which we trained our colleagues from various regions to be game facilitators. As a result we got a group of people from various regions who were capable of handling a game with just a little help: Zaurbek Kozhev from Nalchik, Valya Cherevatenko from Novocherkassk, Jana Javakhishvili from Tbilisi and Vlad Jenia from Abkhazia.


Why did we need an all-Caucasus creative game? We wanted young people to meet and relate to each other, but we also wanted to work with them and teach them to work with each other so intensely that those six days would be worth a whole university term. This is the way the “systemic thinking activity” method works in the format of a creative game. The impetus one gets in five or six days of the game is equivalent to the impetus from a whole term of education at any post-Soviet university with its typically outdated teaching system based on boring lectures. I won’t go into the methodology now, it’s a long story and it’s all been well described elsewhere. What we wanted was to help the young people boost their skills and thinking abilities, including collective thinking, using the radical method of brain shock during a creative game.


We had to face a number of problems, some political and some conceptual. Because the training method was not of Western but of local origin[4], various local groups were very sceptical about it. People seemed to say: the Western things are fine because people give us money and insist that we learn Western techniques, things like participatory trainings, facilitation and so on. But if you are local, what can you have to offer? Only recently, you lived in the Soviet system; when it broke apart, you were dumped into this anarchy, and you are still living in the midst of war, lawlessness and failure to build your societies properly. If you are people like us, what new methods can you have to offer?


Without even saying it, our opponents were telling us: no way. We don’t trust you. There must be a catch: you must come from a sect of sorts, or maybe you are just Armenians who want to extend their influence over us in some strange ingenious way that we cannot control. That’s all there is to your creative games.


What is the result of this game going to be, they asked us. What exactly?


The question was asked by people who hardly ever asked what the result of any civil society project was going to be. Some of them had uncritically adapted to the slapdash blowing of funds in international projects supposedly developing civil society. Others were able to distinguish between efficient projects and fictitious ones; there were critics of the game idea amongst these people too, including, for example, some Abkhazian civil society leaders. I guess people stopped believing or had never believed that they could come together and really make an impact, not on politics or social issues but on more than just that: on the future, on the rules for designing the institutions that we are all part of, such as family, war, statehood, or even more importantly, the values to which we relate and which define our behaviour. Although not many people really understand what those values are about. During the wars, people did make an impact, societies were mobilized but this was war, it’s like an emergency landing. In the absence of visible threats to physical security on a mass scale, it’s easy to lose touch with governance and become reactive, acting ad hoc and never really strategizing...


The underlying principle of this game is different from the traditional facilitation techniques used in meetings in the Caucasus. For example, political correctness does not apply. Is this good or bad? It depends on the angle. From the moment you enter the world of the creative game, you must start thinking and acting outside the box and stop stereotyping. However, stereotypes play an important role: they regulate communication between humans. It is stereotypical behaviour to help a woman into her coat. In the U.S., the middle classes have got rid of this stereotype and replaced it with another: that helping a woman into her coat means emphasizing her weakness and is therefore degrading.


Gender balance does not matter in a game; no kind of balance does. Participants do not speak in turns but following an invisible rating: the game facilitator gives the floor to people who he believes have something to say in the context of the game flow, and interrupts them abruptly if he believes they are going off track. Insistent and loquacious players will be interrupted; active creative players get the upper hand over passive creative players although a good game facilitator will try to involve the passive players too, exposing their creativity. Some players will have a flash of inspiration and some will be down for a while, and might, for example, decide that “intellectualism” is not the right thing for them. Imagine that you are managing a game, and you come from the Caucasus. A representative of nation A is talking nonsense, whereas a representative of nation B, which is at war with nation A, is saying relevant and important things. What should you do? If you allow the representative of nation A to go on talking nonsense, the game will stall and fall apart. If you decide to be balanced and let both speak for the same lengths of time, through external timekeeping, the game will fall apart anyway. The only thing you can do is make A shut up. You will thus have preferred B, and many will jump to the conclusion that you didn’t prefer what B was saying but just favoured the party in conflict that B represents! Worse still, you also belong to a nation, so it was your “nation” that upset the balance and preferred “side” B to “side” A. This is what a stereotyped observer can surmise from watching a creative game. Why does this happen? Because the game challenges the Caucasus, the entire post-Soviet space, and in fact the entire world to divide itself based on a mix of creative and intellectual ability, not nation or religion. How about accepting the fact that although you consider nation A to be your enemy, its representative A1 is a profound and original thinker? The moment one understands and accepts this, one becomes the most intelligent person in the world, because the ability to appreciate the intelligence of others is the best sign of one’s own intelligence. The “horizontal” conflict between nations is thus replaced by a “vertical” arrangement and healthy competition.


We do not use intelligence tests and do not believe in them. Unfortunately, some people are unable to accept, understand or internalize the above statement. They are unable to appreciate one’s own and other people’s creativity, think boldly, engage in joint thinking activity, redefine the stereotypes inherited both from theSoviet times and from the post-Soviet era in which people were busy creating a new value system to replace the old Soviet one and ended up creating solid stereotypes about religion, ethnicity, nation, ethics, gender, and so on and so forth... Redefine everything that happened, make up a new programme, a new vision and a new vocabulary: this is what a creative game is about! This is how ambitious it is and what it aspires to achieve.


We planned to do this with young people from the Caucasus most of whom did not have a good education, just a post-Soviet one. Throughout the game, the young players worked during the day, partied, danced and argued during the night, but they remained friends regardless how deep they went into the trials and tribulations of their very own favourite conflicts....


We brought together about 70 people. Our Abkhazian colleagues managed to get permission for us to bring a few Georgians to the game by helicopter. The principles of selecting participants for a creative game are different from those used in peacebuilding events. For example, what should the number of Abkhazians and Georgians be compared to that of others? Can we have more Armenians than Azerbaijanis? Why is the game happening in Pitsunda? It is not a neutral location.


Concerning the neutrality or non-neutrality of locations, the Forum’s argument was that its events were held in non-neutral places because the Forum itself was about peacebuilders in the Caucasus wanting to make order in their common home. A properly neutral location in the Caucasus does not exist. Only the entirety of the Caucasus is neutral, if taken holistically.


 We had a problem with selecting participants because Forum members wanted to bring their kids and relatives to the game. The principles of fair selection and the idea of a conflict of interests were nonexistent as institutions in the minds of many of our colleagues. This was incompatible with the ideology of our donor. Was there indeed a conflict of interests?


