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The recent increase in meetings—both formal and informal—between Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss the decades long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have left many optimistic. During a recent meeting, Armenian foreign minister, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, and his Azeri counterpart, Elmar Mammadyarov spoke about the possibility of “prepar[ing] populations for peace”; leading the OSCE’s Minsk group to release the most hopeful and positive press release on the matter in a very long time.[i] In fact, since the Armenia “Velvet Revolution” of 2018, which led to a change in government, there has been an increase in meetings between both sides signifying a renewed commitment towards peace.[ii] These developments have left me with one big question—What would peace actually look like?
It is truly difficult to say what definitive peace between the two sides would look like, and it is not my expertise to even speculate. Instead, with this blog I want to explore what peace would look like for me. More specifically, how the end to this conflict could lead to demilitarization and as a result benefit vulnerable populations in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh facing a myriad of social and economic issues—that for me is what peace could look like.
For starters, I believe peace in Nagorno-Karabakh can lessen militarization in Armenia, as the conflict is often used as a justification for it. Militarization refers to the process of changes in a society in preparation for conflict, placing greatest importance on the military, and sometimes includes civilians mimicking and resembling the military.[iii] While many would argue that having strong support for the military sounds like a necessity, especially for a country enthralled in conflict, its processes can have long lasting negative impact on many. Since 2016 in Armenia the ideology of the ‘nation-army’ (azg banak) became a part of the national defense plan under former defense minister Vigen Sargsyan, and slowly made its way into public discourses and everyday culture.[iv] By introducing this ideology into the public, it was Sargsyan’s intention to link Armenian identity with the idea of Armenian military and defense.[v] This model was aimed at erasing the “existing institutional divide” that existed between the military and society and as such connecting every citizens’ role in society to the military and the defense of the country.[vi]
While this discourse is still prominent, the new government has began to distance itself from this approach. For example the new prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, has never used this model.[vii] Infact, The newly appointed secretary of the Armenian Security Council, Armen Grigoryan has explained that this is not a necessary model to follow and has not continued with the promotion of the ‘nation-army’ ideology.[viii] However this does not mean the end or decrease of militarization in Armenia, as large sums of money are directed towards this end yearly.[ix]
Furthermore, the ‘nation-military’ ideology has faced a great deal of backlash, mainly from liberal civil society organizations (many of whom are working in the interest of marginalized groups in Armenia) that have suggested that this is nothing short of propaganda.[x] Many concerns brought forward about the model, essentially argue that it leaves corruption in the army overlooked and leads to autocratic impulses in the country.[xi] I would argue that the issue with creating a connection between all people in society to the military inherently gives value to some people in society more than others depending on the beneficiary relationship that individuals are able to have with the military. For example, able-bodied men are valued the most because they are the ones seen as future soldiers. Contrastingly women and people with disabilities are seen as less than because they cannot join the military and are thus valued less in society. This is not to suggest that instead of excluding certain groups from the military, they should be included, but rather the elimination of the importance and emphasis placed on the military will give way to focusing on social and economic issues in the region, and place all on a socially equal playing field.[xii]
For me peace and the demilitarization of Armenian society are mutually exclusive. Once there is demilitarization, time and energy should be directed towards improving the social and economic conditions that many Armenians live in. This could include providing more resources for marginalized groups, such as those living in poverty, or for women, who are victims of domestic violence fleeing life threatening situations which leave them economically vulnerable. For some social and economic hardship is directly connected to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Many were physically disabled as a direct result of it, and others were left with lifelong poor mental health as a result of living in a conflict area.[xiii] In any case leaving them highly vulnerable socially (as disability is highly stigmatized in Armenian society) and rendering them unable to work to provide economically. For others, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has left land unusable due to dangerous landmines, which they could have used for agriculture, creating yet another source of economic hardship. Peace would see resources directed towards improving lives.
Ultimately, I believe that peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and peace in Nagorno-Karabakh, would lead to the demilitarization of Armenian society, shifting priorities away from the military and defense, and end the notion that value is placed on people in relation to their usefulness for the military and defense. Peace would not only mean a society free of war and conflict, but one of equality, equity, and fairness for all.