ABKHAZ-GEORGIAN PEACEBUILDING: COOPERATION AMONG MULTIPLE INITIATIVES
The project has been funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the US Institute of Peace, UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, Open Society Foundation, the Winston Foundation for World Peace, UCI Center for Citizen Peacebuilding, USAID, COBERM/UNDP, the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Conciliation Resources, and International Alert.
The goal is to promote and study problem-solving relations in conflict zones. The focus is on the conflict between Georgians and Abkhaz in the Southern Caucasus. The participants are Abkhaz and Georgian academics and nongovernmental organizations. They engage in joint research and action to overcome the obstacles to peace, prevent resumption of military action, and contribute to theory on conflict transformation. Outside facilitation is necessary because of their inability to travel to each other's cities. Work is in the three inter-related areas described below.
About the Conflict and Dialogue
Georgia is one of fifteen successor states of the Soviet Union. In 1992-1993, there was armed conflict between the Georgians and the Abkhaz who sought independence from Georgia. This war resulted in thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of refugees, and ruined economies. To date a resolution has not been found. Russian forces guard the ceasefire line between the two sides.
The purpose of this project and its multi-year series of conferences and publications since 1998 is to facilitate dialogues to help the sides reach a mutually satisfactory peaceful resolution. The conferences help keep open channels of communication between civil society activists, academics, journalists and policy makers from the two communities, and give them access to their counterparts in Russia and various international organizations. Because of the project's dedication to full transparency, the conferences also involve many more people in the dialogues through these publications and post conference meetings in each community.
Civil Society Development
This project facilitates a constructive dialogue and interaction between Georgian and Abkhaz representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). It promotes skills and structures in the nongovernmental sectors, conducive to developing safe, civil and stable society. Our assumption is that NGOs are crucial to an effective process of reconciliation at the community level, and are far more effective in promoting and maintaining genuine peace than reliance on coercive, police-oriented approaches. NGOs can be mini-models of self-governance and peaceful negotiation for common interests.
Coordination of Multiple Initiatives
A few times a year this project initiates meetings with all other international and indigenous organizations and individuals working on peace initiatives in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. In addition, we schedule periodic virtual meetings by phone and through the internet. The purpose of the meetings is to discuss the general context of the conflict and to explore how we can be supportive of each other's work and encourage complementarity of our multiple efforts by establishing shared goals. At these meetings we update each other on project developments and coordinate plans; develop ways to combine our resources to fund indigenous peacebuilding and democracy building acitivities; share analyses of productive and unproductive activities in the peace process; discuss options for how to continue this kind of coordination--whether as simple information sharing, resource sharing, joint strategy development, joint projects, or as a consortium; generate research together on the efficacy of our coordinating actions.
Evaluation of Citizen Peacebuilding Initiatives
The goal of the evaluation research is to go beyond assumptions about the impact of citizen peacebuilding by providing solid evidence about what does and does not work, in order to guide more effective initiatives in conflict zones. The research activities involve participant-observation, in-depth and focus group interviewing, and surveys. We also use Action Evaluation methodology within the project. This method has been crucial to our successes. It has helped us chart our goals and plans as we proceed, kept us on track, pushed us to keep our promises to each other, and signaled us to switch gears when necessary. Action Evaluation is more than an effective process to articulate goals and gather data systematizing what is normally done in the design and implementation of conflict resolution processes. The methodology enables participants to recognize the motivations, values and interests necessary to negotiate consensus on shared goals so as to promote reflexive evaluation among key stakeholders as they move forward.
Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: Volumes 1-16
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: Civil Society and the Peace Process, Volume 16, June 4-6, 2009.
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: Conflict and Migration: The Georgian-Abkhaz Case in a European Context, Volume 15 Russian, June 18-19, 2008. Click here to see Conference Report.
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: Georgian NATO Accession and Potential Impacts on the Georgian-Abkhaz Peace Process, Volume 14 Russian, June 12-15, 2007.Click here to see Conference Report.
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict:Prospects for Georgia and Abkhazia in the Context of Black Sea Integration, Volume 13, June 24-27, 2006. Russian
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict:Russia's Role: Realities and Myths, Volume 12, June 28-29, 2005. Russian
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: The Russian Factor, Volume 11, June 21-22, 2004. Russian
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: A Time of Change, Volume 10, 2003-2004. Russian
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: Initial Summaries, Volume9, July 4-8, 2002. Russian
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict:The Caucasus Stability Pact and Peacebuilding Strategies, Volume 8, August 20-25, 2001. Russian (.pdf)
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict:The Caucasus Stability Pact and Peacebuilding Strategies, Volume 7, March 19-23, 2001. Russian (.pdf)
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: Tbilisi Meetings, Volume 6, October-December 2000. English, Russian (.pdf)
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: Cultural Continuity in the Context of Statebuilding, Volume 5, August 26-28, 2000. English, Russian (.pdf)
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: Civil Society, Refugees, and State Structure, Volume 4, March 25-26, 2000. Russian (.pdf)
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: Transcripts of Georgian-Abkhaz Meetings and Georgian TV Programs on the Abkhaz Issue, Volume 3, December-January, 2000. Russian (.doc)
- Aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict: Proceedings from a Georgian-Abkhaz Conference, Volume 2, August 1999. Russian (.pdf)
- Testing Assumptions about Unofficial Diplomacy: The Perspectives of Citizen Participants, Volume 1, March 1999.English, Russian (.pdf)
Conference on "Abkhazia in the Context of Contemporary International Relations," June 29-July 1, 2004. English and Russian transcripts
Main Challenges and Lessons Learned
The biggest challenge was obtaining ample funding that could have provided opportunities for: • More dialogue conferences, thus engaging more people • Wider dissemination of the conference proceedings • Development of shorter, more compelling summaries or highlights of discussions that could have reached more people • Bringing more people from the region to visit other countries that are models of peaceful problem solving and that are the worst models for how not to engage in conflict. Due to the lack of ample funding (we operated annually on $20,000-80,000), we spent too much time writing grant proposals, and planning our work frugally in order to stretch the resources we had. We were forced to focus our work on the utmost important and urgent needs to have maximum dialogue with minimal funding. This short-changed the follow up and wider dissemination work. An important lesson we learned early in our work was to collaborate well with all outside intervenors, to consult with each other often, plan our work collaboratively, and share rather than compete with each other for funding and local participants. Another important lesson learned, but much later was that we should have included younger people, college age students in our dialogue process much earlier than we did, which was around 2007. This was a decade after we had begun working mainly with mid-career professionals who at the outset were in their late thirties and forties. They were opinion shapers who had the ear of politicians as well as people in the grassroots. Had we also included younger people early on we would have had developed many more strong opinion shapers. This is why we developed in 2010 another initiative focused on university students. We also learned that we had underestimated the depth of trauma and the resulting resistance to and even fear of dialogue by the majority of people, especially on the Abkhaz side. Throughout the project, local project leaders of both societies faced negative public commentary and even threats that also hampered widespread dissemination of conference results. This taught us all how war not only does not solve the original problems, but adds many new problems that take decades, more than one generation to resolve.
Further information regarding this effort along with others in the context of the Georgian-Abkhaz-South Ossetian conflict may be found in a report published by Indie Peace (Independent Peace Associates): Analysis of 30+ Years of Working with Conflict in the Georgian-Abkhaz-South Ossetian Contexts, 12 April 2021