This issue deserves discussing in detail perhaps some other time. I will just point out here that the problem of selecting participants looks different from the perspective of the method of systemic thinking activity. Every person is a person. Participants are not supposed to have any advantages over non-participants; in fact, the non-participant is probably lucky because the participant makes a commitment! They must start thinking, and thinking differently. They must learn and accept responsibility. The way our critics described it the trip to Pitsunda sounded like a party. In a way, it was a party but not just.


The issue of participation vs. non-participation is the cornerstone of the peacebuilding get-togethers in the Caucasus. It is a problem elsewhere too but here it becomes as big as anything. The UNHCR Working Group conflict was also about participation/non-participation: they wanted to exclude some people (those from “unrecognized entities” allegedly because the conference was held under the auspices of the United Nations and therefore the existence of “unrecognized entities” had to be denied) and include others, blaming Alert of having excluded them.


While trying to be someone who has been advocating the participatory approach all his life long, I am being consistently accused of excluding a participant... What is this about? Why does the participation issue assume such strange forms? After all, the participants of all kinds of conferences do not go there to have fun, and anyway there are so many conferences that anyone at all, even if they come from an “unrecognized entity”, can go to one of them sooner or later if they really want to... There are more conferences than people in some parts of the Caucasus… Is shopping the main motive after all? If so, this is a bitter truth. It looks ironic that the civil society of the Caucasus has agreed to being excluded from political decision-making but is fighting for little “places under the sun” of conferences… I realize of course that there is no irony here: people fight where they can and swallow humiliation when they are excluded. The fact that they do fight is a good sign…


The irony does not stop here. When they manage to become accepted as participants, sometimes via a conflict, the civil society actors come back from conferences in various resorts and immediately try to exclude others by not sharing what they learned or telling them what they said... Once again, is this really ironic? It is pretty clear, isn’t it?


In order to deal with the participation issue and avoid accusations of being “closed”, and also in order to make the work of the Forum and the peacebuilding agenda available to the wide public and allow the masses to have an impact on the Forum, we assigned duties to the Coordinators. Prior to travelling to a meeting of the Coordination Council, they had to summon Support Groups and ask them what should they put on the agenda of the Forum. Upon return, they had to summon Support Groups again and tell them in detail what had happened in the meeting... We also tried to get Forum activities covered by local media: newspapers, television and so on. Regrettably, whereas this was possible in Georgia, Armenia and Abkhazia, in Azerbaijan this created risks for the participants of Forum events, because its government banned contacts with Armenians, and especially Armenians from Nagorny Karabakh. As a result, the Armenians did not have their activities widely covered either, out of loyalty to the Azerbaijanis, because Armenian media are accessible in Azerbaijan and wide coverage of Forum events would have been conspicuous. Colleagues from Azerbaijan would then have been charged with treason, as it actually happened several times. The result is regrettable: lacking the opportunity to get wide television coverage, the Armenian-Azerbaijani projects do not have enough societal impact to change attitudes in the communities. At any rate, in the days of the Forum, those Coordinators who brought together Support Groups were deemed more acceptable by societies than Coordinators who did not. Being informed is a great strength and having information that others do not is a great power. Share your information, and people will approve of you. The majority of peacebuilding projects are accused of secrecy anyway.


For some reason, it is believed that a meeting of two opponents, even if they are presidents, will lead to agreements if the negotiations are secret but not if they are open. I have come to the opposite conclusion. Secrecy is about fear; secrecy is when you are threatened and afraid to open up, when you don’t want to put all your cards on the table, when you have no trust and want to keep your trump cards to yourself. Information is a weapon. I constantly disarm, disrobe and expose myself. I am an informational exhibitionist. Ask me, and I will tell you. Transparency is my weapon, not secrecy, even if transparency can be cruel to some people. You cannot build trust in secret.


Fortunately, compared to other development projects sponsored by international donors, peacebuilding projects are less often accused of corruption. This phenomenon only appears to be positive. It happens because these projects are smaller in scope and consume less money than non-peacebuilding projects or those which are neutral with respect to peacebuilding. Meanwhile, it is obvious that sustainable development will not be possible in the Caucasus until the conflicts are resolved.


The “Support Group” deserved its name: it gave the Coordinators legitimacy, provided them with information and ideas, and spread information about the Forum further in the society. It was also a group selected by the Coordinators themselves amongst those civil society actors on whom the Coordinator could rely to some extent. With the societies deeply immersed in political and other discord, many civil society actors are unable to cooperate as a result of previous conflicts and skirmishes, or due to an ethical divide that arises when one does something the other disagrees with in principle, or because of mercenary competition... At this point, it was no longer possible for Coordinators to fulfil the requirement that they should work in the societies, if that requirement meant that the civil societies at large were to be involved in the work regardless of whether the Coordinator respected them and recognized their authority or vice versa. It was eventually decided that while consultations were to be held and information was to be disseminated, it was up to the Coordinator to decide with whom in their civil society to cooperate. However, the Support Group was to include, alongside the Coordinator’s close associates, some neutral actors: people with whom the Coordinator was not in a state of conflict even if he or she did not work with them directly.


This complicated arrangement was necessary because the very basics of civil society work – openness, communication, transparency – were often impracticable in the Caucasus after the disintegration of the USSR. Conflicts separated whole nations. Cold and hunger left people even more isolated inside their communities. People tried to help themselves and others but the mutual support was narrowed down to clans: it happened in the Gemeinshaft not in the Gesellshaft. Even when the mutual support went beyond clan limits, the people who gave it would thus merely “join” each other’s “clans”. Some of the mutual support was based on class unity: for instance, intelligentsia helped each other as a group (which was becoming extinct), but… The classes thinned out and disintegrated. Groups of such varied origins were co-opted into new units that mutual help within the same unit acquired the traits of clan support. This, as either cause or consequence, showed on the relationship between government and people, government and civil society. These two entities found themselves poles apart, and any real dialog between them was virtually impossible. “Divide and rule” was the principle brought to perfection by leaders of all types almost throughout the Caucasus. As a result, these leaders were left in terrible, breathtaking solitude, so that they had little power left except over their own, even if extended, clans and families… Such a government does not help other people, it just robs them, or they simply ignore it and survive as best they can.


Because of the problem with selecting participants for the game, we came up with an idea to hold, at some opportune moment, a “family convention”. Had the Forum not gone into standby and had sufficient funds, this was certainly worth doing as a response to the complaints of Forum leaders and participants that their kids were left out of their parents’ professional activities. There was less and less opportunity to communicate on an all-Caucasus level outside the Forum activities. Children of the Forum were deprived of all the opportunities open for kids whom we selected based on abstract principles of fairness. The Forum kids badly needed to understand what their parents were doing. So we had this idea to bring together the Forum leaders with their families. This was a creative way to challenge the issue of conflict of interest; unfortunately, it is not yet implemented.


