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South Caucasus
Georgi Vanyan, interview

MYTH-BUILDING AND PEACE-BUILDING OR ABOUT COLLECTIVE BRAINWASHING interviews Georgi Vanyan, chairman of the Armenia-based Caucasus Centre of Peace-Making Initiatives

- Lately there has been talk about the possible renewal of war in Nagorno Karabakh. What is your evaluation of the situation?

- On an official level the possibility of renewal of war is directly linked with the hypothetical failure of negotiations within the framework of the Minsk group. This is one of the directions of blackmail favourable to the authorities of Armenia and Azerbaijan and the international community since it gives them a wide space to imitate manoeuvres. The victims and hostages of this blackmail are the citizens of Armenia and Azerbaijan and indirectly through them citizens of Georgia.

On a semi-official level there is the rooted opinion in Armenia and Azerbaijan, passed off as the public’s opinion, that the slightest sign of pluralism, controversy or deviations "from the party line" in Armenian society will be used by Azerbaijan to start war. There is a second direction of blackmail deployed here too in the form of the stillborn "national idea" of the Armenian people created under the Tsar’s guard in the 19th century, further supported by the Soviet KGB, and elevated without reanimation to the so-called new Armenian statehood.

Blackmail is deployed in favour of maintaining the Russian protectorate over Armenia. The victims and hostages of this blackmail are the citizens of Armenia and Azerbaijan and indirectly, through them, the citizens of Georgia.

On a human level, the perception of the fear over the danger of the renewal of war is reinforced by brainwashing and regular incidents on the frontline as well as by personal experience of each person living in the Caucasus who is used to the situation changing unexpectedly any second through provocations by the strongest. This blackmail is the result and reinforcement of the two abovementioned points. The victims and hostages of this blackmail are the citizens of Armenia and Azerbaijan and indirectly, through them, the citizens of Georgia.

As a result of this blackmail there has been diagnosed a mass psychosis in Armenia which develops into a slave psychology aiming to become a participant at the "feast during the plague".

In practice there are very few cases when hostages can handle blackmailers themselves. Nevertheless, there is no other better case scenario.

- Your options of conflict resolution…

- All possible cosmetic measures and distracting imitational processes carried out for two centuries have reached a climax completely exhausting the capacity of "ensuring the security regime". They have turned into a hoax which has become a personal tragedy of every individual irregardless of their status as a participant or onlooker of this hoax.

Today the only way to solve the conflict is by taking a U-turn in the strategic approaches of the parties and in the first place it applies to reconsidering the positions taken by Armenia in the conflict. The starting signal and crucial steps should be taken by the Armenian side responsible for the start of war dictated by the Kremlin which takes the burden of the so-called victory in this war paid off by looting trophies.

At the head of a new process of conflict resolution Armenia should prioritize unconditional recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and occupied lands should be returned to the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan. After this Azerbaijan and Armenia can ensure the safety of the people living on the territory of the former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous District and also ensure the safety of all IDPs and refugees wishing to return to their lands.

Not only should Stepanakert become a zone of security and collective responsibility, but also Baku and Yerevan, practically speaking, all territory of both republics from which Armenian and Azerbaijani population were banished. Every person who lost their home as a result of this conflict, their right to freely choose the place of residence, and to receive compensation for the damage inflicted as a result of a war, should become a zone of political liability. After this all further processes will flow naturally through cooperation aiming at peaceful coexistence and development of two nations. And in this case, the scenario of Georgia becoming a mediator in conflict resolution as a country interested in Armenia and Azerbaijan becoming free and independent is possible and more than necessary.

The personal security of an individual, ensuring their rights and freedoms, from the right to life and to the right to freedom of movement, should be prioritized and in political and social processes directed to solve the conflict.

The financial resources that have been spent over the past 20 years on tourist trips and the welfare enhancement of a closed circle of people should now be redirected to the solution of the problems faced by IDPs and refugees, the realization of the will and right to receive compensation, and/or to return to their homes.

As a first step for a change in the priorities and the effective distribution of finances we can move all meetings in Sochi and Kazan type to cross-border areas and meetings held in areas where there will be the need for advance demining. .

- How interested are the USA and EU countries in helping Armenia to solve the conflict, establish democratic institutes? Or is there a decline? What is the stage of cooperation?

- The level of cooperation in terms of the USA and EU countries with Armenia corresponds to its status as an advance post of Russia.

The myth that Armenian Diaspora in America and Europe is a counterbalance and conductor of Western influence lost its magical power in the 1990s. The Diaspora (old and new) has been, and successfully continues to be, just one of the channels to import still-born nationalistic ideology.

As for grants and charity, these are just cosmetic measures to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. Today, neither society nor the government in Armenia is able to "digest" more serious, continuous support. A quote from Hovanness Tumanyan would be more relevant here: " the main condition to heal is to admit to yourselves and to the whole world that you are unhappy. And then after the awakening of salvatory self-consciousness there will come a high pursuit to self-improvement and good deeds. There is no other way. Genuine salvation should come from within because we are ill inside".

- In one of your interviews you say that no international space for conflict negotiations will solve this problem. But without negotiations it will be worse, no?

