Small People, Big Politics: The Importance of Track 2 Diplomacy in the Resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

by Maria Karapetyan

Does the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict matter to you? Whoever you are and wherever you are in the world, try to imagine the following. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has received a political settlement—one that makes you very happy. What is next? Is the South Caucasus going to enter a historical era of peace and prosperity? Are the countries of the region going to now cooperate on regional projects? Is violence going to stop? Is the cyber-war over? Is the ideological war at end? And most vitally, will the peace be sustainable?  In my humble opinion, the answer to these questions is a sad ‘no’.[1]

The reason why the above stipulated settlement will not bring long-lasting peace in the region is obvious. Politicians and diplomats engage in conflict resolution processes on the international arena to resolve the conflict between the two states. The two societies remain outside of the official discourse and do not engage in an informal discourse of their own, thus staying on their initial positions of enemies. Especially because the official diplomatic processes are secretive and exclusive, the public is often left guessing what exactly is being negotiated. The detachment of the societies from the official process underpinned by biased media coverage results in obscurity and ignorance of present day realities.

I dare hypothesize that this has been one of the reasons why at times when the political leaders were ready to sign a document, something prevented them from doing so. The fact that the two peoples would reject the official document and the conflict would actually escalate prevented the political resolution.

The solution to the discrepancy of these two processes (official political and informal social negotiations) is obvious and within realistic reach. It’s people-to-people diplomacy for which the term ‘Track 2 diplomacy’ is used in political discourse. Just like politicians, members of the two societies need to come together to talk about the conflict, issues related to it, and even other issues unrelated to it but of importance to the two societies. Then, there will be hope that the two societies will not lag behind the political processes and will arrive at similar conclusions as the politicians that are working on the settlement of the conflict.

There are people on both sides that frown at the attempts of establishing any sort of interaction and communication between the two peoples. A few questions are addressed to them below.

Is there something inherently bad in communication? There’s a huge difference between undermining your country’s national interests and talking to the other side. One doesn’t equal the other. You may talk just even to present your national interests to the other side and to hear theirs. Sharing opinions and viewpoints and an exchange of information cannot undermine national interests since any information is readily available in this age of technology and media. Even a simple exchange of opinions, concerns, and viewpoints can start the long journey to coexistence.

Is there any use in dehumanizing the other side, saying there are no common points for interaction and that the two peoples will always be enemies? People resentfully admit or proudly state that the two nations cannot peacefully coexist in the region. Of course, if there’s no communication, there cannot be coexistence. Pragmatic views of the future demand to look at the possibilities of peaceful co-existence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the region. It is hard to envision how people can keep living and prosper in the present situation of isolation from neighboring states, nose in the air and sorrow in the past.

The ‘Malaise’ of Third Parties

Official Diplomacy: People often think that the international community doesn’t genuinely care for a quick and peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Then, when they encounter an example of an attempt at peace-building, they disqualify the effort as promoting the interests of the third parties who act as intermediaries in the peace-building process.

Let’s suppose that third parties are not interested in close cooperation between the countries in the region and enjoy exerting power over and manipulating the conflicting sides to get strategic, economic and other benefits. However, it can also be assured that the third parties are not interested in the escalation of the conflict either, since a wide scale armed conflict will destabilize the region and cause international disturbance and unrest in their own countries. So, it seems that they are interested in a continuous peace-building process. Accepting that this is the scenario of present day politics, a question demands to be asked. As far as the presence of the third parties is excluding the possibility of war and providing a platform for negotiations, what is keeping the conflicting sides from using that platform for their own interests and working for a solution? Obviously, the only two things preventing them from doing so are the absence of their political will or the concern that the societies at large will not be supportive of the solution.

Track 2 Diplomacy: It is widely circulated in the media, and as a result in the societies, that even people-to-people interactions are often being implemented under foreign sponsors acting as intermediaries and promoting their interests rather than the interests of the conflicting sides. Again assuming that such manipulations of interest are really intended by the third parties, they can only succeed only if the people engaging in the interaction submit to it. However, people on both sides know their lived realities and have their own conceptions about the conflict that can fundamentally differ from each other and from the theories and intentions of the intermediaries. Responsible civil society members sensibly use the platforms of interaction mediated by third parties and can easily resist any manipulation by any third party if any such manipulation is intended. There is, of course the argument that “Track 2-oriented people are brainwashed!” which is certainly the case if you define “brainwashed” as having developed critical thinking skills and not subscribing to readily available nationalist dogmas.

Most people feel that they are small actors when it comes to big politics. A few don’t undermine their power and wage petty ‘wars’ on any medium. Yet a few others also don’t undermine their power but put their stakes on peace. The latter don’t daydream about military superiority understanding that any victory equals defeat when you measure the devastation of war. Instead they dream what peace might look like both with its concessions and gains. There’s a virtue in hope but it encompasses more than wishful thinking; it is rooted in reality and it drives people to impact the world within and without.

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