Adolescents cooperate across borders to achieve peace for Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh has been the centre of a long-standing dispute. Many of the adolescents from the region’s border villages between Armenia and Azerbaijan have never even experienced peace. But they would welcome reconciliation: together with Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organisations, they advocate for peace.

Gulnara Shahinian, of our Armenian partner organisation Democracy Today, has seen with her own eyes how adolescents have become more self-confident by participating in peace trainings. Photo: Olga Beletski / Kvinna till Kvinna.
Gulnara Shahinian, of our Armenian partner organisation Democracy Today, has seen with her own eyes how adolescents have become more self-confident by participating in peace trainings. Photo: Olga Beletski / Kvinna till Kvinna.

Younger generations have only vague memories of peaceful co-existence between the neighbouring countries of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Politicians in the region tend to fuel distrust and spread hate propaganda to advance their own agendas.

But Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organisations aim for peace. On the Armenian side, Democracy Today works in ten border settlements.

“We work in ten settlements near the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Few other organisations are present here: these are places where war is never far off and children are afraid to go to school,” says Gulnara Shahinian, the founder of Democracy Today.

The youth takes part in creating change

Democracy Today has seen how adolescents can be key actors for change. They also know that both cross-border peace projects and work within each individual country is needed. Combining these insights has resulted in a highly effective antidote to war propaganda.

“The adolescents living closest to the war often tend to be most open to peace and reconciliation, because they literally see their neighbours across the border. We’ve organised meetings between adolescents from the affected countries in Georgia, where we’ve also set up a peace centre. This has proven to be very effective.”

Partnership with an art school

Democracy Today teaches adolescents about equality, anti-racism and peacebuilding. They also invite national and international stakeholders to attend meetings, so the adolescents get a chance to offer their perspective on the Nagorno-Karabakh situation.

”We recently set up a partnership between adolescents and students of an art school, in a project called ’Speaking walls’. Together, they wrote poetry and painted art on the walls of houses. Many towns close to the border are bleak, dispiriting places. Now children get to pass these colorful walls on their way to school!” enthuses Gulnara.

“No macho-posturing here”

While most participants of Democracy Today’s project are women, many young men take part as well.

“There’s no macho-posturing here. The men who attend our equality trainings bring up issues like the need for greater participation of women in politics, or women’s security. They realise there’s so much more to ‘peace’ than just the end of war,” says Gulnara.

Gulnara feels optimistic and grateful when thinking of Democracy Today’s achievements. At every meeting, she has seen with her own eyes how participants have become more self-confident in their peace activism.

“One girl whose original plan was to leave the country, has now decided to stay and advocate for peace instead. Hearing that meant a great deal to us,” Gulnara explains. “This young woman is ready to take responsibility for a different kind of future.”