Ålands fredsinstitut
The Åland Islands Peace Institute

Hamngatan 4
AX-22100 Mariehamn, Åland, Finland
Tel. +358 18 15570
peace@peace.ax
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The Åland Peace Blog

Since the very beginning (in 1992) the Åland Islands Peace Institute has
worked with questions of security, minorities and autonomy. The purpose is
to prevent and manage conflicts, always with a gender awareness. Throughout
the years we have gathered knowledge and strengthened expertise within these
areas, and a new phase was initiated in 2007 with the development of the
Peace Institute's research and investigation capacity. The Peace Institute
arranges seminars, conferences and courses within these areas and regularly
publishes reports and books. We believe that some of the knowledge and
the insights that we acquire should be disseminated to a wider public in a
shorter and quicker form. This is why we are creating the blog. It is
knowledge-oriented and analyzes or comments briefly - but quickly -
news, events and phenomena with the purpose of providing deeper
understanding. The staff and the board of the Peace Institute will
contribute to the blog.

Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark
Director of the Peace Institute, Associate Professor in International Law



Sarah_Stephan_72

Sarah Stephan is a researcher at the ÅIPI and also functions as the Project Manager for the project Open Doors that is focusing on gender equality, empowerment and participation in Azerbaijan.  
Sarah's research interests include European and Public International Law, in particular post-conflict governance and multilevel governance in the European Union and beyond. 
Sarah holds an LL.M.  in Public International Law from Helsinki University and a Bachelor’s degree in European and Comparative Law from the Hanse Law School of the Universities of Bremen and Oldenburg.

I first encountered the South Caucasus in late 2008 when I took up a research post at the Åland Islands Peace Institute.  I had just started working my way through a web of multi-level governance structures in order to disentangle the complex relations maintained by the institutions of autonomy on Åland with the European Union, when the Institute’s first volunteer from the South Caucasus arrived. Tamara, a peer in age from Azerbaijan, had worked as a journalist in her home country. She had visited Åland for the first time a year earlier with a group of young journalists from Armenia, Belarus, the UK, Sweden and Finland. I quickly understood that meetings between young Azerbaijanis and Armenians are not self-evident and as such can be counter to very strong prevailing prejudices and enemy images. Tamara had the opportunity to meet colleagues from Armenia as part of an international group, however, in their home region the borders between the neighboring countries are closed and all diplomatic ties cut, leaving the youth on both sides to rely on what is presented in the national media and often through carefully devised propaganda. I quickly realized that to understand the politics of conflict and the geo-political environment in the South Caucasus is is yet more challenging than multilevel-governance in the EU.

While the South Caucasus can tell a story of rich ethnic diversity and multiculturalism, those who grew up after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the outbreak of the Nagorno-Karabach conflict do not share their parents’ and grandparents’ memory of living together with Armenians and Azerbaijanis respectively, door to door in the capital cities or in neighboring villages. Instead such memories are being replaced by strong enemy images among the younger generations, in particular in Azerbaijan where the reestablishment of control over Karabach is as the most immediate concern of the country’s youth, something that I have heard explicitly from government officials on several occasions during my visits to Azerbaijan. While pictures of government cabinets are dominated by middle-aged men, both countries have rather low median ages and thus rather young populations with an approximately equal numbers of men and women enrolled in public universities.

And indeed, the conflict engages young people in many ways - young men being drafted to guard the so-called line of control where the Armenian and Azerbaijani armies face each other under a ceasefire agreement that has lasted for more than two decades, without however preventing occasional sniping and the death of young men on both sides; children and youth from families driven away from their family homes now living as refugees and IDPs, including almost one million ethnic Azerbaijanis displaced from Nagorno-Karabach and the surrounding regions; the limitation of the free movement of persons in the South Caucasus and beyond, a problem particularly imminent in landlocked Armenia where the border to Turkey also remains closed; the obstacles to democratic development reinforced by ongoing conflict and often experienced as a barrier between the South Caucasus and Europe. 