The methodology of “thinking activity” implies that people meet as independent entities. Their ethnic affiliation, family ties or professions do not matter. What matters is their thinking style. Holistic personalities meet and must find a common language, not just between themselves but, in a way, ‘above’ and ‘beyond’ themselves, and then draw their finds on flipcharts.


Despite the above mentioned controversies, the youth game was a smash. It was one of the most significant events in the thinking activity genre that I ever attended. For many participants, it formed the backbone of their worldview. It worked that way for me too. I had taken part in games since 1989 as a game facilitator but during the February 2003 game in Pitsunda, I had several flashes of inspiration that consolidated my worldview which had been more fluid up to that point. It may sound selfish but it is true: I probably got more from the game than I gave others. I learnt more than I taught.


Facilitators and Western consultants often say this but I would not like it to sound as a tribute to political correctness: I do not know how much good I did there and what I taught others, but it is my personal internal fact that this event defined my life.


I will not dwell on the content-related results of the game, from new words and concepts such as catachagrace (catastrophe, chaos, game and grace) to understanding certain trends (the ‘diagram’ of a person coming from the Caucasus), setting down principles for understanding the world (the “kaleidoscope diagram”), strategic ideas (the criteria of a “good project”, a “central project”, a ‘project engine’ etc.) and political perceptions (e.g. that of the role of the Gali region in the Georgian-Abkhazian relations). The outcomes of the game in terms of building relations were also significant. We had a few more games later in the framework of other projects: one in Abkhazia, one in Georgia and one in Armenia. After a long break, we organized another game in Armenia recently[5]. The games do not happen often but the results are significant. Their results can be used to achieve profound and radical solutions for problems appearing because of partial and inconsistent reforms. They can be used for building a civilized Caucasus. They can be used in any other part of the world as well. Despite that, they do not yet occupy the central place that they deserve in the arsenal of means for designing social development programs. As they say, no prophet is accepted in his hometown or, let me add, in other places either. David Hovhannesian, the leader of the creative games, myself and our fellow game facilitators are not against other development methods. As for Creative Games, their arrival as a means to strategize in every possible field of development is imminent.


Tons of mediation efforts were needed to conduct the game in Abkhazia. But this is not the point. The game facilitator is not a mediator or facilitator in the traditional sense but someone who mediates between ideas not people, and this is the best mediation, mediation par excellence. If I was offered mediation between myself and someone vs. mediation between their ideas and mine, I would choose the latter. All people need is to learn the skills of this “mediation” and then figure out how to use it in their lives.


It was not mediation that characterized our little “coup d’état”, leading to the conduct of creative games in the Caucasus and the establishment of the Caucasus Game Methodologists’ Committee; it was leadership. This was probably the only non-Western technique for organizational activity that reached the Caucasus since the collapse. It is also a unique technique to be born in the USSR and worth to be transferred, transferrable to the rest of the world, with the exception of money laundering techniques which were born in the USSR, refined over time with no less creativity than creative games, and successfully implanted in the rest of the world. There seem to be no other locally born techniques: the Forum had applied, researched and modernized a few techniques originating from the Caucasus[6], but this work has remained unfinished since the decline of the Forum.


We started as mediators and ended up as leaders; not ones who try to reconcile the parties, preferably without a personal agenda, but ones who begin to understand WHAT should be done, use this understanding to make an impact and look for like-minded people who share this understanding. We were inevitably becoming civil society leaders, i.e. people who do not aspire for political power within the framework of existing political institutions but aim to influence the minds of people at large, throughout the Caucasus; leaders whose ambitions are about large-scale constitutional change at the systemic structural level.


Meanwhile, the political situation in the Caucasus deteriorated. There were terrorist raids in Nord-Ost and Beslan; the Northern Caucasus disintegrated; then came 2004 with events in Adjaria and the first attempt for a Georgian-Ossetian war in the 2000s. Then Maskhadov was murdered. We had felt all this would happen and we felt it when it happened; as we witnessed it, I and some of my colleagues from the Forum tried to look for alternative solutions, radical ones like creative games. The reaction was mistrust and cries of indignation, because people are conservative, especially in the Caucasus. However, lazy thinking is a universal human attribute. People don’t start making their cloaks until it begins to rain, especially in the Caucasus. Even when it has started raining, there seems to be no point in making a cloak. You are already wet. It is not customary in the Caucasus to promote the sustainability of innovations.


Quite naturally, the political development of the region combined with our personal growth was leading us apart. Some left for new unknown realms, and were heartbroken to leave their fellow peacebuilders behind. Some stayed to continue reactively fighting for their rights and the rights of their communities whenever they were violated, reactively come up with helpless joint statements when something happened or failed to happen, or join the political struggle on the terms set by existing political actors with mixed success instead of dedicating their valuable abilities to the creation of radically different conditions.


I am tortured by the need to go back to the subject of mediation again and again. The way the Forum has exhausted itself in the shape that it took, mediation has also exhausted itself as a concept – within the Forum in its time, and within this project the way I see it. Rather than tell us to describe our experience, they tell us to write about mediation. Then they will tell us to write about facilitation or confidence building. A subject handed down from the top, a social or donor requirement, serves as a Procrustean bed for our writings, making us squeeze our lives into a framework which is too small for it. This is the tragedy of our time: people tell us what to do instead of valuing the free creations of free people just because they exist and unfold. I have to admit (better late than never) that the Forum was not about mediation, and explaining the Forum by mediation is as good as making a heart operation via the nose. This may be theoretically possible but a bit too extravagant! The strength of the Forum was that it created its own agendas. Sometimes it would “take the power in its hands” for serious, and then the managers and international mediators had to follow its agenda which was remarkably interesting and profound in its urge to amplify peacebuilding trends in the Caucasus.


Management and Decision-Making in the Forum


The administration and management of the Forum best revealed both its strong sides – its pan-Caucasus approach, solidarity, pure intentions and faith in a better life – and its weaknesses – the lack of unity in the Caucasus, lack of skills and institutions for disciplined joint activity, a vague divide between what is acceptable and what is not, and lack of trust as a result of ongoing or latent conflicts and the moral vagueness.


