Over the past two decades, the Caucasus region has suffered from a range of conflicts and tensions – over Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorny Karabakh, and in the North Caucasus. The Caucasus region is closely interlinked; any potential deterioration or instability in one context has the potential to destabilise other areas.
The August 2008 war over South Ossetia demonstrated that existing monitoring, security and peacekeeping mechanisms for managing the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-South Ossetian conflicts had become hostage to political goals and were insufficient to meet the needs of affected communities. Since the 2008 conflict, physical security has improved; however, local people continue to face a range of daily challenges as a result.
Along the divide between Shida Kartli and South Ossetia hard security incidents, such as shootings, have decreased, but other security incidents which have economic roots exacerbated by the post-conflict situation, such as detentions, have risen. The population in South Ossetia is struggling to move forward from the conflict, with little access to the outside world and not benefiting from the post-conflict rehabilitation programmes available to other affected communities.
In Nagorny Karabakh, the unresolved conflict continues to evolve, posing persistent challenges on the ground, including insecurity, long-term displacement, ingrained mistrust and serious limits on development and regional opportunities. Since fighting ended in 1994, there has been an uneasy situation of ‘no war, no peace’ between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Civilian populations living in frontline areas around Nagorny Karabakh and along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border suffer the effects of the lasting conflict like no other group in these countries. They are particularly exposed to any escalation of conflict, regular shooting incidents, and landmines. The unresolved conflict not only poses a lethal threat, but also undermines the livelihoods of the population in these impoverished, conflict-affected areas.
In Eastern Abkhazia, isolation and a feeling of abandonment pervades, despite some positive recent developments.
The North Caucasus faces a number of major challenges, many of which centre around security. These include the need to respond to growing radicalisation of Islam across the region; socio-economic development; and ways to manage multi-ethnicity and power relationships within the Russian Federation. Insecurity hinders socio-economic development, which in turn generates security problems, harming ordinary people’s prospects of leading normal lives.
Saferworld has been active in the Caucasus since 1999. We work with international actors, governments and authorities, civil society and local communities to support a more people-centred approach to analysing and responding to conflict in the region. We aim to raise awareness and increase understanding of the safety concerns of conflict-affected communities and to demonstrate how the government and international community can respond to local needs effectively, even in advance of political resolution of the conflicts.
Community-based approaches to security in conflict-prone areas of the Caucasus
Saferworld has established community networks in very different contexts – along the divide between Shida Kartli and South Ossetia, within South Ossetia itself and in the eastern part of Abkhazia. In each context, we map community security needs, identify priorities and plan solutions together with members of the community. We have established community-led mechanisms to map trends in perceptions of security and to provide early warning of likely increases in tensions. In the latest phase of our project we have also focussed on bringing together community representatives with government representatives and local authorities, giving people a voice to air their problems and building relationships.
Our work was recently featured in the article On Edge – Life Along the Dividing Line from Daily news online. Watch a short documentary on our community security in Shida Kartli with interviews from Saferworld staff, local partners and community members here.
Gathering local perspectives of conflict dynamics
In partnership with local researchers, Saferworld has conducted participatory research into the drivers of conflict and potential mitigation mechanisms in Nagorny Karabakh and frontline areas in Armenia and Azerbaijan and across the North Caucasus. Saferworld also conducts annual community perception surveys in Shida Kartli and in Eastern Abkhazia. These surveys provide locally-informed insights on the factors that undermine the security and livelihoods of conflict-affected communities in these areas. Based on this assessment, we work out locally-appropriate ways of responding to the causes of insecurity. We are now engaged in advocacy with a range of actors on how to best manage these challenges.
Protecting civilians on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border
In 2014 Saferworld began a new project aimed at studying and publicising the security concerns of the communities living near Armenian-Azerbaijani frontlines. Despite the ongoing conflict there have been no initiatives attempted by outside actors to improve the safety and security of these communities. Similarly, policy-oriented research and discussions have rarely focused on local community perceptions or the scope for tangible, community-level change, nor on community based approaches to security provision. We will hold a series of meetings with local communities to better understand the local context and help the communities on both sides of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border aimed at adding their voice to security provision and peace-building processes.
In an innovative element of the project we are using Google Earth and Google Maps to record and map out incidents involving the targeting of civilians and their property based on information obtained from the communities on the ground. We hope that the database will bring transparency and raise awareness, both nationally and internationally, on local incidents on the border/frontline areas of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
View the database here.
This work has been supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation