Toasting to Peace (Dialogue)

On the last day of 2013, I would like to raise my glass to a few groups of people, comrades sans arms, who cross the borders of the South Caucasus to facilitate an invaluable, irreplaceable process: peace dialogue. Open dialogue, built of open minds, is essential to any peace process; after the peace process — to sustainability. Governments entrenched in conflict are often chatty, often with little consequence. Yet on the popular front, conversations are seldom, even if insubstantial. Across the many conflict lines drawn into the hills and valleys of the Caucasus, abusive slurs and  remarks are as common as silent hatred.

As conflicts gain longevity, remarks and emotions borne of enmity seep into popular speech, then onward to popular thought. An enemy ethnonym becomes a derogatory name, their physique — a metaphor for monstrosity, their beliefs — blasphemy, their traditions — barbarism.  As they spread across more aspects of life and more generations, these models of thought are not just results of a conflict. They are fuel and fodder for the conflict, upholding a social economy of sorts. Borne of physical violence, this social economy sustains everyday, routine, invisible violence. It becomes an institution.

Peace dialogue is one safe avenue out of this tangle. Conversations, meetings, discussions, joint projects, pure exchange — these simple processes  occur rarely between people of opposing sides, yet they are some of the most effective ways to unravel paradigms of discrimination, blind thought and action.

Let us thank, on this eve of another year of possibilities, the individuals and organizations who make dialogue possible across battle lines, from youth to youth, city to city, and village to village. Recently searching through active NGOs in the South Caucasus, I (ever the pessimist) was surprised and overwhelmed by the sheer number of groups devoted to peace through social action. That I cannot tell you about all of them is strangely wonderful — there are that many, and each of them give peace a clearer road to walk. Below, I have included a few of the best, and I direct my last toast of 2013 to their achievements.

Melodies of Peace: International Youth Symphony Orchestra, an initiative of the Human Rights and Conflicts Research Institute that facilitates cooperation among Armenians, Georgians, and Turks through the universal language of music. The orchestra invites young musicians from all three countries to join in a lasting partnership, opening a route for exchange and understanding.

Peace Dialogue NGO, which connects youth and adults from Armenia, Georgia, Russia, and Germany in order to give civil society a voice in the peace-building process. They organize discussions, lectures, history workshops, plays, film projects, seminars, and many more wonderful events. They are supported by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, a German organization that facilitates arts and cultural exchange to promote conflict resolution. (I briefly lived in Stuttgart and walked past their office daily!)

Conciliation Resources, which helps Georgian and Abkhaz youth understand the conflict between their governments and ease the enmity between their societies. Their current focus, according to a recent update, is “on promoting civic responsibility and conflict awareness among young adults, and building a network of young professionals that spans the conflict divide.”
The Karabakh Contact Group, itself an initiative of Conciliation Resources, that encourages informed and aware public discussion within and across the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh. The KCG fosters both dialogue and education about the Karabakh conflict in order to help those “directly affected by conflict are involved in its resolution.”
Happy 2014, everyone! Let’s hope that the new year gives us new reasons to be proud and hopeful.
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