- I was talking about the existing formats and spaces. In particular, about the Minsk group, and more exactly about the principles and style suggested by the Minsk group, about its model of working. There are no negotiations as such. The absence of negotiations is masked by the existence of the Minsk group. The alternative is a new resolution process which I have already mentioned.

- Why did you choose Georgia for the purposes of negotiations between the conflicting parties? I mean establishing the village of Tekali in the Marneuli region as a unique center for conflict mediation.

- We have established a peace-building, freedom and cooperation zone in Tekali which is located on the borders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. It is an optimal venue for the realization of many ideas and projects in the NGO sphere. At the same time the long-needed conditions for free, outside-of-a-project communication among people have already been created. I want to specifically note that the mission of negotiations or mediation does not lie within the idea of the peace-building center in Tekali. Citizens of countries which are at conflict with each other should not engage in negotiations. It is absurd. Citizens in their own natural, unzombified state of mind should cooperate and exchange ideas, find ways to ease the lives of people suffering from conflict, resist the display of racism and xenophobia in their societies, and provide the necessary humanitarian resources which excludes brutality, provocations, and terrorism. In Tekali we create a space for such people.

- "We have to look at ourselves with the eyes of Georgians, we need their evaluation and advice. We need them to break their silence. Today Georgian neutrality equals indifference". These all your words. But in my opinion the matter is not in indifference. Georgia should carefully and thoughtfully "break its silence", otherwise we, in Georgia, might have new conflicts…

- The situation "otherwise we, in Georgia, might have new conflicts…" is to some extent a result of the Georgian silence. I will repeat this is not the case in politics and diplomacy. This is the case of society, human rights defenders, political scientists, writers, and representatives of Georgian society who have been performing some kind of moderation by supporting ineffective meetings and projects which are far from the idea of forming a single region so frequently mentioned in our toasts.

Politically, Georgia is interested in Armenia and Azerbaijan being free and independent countries. This is a level of Georgia's national interest which on the public level is displayed in silence and passivity. How to break this silence when there is need for action – these are the issues we bring up on the agenda of South Caucasus discussions in Tekali.

- Did you apply to the Georgian authorities with regards to your project in Tekali?

- No.

- At the end of June the UN passed a resolution according to which refugees of Georgia have the right to return to their homes, but Armenia voted against it. Maybe because of the lack of convergence in he state interests of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, it is hard for either of the parties to be an unbiased mediator?

- This is not the first and, unfortunately, not the last voting of this kind. It is a reflection of the current situation and the current structure in the South Caucasus.

It is a tragic fact that Armenia voted against the resolution that relates to the solution of the humanitarian problem and it is tragic that there was no public repercussion within the country.

In this case there is no need to repeat that Armenia is an advance post of Russia. Besides, there is the effect of a cynical mechanism worked out by the Minsk process. All easily predictable actions of Armenia in international instances are dependent on this mechanism.

- What do you mean by "effect of cynical mechanism"?

- The cynicism of the mechanism of the Minsk process is that issues of a humanitarian nature (return of refugees and IDPs, compensation for damage inflicted on them, ensuring freedom of movement in the conflict zone) are put in terms of the dependence on the return or maintenance of the jurisdiction on the territories whereas the return of people to their homes or compensation for damage and compliance with the ceasefire regime should become the necessary preconditions for the start of political negotiations, but not a bargaining chip in the negotiation process.

- For many years some want to provoke the conflict in Javakheti where ethnic Armenians, citizens of Georgia, live. Have you talked to them? What are the problems of your countrymen?

- The ethnic Armenians, citizens of Georgia, have the same problems, concerns, and expectations as the rest of the citizens of Georgia. In our reality and in the formulation of your question there is something unnatural, don’t you think? Ethic Armenians, citizens of Georgia, cannot be my countrymen. It would be correct to say they are my tribe. That is why we have the same problem of the tribe which vitally needs to heal inside.

- You represent an NGO and have been studying the South Caucasus conflicts for a long time. At the same time you are sceptical towards NGOs. This is a dualistic approach but you continue working…

- I continue working because I am not sceptical, softly speaking, but critical of all NGOs as well as my own work. I speak openly about my critical attitude and I continue working, improving, because I am healing myself inside and I help others to heal too. In this dualistic approach I see the perspective of real work.

- Grassroots peace building is a good initiative but perhaps not a very effective one because not very knowledgeable, educated and sometimes even subjective and aggressive people are engaged in this initiative. On the other hand, some people gained from these conflicts: people are busy, grants, money is coming. In one word – business on blood?

- One problem is that knowledgeable and educated people become aggressive and subjective because of competition in the grants market and their social instability. The second problem is that it is imitators-humanists with brainwashed fascist minds. The third problem is that they are generals of the public sector who (because of their influential position due to contact with the ruling clan) have media, offices, finances and aggressive subjective brainwashed people ready to any imitations. This is the structure in the grassroots peace building and in the NGO sphere as a whole. It is the exact copy of the Communist Party of the USSR with its divisions such as Komsomol and the Young Pioneers.

- Do you have contact with Armenians in Abkhazia? How do they live there? Recently there has been information that local Armenians demand the right to establish ARA - Armenian Republic of Abkhazia. Someone needs a conflict again?

- My tribe living in Abkhazia are the hostages and victims of blackmail and they are directly in the hands of Kremlin.