To the March 1999 meeting, we invited NGOs from the entire Caucasus which we knew were active in peacebuilding or similar issues. Some even came uninvited. Discussions were passionate. It was clear the Forum would be unable to survive and implement its grandiose plans without an executive body. It did not make sense for London-based Alert to become the executive body of the Forum: the Forum needed some extent of self-management. It was therefore decided that since no one in the Caucasus was trusted by people from other parties in conflict, the office of the Forum would move from place to place and someone neutral would be appointed as its head executive officer. It so happened that just before going to Sochi I was in Moscow and I got in touch with Maxim Shevelev, a psychologist whom I had known for many years. Maxim did not have a job at the moment. I called him from Sochi and asked if he would like to work for the Forum and spend a year in Nalchik if he got the job. He said ‘yes” and came to Sochi right away; the Forum members interviewed him, liked him and gave him the job. There were no other candidates: no one else was prepared to make up their minds so quickly. Our young Chechens had their doubts because a Russian was not neutral from their perspective but on the whole, the Forum liked the idea. This was how the management of the Forum was arranged for a whole year. Maxim went to Nalchik and set up an office there, helped by local Forum members, and Coordinators from other regions went there and took turns working at the office for a few months each. At that time, the Forum structure was as follows: Coordinators represented the Forum in their regions and the Executive Secretary worked at the Forum office. Coordinators were signatories of the Elbrus Declaration. The Westminster Fund gave a small grant to support the office of the Forum (we did not lose time at Alert and between July 1998 and March 1999 we raised some funds for the Forum administration), which enabled us to rent office space, buy computers etc. The Forum was not registered because it was not clear where to register it, so that its office was funded via local NGOs in the region where it was currently located; yet this was already a strong network with the basics of an organization.


And so it went. I can remember one of the subsequent meetings. The mixed crowd that came together for the Forum did not let us do serious work and make decisions. Everyone was proclaiming themselves the Coordinator of their region. We needed to sort things out. The Elders, i.e. the signatories of the Elbrus Declaration, joined by a small group of pals, made a coup d’état: they announced that only they, i.e. the regional representatives appointed by the Forum founders, had the right to vote. The Forum founders were signatories of the Elbrus Declaration (although some signatories had never had to deal with the Forum since the signing). This group appointed the first batch of Coordinators from amongst themselves and some other NGO leaders. Later the Forum co-opted more people into its ranks when needed, whereas the civil society “masses” with whom and for whose sake the Forum was working were “participants” rather than members of the Forum: there was no membership.


This arrangement was essential for a strange organization like that to be somehow able to survive. A year later at the meeting in Kislovodsk, a new issue arose. Maxim had set up the office and provided the logistics needed for the Forum to work successfully: he sent emails and organized events. However, he did not have sufficient knowledge of the Caucasus to make people feel comfortable with him. We needed to appoint a new Executive Secretary. It was clear we could not identify a “neutral” person in a hurry and did not have funds or time for a thorough search. Besides, the office was supposed to move. The question was, where? The idea was that the office would move every year so that after 15 years it would have worked in each of the main regions of the Caucasus.


A creative solution was found. Several circumstances coincided: these were the last years of the Shevardnadze rule, there was no visible movement towards resolution of conflicts of Georgia but visa-free travel to Russia was still possible. The market in Ergneti was thriving, and Georgian-Ossetian relations seemed to develop in a way that although the conflict remained formally unresolved, informally it was the least painful of the conflicts in the Caucasus. The Forum coordinators decided that from that point onwards, one of them would be the Executive Secretary, and that this position would rotate. The problem was that if the Forum would be based in a city where there was a strong Forum actor who would become the Executive Secretary, they would be unable to assure neutrality or parity because no person from the Caucasus would even think about the entire Caucasus while back at home, let alone sustain a balance.;-)


Finally, the following solution was proposed: the office would go to Tbilisi (bearing in mind that people from so many parts of the Caucasus could meet in Tbilisi: at that time even Abkhazians agreed to go there as long as those were Forum events, not bilateral efforts to reconcile them with Georgians), and the job of Executive Secretary would be offered to Alan Parastaev from South Ossetia who would have the full support of the Forum actors in Tbilisi. It was about 11 pm when the idea was proposed, and we went to Alan’s room. He agreed to move to Tbilisi for a year and serve as the Executive Secretary. The combination of Tbilisi and Alan suited everyone, and the next day the general meeting unanimously approved this decision.


So Alan moved to Tbilisi and the Forum went with him. It was an active year. The Forum’s peacebuilding projects were gaining momentum, and so was the resistance to them, and so were anti-peacebuilding political developments and the activities of people who thought they were “building peace” but were in fact “building war”. Many people in the Caucasus theoretically understood the logic of peacebuilding but believed that their role was to promote their “side” at the expense of others and use peacebuilding projects as an opportunity to do so. Fortunately, the Forum methodology allowed us to compensate for these situations. For example, the draft of the report written by the monitoring mission to the Pankisi Gorge was full of expressions which were offensive in terms of peacebuilding (for example, the representatives of one ethnic group were groundlessly and unfairly referred to as “bandits”, and the like) but since people from various regions took part in the mission, the final report was acceptable and meaningful.


Now the Forum had to face the language issue and invent principles of decision-making. Which spelling do we use: Sukhum, Sukhumi or Sukhum/Sukhumi? Issues like that had to be analysed and regulated using consensus-based principles. Decision-making was based on consensus between regional Coordinators. However the signatories of the Elbrus declaration, as well as other Elders (i.e. people who had acted as Coordinators at some point although they were not signatories) had consultative voting rights. It was getting harder every time to bring all or at least most of the Coordinators to events, let alone all or at least most of the signatories and Elders.


Procedures were becoming more in-depth and more complex. It was decided that the consensus holds even if someone is absent (almost like diplomatic battles at the OSCE: can we have consensus minus one?). It was becoming clear that if the Forum continued to rely on a multi-lateral principle, its efficiency would be low. What could we do? Someone suggested that in order to elaborate an idea or project prior to discussing it at the Coordination Council, we could form Initiative Groups of three to seven people which had to include representatives of both sides of at least one conflict. For example, a group composed of an Abkhazian, an Ossetian, a Chechen and an Armenian would not be allowed to submit proposals to the Coordination Board but a group composed of an Armenian, an Azeri and an Abkhazian would. The structural balance of interests in the Caucasus consists of the interests of those who want to go back to the status-quo-ante, i.e. deny self-determination to entities which are smaller than the former Soviet republics, and of those who wish the opposite. Therefore, the presence of people who represent two sides in at least one conflict balances perceptions and ensures an even-handed approach to issues. Adding some “neutral” actors steadies the balance some more.