At the same time as rhetorics are intensifying and enemy images are being internalized by young Armenians and Azerbaijanis, the experience of youth unemployment, the demand for the improvement of the education system and civil society activism are everyday life concerns shared by young Armenians and Azerbaijanis and many young European for that matter. There is also an immense interest in European integration and Armenian and Azerbaijani youths tend to shine with professionalism and carefully rehearsed “leadership skills” during international encounters.  Armenian and Azerbaijani youths work hard to acquire the skills they imagine being door-openers to Europe and they often appear to be several steps ahead of those government officials who speak in the name of the countries’ youths. Many young Armenians and Azerbaijanis would state without hesitating that they wish for their respective governments to embrace democratic values. Youth in the South Caucasus have a lot more to tell than the story of conflict. 

The Åland Islands have hosted discussions between politicians, officials and civil society representatives from the region since the 1990s. Autonomy has been considered as one option for Nagorno-Karabach and although status discussions are not currently taking place, the Åland Islands have continued to attract the interest of those willing to meet their neighbors, as a meeting space with enough distant to the South Caucasus and a relevant story of its own. The Peace Institute has arranged a number of workshops bringing together civil society activists from Armenia, Azerbaijan and the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabach and has shown a lasting commitment not only to lifting up voices from the civil society but the voices of youth and women voices in particular. In 2008 the Peace Institute arranged the workshop “Living Bridges” bringing together young women from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Sweden and Finland to discuss the role of women in peace processes. In 2012 young journalists and jazz musicians from Armenia and Azerbaijan came to Åland to raise “Voices for Peace”. We have hosted volunteers from Azerbaijan who have been deeply engaged in working with our partners in the South Caucasus, making many personal encounters with peers from Armenia along the way. In 2012 two motivated young women from Armenia and Azerbaijan arrived to work for the Peace Institute as volunteers, side-by-side for an entire year. Both Gohar from Armenia and Gulnar from Azerbaijan made a big step by coming to the Åland islands and working together. Both the Peace Institute and the volunteers seized an opportunity to learn from personal encounters. Such opportunities are still rare for youth from the South Caucasus but all the more worthwhile. Civil society organizations and youth workers in Europe can make a difference and the good news is that there is funding. In 2012 the European Commission initiated the so-called “European Partnership Youth Window” under the European Union’s youth programme Youth in Action to encourage and provide financing for activities in the youth field involving the Union’s eastern neighbors including the South Caucasus countries. Hosting volunteers or youth groups from the South Caucasus is one way to promote intercultural communication in settings where this is not self-evident. By providing young Armenians and Azerbaijanis the opportunity to meet each other and other young European’s organizations working in the youth field can make a difference. This is an experience the Peace Institute is making and would like others to make. Are you interested in hosting volunteers or organizing youth exchanges or training seminars involving the South Caucasus countries? These links will help you getting started:

Read about our volunteers’ experiences here:

http://www.peace.ax/images/stories/pdf/Kamala_about_EVS.pdf

http://www.ung.ax/component/content/article/348

http://www.kafkassam-merkez.com/index.php?act=content&id=8706&id_cat=5

Read more about past Youth in Action activities involving the South Caucasus here:

http://www.peace.ax/en/home/24-oevriga-evenemang/752-bilder-fran-internationellt-metodsymposium

http://www.peace.ax/images/stories/pdf/summary%20living%20bridges.pdf

http://www.peace.ax/en/home/24-oevriga-evenemang/428-studiebesoek-qungdomsarbete-i-azerbajdzjan

http://www.peace.ax/images/stories/pdf/Armenia_Study_Visit_2012.pdfhttp://www.peace.ax/en/education/courses

More information about the Youth in Action Programme and the Eastern Partnership Youth Window can be found here (check for updates!):

http://ec.europa.eu/youth/youth-in-action-programme/actions_en.htm

http://ec.europa.eu/youth/orphans/eastern-partnership-youth-window_en.htm

Sarah Stephan, researcher and project mananger at the Åland Islands Peace Institute

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Bloggen skrivs av Fredsinstitutets nuvarande eller tidigare personal, gästforskare och styrelseledamöter eller av inbjudna gästskribenter. Åsikterna är författarens egna.

The blog pieces are written by the peace institute's present or former staff, guest researchers, board members or invited guest writers. The opinions are the author's own.
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