Young women’s peace activism: tearing apart stereotypes in Armenia and Azerbaijan

This month, May 2014, marks exactly twenty years since the formal ceasefire declaration in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Yet for Armenians and Azerbaijanis who were divided by the conflict, the past twenty years have been marked by political animosity, one-sided media coverage, regular ceasefire violations and needless soldier deaths. For most people, twenty years have passed without a single opportunity to meet someone from the other side, let alone make friends with them. The effects of this are particularly pronounced on the generation born during and after the war, who have no memories of peaceful coexistence and no idea what life is like on the other side of the border. Civil society organisations, including several women’s NGOs, have done their best to bridge this gap, offering young people a stake in a shared future, in spite of their divided present.

In recent weeks, the situation for these organisations has been marked by growing political tensions in the region. Events in Ukraine, particularly the fate of the Crimean peninsula, have highlighted the disparities between the official Armenian and Azerbaijani perspectives on the conflict, while awakening common fears of yet another Russian military intervention in the Caucasus. With Armenia set to join the Eurasian Customs Union, and Azerbaijan facing increasing isolation within Europe owing to its mounting human rights violations, it seems that the lines are becoming more firmly entrenched. Last month, when an Azerbaijani journalist was arrested accused of spying for Armenia, many feared that this marked the beginning of the end for organisations involved in cross-border activities.

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