A “neutral” actor at any given moment is the side whose ehtnopolitical and/or national interests do not allow it to side unequivocally with one of the parties in a conflict. For example, Armenians are “interested neutral actors” in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict and in the Russian-Georgian one, and so are Georgians in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, and so on. Georgians probably would not like the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict to be resolved in favour of Armenians rather than Azerbaijanis but from their perspective, the need to resolve it has priority over the type or form of its solution. Of course, I am talking about actors who try to act rationally and about rational aspects of the conflicts (which is a simplification).


It was decided at the conference in Tsakhkadzor that the Forum office would move to Vladikavkaz and that trust between Coordinators had grown to such an extent that there was no need to send a representative of a different region to head the office: everyone trusted Larissa Sotieva. She became the Executive Secretary. Moreover, the term for which the office would stay in one region was extended to two years instead of one so that it would have time to develop and become institutionalized. This also reflected the dawning understanding that the Forum was becoming detached from “local realities”, or that this was an imminent threat.  There was a need to immerse into the ‘local’ issues some more. Two years later, the Forum moved to Yerevan for two years, and then didn’t go anywhere because its executive agency stopped to exist. Only the network remains.


It was becoming clearer that many issues could not be dealt with consensually, especially in between meetings. We needed to increase the powers of the Executive Secretary who was, meanwhile, extra-sensitive and diplomatically correct, and resented making too many decisions so as not to seem imposing; boosting efficiency led to diplomatic problems. Back at the time when we had decided to create the position of Executive Secretary, we proceeded on the understanding that the Forum could not succeed without an executive body. Now we were in a deadlock because the Forum was so diplomatic and multilateral; we needed to stick to its principles while also increasing its ability to react quickly. This was so hard it was almost impossible.


At one of the last meetings, the Moscow one, we discussed the Forum strategy for the future which never came. Some people raised the question whether the Forum and its Coordinators were trusted in the communities, i.e. in the regions of the Caucasus. It came out that, first, different Coordinators had different degrees of authority in different regions, and second, the abundance of mutually uncoordinated projects, including peacebuilding projects of all sorts, in some of the regions and government pressure on NGO in other regions lead to a situation when there is little or even diminishing trust in the Coordinators, the Forum and its activities. How could we make the Forum more representative without introducing a representation system but rather letting it remain something like a self-proclaimed Academy: a body into which current members (Coordinators) invite new members? It was clear that trust in the Forum was going down in places with a widening gap between society and government, with suspicion towards pan-Caucasus activities and growing anti-peacebuilding attitudes and trends. We never found out how this problem could be handled on an all-Caucasus level.


The last-but-one large-scale activity of the Forum was a conference called “The  Language of Conflict”. Its proceedings were never published. The fact that this was not done, and that many previously active Forum actors were losing interest in it, were signs that the Forum was no longer actively functioning the way it had for the previous six years.


On the Forum, Caucasus and Europe


What is now left of the Forum is Eldar Zeinalov’s mailing list, for which we have to thank him heartily, and ties between people.


Why did the Forum go into standby despite the efforts of so many people to create and institutionalize it? There are many answers to this question, and I have mentioned some of them: it was too bulky and did not have sufficient funds. However, I believe the two main reasons were, on one hand, the lack or decline of leadership in its original form, and on the other hand, the abrupt deterioration of the political environment in the Caucasus. The two reasons were interlinked. It was long past the time when the Forum actors were young in terms of their energy and could turn out a complex event like the ex-combatant meeting relying on little else than their enthusiasm. And yet… Even when the Forum was in standby, some projects were implemented with enthusiasm alone: for instance, the exhibition of children’s art dedicated to the children of Beslan which traveled all the way from Karabakh via Yerevan, Georgia and South Ossetia to the Northern Caucasus and from thither to Abkhazia. Enthusiasm is a strange substance; what if it comes back again?


Whereas in Georgia, Russia, Azerbaijan and even Armenia (the recognized countries) the Forum was subject to doubts and criticism, one would expect people in “unrecognized entities” and North Caucasus republics to welcome it with all their hearts. It was indeed like that at first. Yet later we realized that, for example, in South Ossetia there was little trust in the Forum and no serious move to support it. Perhaps the reason was that South Ossetians were, on the one hand, trying to build horizontal relations with Georgians, and on the other, feeling strongly pressurized by the Russian special services. At some point Abkhazia, the place where the idea of the Forum was conceived during my chat with Leyla Tania and Lika Kvarchelia, suddenly lost its passion for the Forum. This is also understandable: Russia regarded the Forum as new tool for breaking the Northern Caucasus apart; there it was tightening the screws, exterminating rebellion in Chechnya and putting a stop to ethnic movements throughout the Northern Caucasus, and here comes the Forum. Abkhazia, as Russia’s strategic ally and dependant, was becoming increasingly critical of the idea to cooperate with the Northern and Southern Caucasus at the same time. Besides, the presidential race was starting in Abkhazia; the civil society invested all its efforts into political advocacy, with some success: President Bagapsh was more or less fairly elected despite Russia’s pressure, so that Abkhazia now had relatively democratically elected authorities which made it unique in the Caucasus. Scared of developments in Russia, or perhaps unwilling to annoy it more than necessary (and probably unwilling to annoy Azerbaijan and doing the bidding of the “new Georgians” led by Saakashvili), Western donors were also disinterested in supporting the strange and complex machinery of the Forum, cross-cutting as it was through several levels of governance, several countries and jurisdictions, including ones which were internationally recognized and ones which were not. The Forum got its best support ever from non-politicized non-state donors such as the Mott Foundation and the Big Lottery Fund.


Disintegration and breakup policies got the upper hand in the Caucasus. The Caucasus Forum, alongside the Caucasus nations, was just another egg broken for the big omelette of new wars between actors who proved unable to resolve their controversies in a civilized way.


The experience was beyond words.


I know one thing that my heart tells me: we must organize all-Caucasus get-togethers. Should they be bilateral ones? What can be more hopeless than doomed attempts to “marry” two Caucasus nations which decided to get a divorce. Multilateralism is the word!


Bilateral meetings in the Caucasus only make sense when a conflict has not yet exploded and two neighbours can still be helped to become friends; bilateral meetings can do for Georgians and Armenians but not for nations that have become “enemies” in a war.


