Arzu Abdullayeva argues that the hardest people to reach are those who want war without realizing the depth of the pain it brings – and the politicians who see the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as a game.
But she says she has had good experience implementing peacebuilding projects with colleagues from Armenia, as well as neighboring Georgia and other countries.
“Certainly, we have made good achievements in this area. We have held many meetings and events.”
Abdullayeva adds that she and her colleagues played a major role in working on the Madrid Principles – one of the proposed peace settlements for the conflict.
They were also instrumental in helping 500 missing people, out of the approximately 4,000 people who went missing during the conflict.
Despite their successes, Abdullayeva wishes they could do more.
“It's painful. Maybe if we were more experienced, we could rescue more people,” she says.
Close relations with her Armenian colleagues in Nagorno-Karabakh have been vitally important to every success, Abdullayeva says, because they all believe in peace, humanity and acting with conscience.
“Through them, we were able to reach those missing people. If we didn’t believe in the same things and didn’t share the same feelings, none of our successes would have been possible.”
In 2005, Abdullayeva expanded her peace activism, and helped create an international group to find a way to resolve the conflict.
Her organization, together with the Dutch IKV PAX Christi and the Finnish Crisis Management Initiative, created the Public Council of Experts on the solution of the Karabakh conflict.
The group includes peacekeepers, political scientists, internally displaced persons, editors, and others. Members of the group, which does not currently include any Armenians, are working on road maps to resolve the conflict.
“We come together and discuss news and developments related to the Karabakh issue and we evaluate the situation. Later we share our findings with our Armenian colleagues. It [cooperation] is quite difficult, because Armenians are not able to come to Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis cannot travel to Armenia,” Abdullayeva says.
The April 2016 war underscored the fragility of the group’s peacebuilding efforts. Also known as the “April War” or the “Four-Day War,” it was the worst flare-up since the 1994 ceasefire and resulted in the death of at least 200 people. Journalists, politicians and some peace activists on both sides temporarily became online war propagandists during the fighting.
Abdullayeva remains philosophical about the experience.
“The true intention of a person becomes clear in a crisis,” she says.
During the four days of intense fighting, she issued a public appeal, urging both nations to end the conflict.
“I asked people to control their emotions, to think and to act rationally. The war doesn’t benefit people in Armenia or Azerbaijan,” Abdullayeva says.
As an activist, Abdullayeva has paid a heavy price for her efforts to bring peace to her country.
Internationally, however, her work as earned praise and accolades. She has been recognised several times, including in 1992, when she and her Armenian colleague, Anahit Bayandur, received the Olof Palme Peace Prize for their efforts to facilitate prisoner-of-war exchanges and promote dialogue during intense phases of the conflict.
The two women also co-wrote a book on peacekeeping, “Gender and Peace.” The book is now used as a textbook in trainings that focus on conflict in the South Caucasus.