This was the end of our mediation in an all-Caucasus framework. Other things happening in that framework stopped too, perhaps temporarily. That was a “different” kind of mediation. I have already mentioned that some schools believe a mediator in a conflict situation must be a “stranger” because lack of profound understanding of the region is the only way to preserve neutrality. Otherwise the mediator starts favouring one of the sides, and good-bye mediation.


Other schools say that the concept of mediation is wider, including facilitation and arbitration, the latter done by professional lawyers albeit in an unofficial setting. The lawyers do not have to be experts in the region but they have experience in conflict resolution, skills and techniques, and of course the law. Until a structure similar to the European Union is established in the Caucasus, arbitration will not be possible, except perhaps for EU arbitration because arbitration requires the sides to accept or at least de-facto practice common laws and rules. There is anarchy and war in the Caucasus, there is no overarching legal system. The CIS failed to become one and others did not emerge.


I did not see my role as that of a mediator but as that of a catalyst of peacebuilding initiatives. However, some critics believed I had no right to catalyze them too much; they used the following argument, “He knows and understands too much, a foreigner would have done better.” By this logic, it’s better to start from scratch every time: a foreigner arrives in a region, falls in love with it, studies it and becomes an expert; until he has become an expert, he can still be a good mediator because he is unbiased. By this logic it’s better to be inefficient, flying in strangers every time, for the sake of abstract impartiality. Foreigners (ambassadors, staff of international development agencies etc) are sent home after a few years in the region on the pretext that they are no longer impartial. By this logic, someone who knows or understands too much does not do for the job. The approach “let’s have a stranger so we don’t suspect him of bias” has a distinct flavour of cheating. It’s easier to swindle a foreigner than a native of the Caucasus. For many years, I watched new heads of missions and ambassadors of the United Nations, the OSCE and other agencies try to promote peacebuilding agendas and leave after achieving little or no success. New ones come in their stead and lots of time is lost before they realize what they can do and how to go about it.


It’s all about different understandings of partiality. There is abstract impartiality which serves abstract fair play. There is concrete partiality that can serve concrete fair play. Abstract impartiality can be very unfair in concrete terms. For example, if two people apply for the same job and the company has a policy of affirmative action so that they choose a representative of an ethnic minority, this can be unfair because a better professional can be rejected based on an abstract fair principle which gives priority to a member of an ethnic minority.


To make sure my partiality does not affect my work, I consulted others and asked them for advice. In my decisions, I tried to rely on the ‘holistic’ consensus of the entire Forum Council. The Caucasus Forum was designed so that it could avoid concrete unfair decisions via remaining impartial as an entirety. Only the Forum as a whole could work like that. The result was striking: it became clear that if the Forum was a model of the Caucasus and the Caucasus has more unrecognized and smaller than state entities than states, the Forum tread too hard on the toes of the states. It became obvious that the Caucasus is not about states, at least in their post-Soviet incarnation. Alas, people did not have enough imagination to invent management and action systems in the Caucasus that would not be based on post-Soviet statehood, and the mercenary motives of the powers-that-be were in the way.


I would be too glad to cooperate with states. However, the things that emerged after the disintegration of the USSR, usurping the name of “state”, were too strongly focused on surviving at the expense of “expendables”, i.e. their citizens. It is too much like a shop run for the sake of the shopkeeper. The states proved to be leeches sucking blood from the society, not tools used by the societies to implement their plans to become prosperous. The societies were estranged from their governments on a yet unseen scale. A conflict with governments was inevitable. It could involve more or less bloodshed and make more or less noise but it aggravated every day; the societies became polarized, and the Forum felt this pressure.


Another problem resulted from the deeply rooted and almost invisible psychological “ethnism” which was widespread in the Caucasus and showed on the structure of the Forum. Whether we liked it or not, every Coordinator would become a “representative” of their “side”, i.e. their ethnic group. If the Coordinator from Kabardino-Balkaria was Kabardin by ethnicity, it meant the Balkarians were not represented in the Forum. To mollify this effect, we tried to position the Forum as an expert body not a representative one. This implied that Coordinators were experts in certain issues and in peacebuilding who did not represent their regions or ethnic groups but were committed to represent the Forum as an organization in their regions.


The misled and simplistic vision that someone who is Abkhazian represents Abkhazians and any Armenian represents Armenians, equalling ethnicity to representation and specialization, continued to be the weak side of the Forum and of the Caucasus in general. For many years, I have been exposed to the misconception that since I am Armenian I must be an expert on Armenia. Whenever I spoke about Armenia people would listen attentively. Whenever I spoke about the USA, UK or Georgia, people were sceptical because I was an outsider. Meanwhile, what I said about Armenia was by no means more informed. I didn’t live there.


Forum made steps to escape from this deadlock. Avenues of activity were supervised by people who were more interested or better suited professionally. The Facilitation School was organized in Tbilisi because Georgia had the best psychology school in the Caucasus dating back from Soviet times, and facilitation skills were better developed there. Forgotten Regions were supervised chiefly by Ossetians and Karabakhis – the people who felt especially “forgotten” in the Caucasus.


We found out, for example, that Ossetians were trusted by many ethnic groups in the Caucasus despite their conflicts with the Georgians and the Ingushs. Ossetians were trusted even by Georgians to say nothing about Russians, Armenians, Azerbaijani, Kabardins, Karachay etc. Only Ingushs could have some reservations but the ones with whom we worked did not see any problems there. There was a reason why two of the four Executive Secretaries of the Forum were Ossetians. As to Armenians… It was enough that I was Armenian; had we wished, we could have staffed the Forum offices in every region with Armenians. They live everywhere, and hold key positions in the civil society of many regions. We had to balance the ratio of Armenians but we did not succeed very well especially after the Forum moved to Yerevan. What could we do when Armenians were everywhere, and besides it was possible to move the Forum to Armenia but not to Azerbaijan? In Azerbaijan, the Forum would have become paralyzed, or else we’d have had to exclude Armenians from almost all activities. It would have been wonderful, of course, to move the office to Baku and start working with Azerbaijani and a number of other regions and ethnic groups which were less included in Forum activities for political and other reasons, like Dagestan and the Turkic nations of the Northern Caucasus. Alas, this proved impossible for political reasons.


Ethnicity thus defined priorities to some extent. Had the Forum existed in a more or less civilized environment, it would have achieved more due to rotation (which would help keep parity in a long run), penetrating various nooks and corners of the Caucasus.


One of the reasons why the Forum was unable to get on its feet after  Alert left the project was its “ethnism”: its multilateral management system made it inefficient. This deadlock was never overcome on conceptual level. For anyone who tries to launch a similar project in the future, the solution to this deadlock would be to create an organization working in all-Caucasus scope but not dependent on the views of people from various parties in the Caucasus; it should be a strong organization with clear hierarchy. Its all-Caucasus ideology should rely on its mission and mandate, not on the influence of people from all over the Caucasus. Staff must be recruited regardless of ethnicity based on professional qualities and commitment to the mission of this organization.


A conclusion that I can make at the end of this essay is that when representatives of the civil societies of conflict parties meet and want to do things together, mediation becomes a side effect albeit a permanent one. The representatives are not mediators in the literal sense. They are not impartial but partial facilitators; I was one too. There are, however, two ways to understand the word “partial”. One is that a partial facilitator has a selfish interest, in this case, doing something good for their “side” of the conflict. If we see the world in terms of realpolitik and zero-sum-game logic, such a person can never be a true peacebuilder. The other way is to see the positive sum of things, and then this person is not trying to help their side “win”, their motive is not selfish but idealistic: wanting the people involved in the conflict to be happy and to find a solution. In this logic a partial facilitator is very strong, being partial to finding a solution that suits everyone. As a pure altruist, the facilitator is part of the realpolitik zero-sum-game logic: someone who sacrifices the needs of their “side”. But the partial facilitator is not a pure altruist; he is no pacifist or defeatist. He is an idealist; he does not just believe but knows that realpolitik is a lose-lose game, that compromises are sometimes impossible and it’s sometimes no use to hope for them (a “compromise” is a realpolitik term), and that there are situations when one needs to change the paradigm in order to really achieve something.


During the work of the Forum, there were signs that a change of paradigms was possible, and even concrete examples that are relevant to mediation such as the use of peacebuilders from two parties in conflict for a joint trip with a peace mission to another conflict region. There was also the fact that regions sandwiched between other conflict regions, such as the Gali district and the South Ossetians, could rethink their situation and transform from victims into mediators between the conflict parties, thus consciously implementing the mediation role which they play anyway. Had the Forum survived, the next stage would have involved planning this type of project: for people from the Gali district to mediate between the Abkhazians and Georgia, and for Ossetians to mediate between Russia and the Georgians at the level of civil initiatives. This potential is still there despite the twists and turns of recent years; in can still be revived and put to good use.


Furthermore, in the context of pre-emptive measures in the Caucasus, it would be very important for the Caucasus to facilitate Armenian-Georgian dialogue. This is an old albeit unacknowledged issue. It is not just about Javakheti; Javakheti is only one of the problems in the relations between the two nations. There are other problems two. As two jealous brothers, these nations have accumulated lots of problems in their relationship but neither wants to acknowledge them and start a serious dialogue. This is a topic that international donors would support provided there is interest on the Georgian and Armenian sides. But there isn’t any. The two nations muddle through their relationship, restricting it to infrequent interstate level contacts and the numerous international get-togethers which are not, however, focused on Armenian-Georgian relations. You might ask why Armenian-Georgian and not Georgian-Azerbaijani? There are problems there too. However, there is cooperation on the pipeline project and the fact that Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan are part of the “East-West” axis in contrast to Armenia which has conflicts with both Turkey and Azerbaijan… The fact that Georgia has lost control over some of its territory causes it to align with Azerbaijan in matters of territorial integrity and makes the two countries’ relations less problematic. As to Armenian-Georgian relations, problems are many. The Georgian language and culture are not sufficiently taught in Armenia, at least on an institutional level, although this would strengthen the identities of both nations. The same happens in Georgia, with the exception of Armenian schools which are having a difficult time and only exist because there is some Armenian population in Georgia, and not only in Javakheti. It is decreasing, though; there are fewer Armenians in Tbilisi than there used to be, but there still are some. Armenians go to Ajara for their summer vacations, and travel via Georgia to Turkey to do trade. On the whole, Armenians know more about Georgia than Georgians do about Armenia. Georgians do not travel to Armenia; some came there for the first time during the August 2008 war, when they wanted to catch flights to the West but the airport in Tbilisi was closed, so they went to Armenia. There are a couple of all-Caucasus or international universities in Georgia which can have one or two Armenian lecturers or students whereas in Armenia there are scarcely any Georgian professors or students. When Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Armenia did not but relations with Georgia remain tense; apart from Javakheti, there now is the issue of Armenian churches in Georgia. The two neighbouring nations do not know each other’s histories and do not realize how tightly interwoven they are. It would be a good idea to write a comparative history of Armenia and Georgia. In Georgia, there is some resentment against Armenians; one of the reasons is that Armenians used to play an important role in Tbilisi but not any longer. Another is that Armenians living in Abkhazia supported Abkhazians during the war. A third is Javakheti. There are negative attitudes to Georgians in Armenia too, despite the friendship and cooperation. Armenia is dependent on transit via Georgia, and this does not do much good for the relationship. Georgia is afraid that Russian military bases on Armenian territory may be used against it. Finally, after the August 2008 war, even though Georgia did not officially enter the NATO, the West decided to enhance Georgia’s defence potential, whereas the CSTO also decided to fortify itself. The result is that the border between Georgia and Armenia is the only open border between two military alliances. Should it close, the breakup of the Caucasus will be almost perfect. Given the situation in the Caucasus and around it, there are actors who would like to make more trouble, perhaps causing an abrupt deterioration of relations between Armenia and Georgia. “Divide and rule” is the motto.


Against this background, it is crucial to have a serious dialogue on civil society level about the entire range of problems and cooperation opportunities. The civil societies of the two countries are insufficiently aware of this. Georgia usually brushes off Armenia’s efforts to enhance mutual relations in order not to annoy Azerbaijan. Although it is the venue for most Armenian-Azerbaijani or trilateral get-togethers, Georgia has not accepted the role of facilitator in the Armenian-Azerbaijani dialogue. It has not wished or dared to, due to conflicts of its own. As a result, two countries whose alliance and joint activity could enable a U-turn of the negative trends that now unfold in the Caucasus, are opposed ideologically and almost poles apart in terms of interests. A regional crystallization axis does not work in the Caucasus.


The European Union is accelerating its involvement in the Caucasus and establishing new ties here. The experience of the EU, in which the ideal of cooperation started from a concrete economic and security basis and led to the creation of a unique inclusive union of 27 countries, was our guiding light when we established the Forum, and still remains one. Efforts to create united structures in the Caucasus continue in some form or another. There might be more in the nearest future. The idea of uniting the South and North Caucasus now appears very dangerous as it seems to “trespass” on Russia’s sovereignty in the Northern Caucasus. Yet this is a misconception. The world is more complicated than sovereignties. Russia can only come across as a legitimate actor in the Caucasus if it acts via the Northern Caucasus, or if the Northern Caucasus is at least involved in developments in the Caucasus in general. How can we speak of South Ossetia if we ignore North Ossetia? The idea that if we do not restrict our unification efforts to the South Caucasus and try to involve the Northern Caucasus also, we shall make Russia our enemy, is quite wrong. The word “idealism” has another familiar sense: the belief that whatever reality is like now, it will change for the better and follow logical patterns quite soon. When Jean Monnet came forward with his ideas, no one could even suppose what they would lead to in just a decade or two. Back in 1985, only a few people in the world believed that the USSR could disappear. Few people now believe that joint structures are possible in the Caucasus that can enable people to live freely and move freely, and that goods and ideas will also move freely here one day.


It is certainly difficult to work with the entire Caucasus. But trying to unite just the South Caucasus is, to me, like trying to put a human body together using one arm, one leg, half a body and half a head: it won’t work. When I speak about Russia’s participation, I do not mean the inclusion of the South Caucasus into Russia, I am speaking about a different way to “unite” the Caucasus. What I mean is Russia’s legitimate and sincere participation in united structures in the Caucasus. However, this requires an idealpolitik vision.


If Europe really wants to hark to the experience of civil society peacebuilders from the Caucasus, my advice is as follows: let them work and implement their ideas. Do not channel your support via governments which are corrupt or hostile; give it to the civil society. Establish a school for young peacekeepers, one that is serious, permanent, good quality and practical. Do not dictate your agendas but let them jointly elaborate independent agendas the way it happened in the Caucasus Forum.


I am finishing this essay at a difficult time for the Caucasus: the August 2008 war and the financial crisis have made the situation in the Caucasus even worse. Whereas until the war, at least some peacebuilding projects in the Northern Caucasus were financed by Western donors, this support stopped after the war. South Caucasus projects are also at risk, especially ones concerning Georgia and Abkhazia, Georgia and South Ossetia. Russia is unable to finance development projects to say nothing of peacebuilding projects: it does not yet have this kind of vision when citizens of the world try to help a region out of a deadlock. Other donors have become even more cautious than before when it comes to financing cross-border projects. The EU decided to intensify its strategy with regard to six post-Soviet states and is thus becoming more active in the region. This is a welcome development but it will be catastrophic for the Caucasus and the entire world if the Caucasus ends up even more divided as a result of the new EU approach. And vice versa, if Europe acts with determination and prudence, it can promote the mission of the Caucasus Forum and enable more free circulation of people, goods and ideas in the Caucasus.


What is circulation of ideas about? It’s about circulation of cultures. Regrettably, Western donors try to promote democracy, market economy and human rights but forget about culture. Or rather, they have not forgotten but decided that cultures are national things and must be developed by the nations themselves as best they can. As a result, there is a universal decline of culture; money is in short supply and culture gets the leftovers. Meanwhile, it is culture that creates mechanisms for the absorption of the ideas of market and democracy. It is culture that can help the nations of the Caucasus know each other better. Idon’t mean low-taste quasi-ethnic music and toasting, which many foreigners like to think IS the Caucasus culture but it isn’t; I mean the serious culture. We did little work on culture at the Forum because Western donors can only justify projects on culture if it is a direct means of promoting democracy or market economy or if it is about promoting Western culture in the Caucasus. We did not make much use of the peacebuilding potential of culture. There was also another reason for that: too many joint concerts and film festivals are held in Caucasus. They are supposed to have peacebuilding impact but they do not change the attitudes of nations to each other because culture, the way it is mainly understood in post-Soviet societies, contains a strong component of traditionalism, and traditionalism is nationalistic and chauvinistic. While creating a joint cultural space, we must overcome the narrow-minded provincial “nationalism” of old culture.


We still did some powerful all-Caucasus cultural projects: “Caucasus Writers on War”, an exhibition of children’s art on behalf of the children of Beslan… The topic closest to culture which is usually welcomed by Western donors concerns media and journalism, including producing peacebuilding documentaries about “the other side.” We had some significant projects in this sphere too. Still the technique of implementing cultural projects aimed at strengthening the basis of peacebuilding has not been elaborated well enough. This is a task for the EU which must understand better than other actors how important it is to develop cultures in a polylogue and polyphony, to acquaint nations with each other’s cultures and create preconditions for joint creative action: to develop the methodology of cultural peacebuilding projects by reflecting on and generalizing the experience of projects already implemented in the Caucasus or other conflict regions, in order to have wide-scale impact on the cultures of the Caucasus. This would serve to take culture away from corrupt and decayed post-Soviet institutions like Unions of Writers and Artists, support alternative youth culture, identify the truly valuable and transferrable culture of every ethnic group in the Caucasus and help the nations understand each other on a new level, so that joint cultural activity and competition can become a new foundation for regional platforms. Because we live in a single world civilization, in a multitude of cultures and in one region: the Caucasus.


[1] This essay was originally written in the framework of Mediation, a project launched by International  Alert in summer 2008. I started writing it before the August 2008 war and finished in autumn 2008 after the war was over. It was revised and published in Russian in summer 2009 with the permission of International  Alert.

[2]I was vice-director of the newly established Center for Regional Studies which dissolved for political reasons several months after I left Armenia and its curator Ashot Manucharyan resigned from his post of Senior Advisor to the President of Armenia.

[3]Strategies in Ethnic Conflict and a Regional Cooperation System for the Caucasus. In: Gianni Bonvicini, Ettore Greco, Bernard von Plate, Reinhardt Rummel (eds.) Preventing Violent Conflict: Issues from the Baltic and the Caucasus. A Joint Study of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, Rome, and the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Ebenhausen. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, Baden-Baden, 1998 (Aktuelle Materialien zur Internationalen Politik, Band 50).


[4]In 1953, the Moscow Logical Circle was established, later converted by G P Shchedrovitsky into the Moscow Methodological Circle. It was there that the “thinking activity” method was born. In the early 1970s, Shchedrovitsky began to organize the first large-scale Organizational Activity Games (OAG).

[5]In the year following the writing of the first draft of this paper, we have held four organizational activity games and will have more (Note added in August 2009).

[6]There was, for instance, the “Adyghe Consensus”, a complex, strikingly beautiful and fully functional method for achieving consensus through a combination of voting and coordination based on breaking up the electorate into groups of three.

00:11 September 07, 2014