“We need international attention now so that responsible bodies finally move. It’s horrible how many people have already been killed.” – Armenian activist Anna Nikoghosyan
On Saturday, the so-called ‘frozen conflict’ between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region erupted. News reports suggest more than 30 people were killed in four days of intense violence, including soldiers from both sides and civilians, in what the Armenian Defense Ministry called ‘the most serious escalation of fighting in the conflict since a 1994 truce’. A 12-year-old boy is among the reported civilian casualties.
While a ceasefire agreement has reportedly been reached, the prospect of this holding and maintaining peace is questionable at best. Women’s groups on the ground are calling for peace negotiations to resume in order to resolve the conflict, once and for all. From years of turmoil in the region, we know that this conflict presents immediate threats to women, including the large portions of women refugees and internally displaced people in the region, in terms of increasing gender-based violence, limiting women’s access to critical services including health care and education, and rolling back years of work by women leaders to drive peace and collaboration across the border.
Global Fund for Women joins our partners in Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as around the world, in condemning the renewed violence in Nagorno-Karabakh. We echo calls for meaningful peace negotiations to resume, and we demand that the international community continue to put pressure on both governments to call for a peaceful and sustainable resolution of the conflict.
We call on our international community for solidarity with women and women’s groups in Armenia and Azerbaijan, who have been working for peace in the region for 20 years, and ask that we continue to elevate women’s voices calling for an immediate end to this violence.
What the latest violence in Nagorno-Karabakh means
The Nagorno-Karabakh region is located inside Azerbaijan, but is predominantly ethnic Armenian. Ethnic Armenians gained control of the region after nearly 30,000 people were killed and around 1 million people were forced to flee in a full-scale war from 1991 to 1994, right after both countries become independent as a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Today, Nagorno-Karabakh remains a de-facto independent republic without the recognition of United Nations member countries.
The latest violence that began with a military offensive in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday morning is threatening to destabilize the region after more than 20 years since efforts to build peace in South Caucasus—a region that has been affected by a number of ‘frozen conflicts’ (Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia) since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“This outbreak of violence was sudden, but not unexpected,” expressed Shahla Ismayil, an Azerbaijani women’s rights activist and Global Fund for Women advisor. “With this in mind, it’s not a big surprise for me to see everyone in Azerbaijan with a military spirit and to witness levels of solidarity and mobilization among people that we haven’t seen in two decades.”
“Even the term ‘frozen conflict’ can be disputed as the shootings and killings of soldiers on both sides have been happening on a regular basis,” explains Armenian activist and Global Fund for Women advisor Anna Nikoghosyan.
It is for this same reason that there is hesitancy to trust the ceasefire agreement that Azerbaijan and Armenia reported on Tuesday, with women’s groups calling instead for the two countries to resume peace negotiations.
“The international community, including funders, need to pay renewed attention to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states,” shares Mariam Gagoshashvili, Global Fund for Women’s Program Officer for Europe and Central Asia. “This region has increasingly become invisible, resulting in drastic declines in funding—especially for women’s rights work. The latest outbreak in violence means there is now an even greater need for critical funding for women’s groups to fill gaps in services and protection for women survivors of violence, among other work.”
Why this matters for women and girls
Many grassroots women’s groups fear the impact of this conflict in impeding progress on women’s rights. Some hard-won gains in this area—including changing policies and attitudes toward violence against women, and advancing rights and access to services and support for women refugees and internally displaced people—remain extremely fragile in the context of the ongoing conflict.
“We are deeply concerned about the increased military activities, the high level of incidents bringing about the death of people on the contact line,” said the Armenian Initiative of the Women in Black International Movement in a statement. “Our urgent call is addressed to the governments of both countries to stop violence and war.”
This armed conflict also threatens the immediate safety of people in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, including women and girls. “We know from years of experience that women and girls are disproportionately affected by armed conflicts,” explains Mariam Gagoshashvili. “There currently is a great risk that the violence will deepen gender inequalities and exacerbate violence against women and girls.”
The escalated violence threatens to roll back two decades of work by women’s groups in Armenia and Azerbaijan to build peace and maintain dialogue and stability. For instance, long-time Global Fund for Women grantee partner Women’s Resource Center in Armenia operates an office in Nagorno-Karabakh—the first of its kind in the area—focused on supporting women living and working in the conflict area. Democracy Today, another Global Fund for Women grantee partner, was founded in 1995 in Armenia and in 2011 was one of the forces behind the creation of a critical regional initiative called “Women of South Caucasus for Peace”, which unites 13 women-led groups focused on peace-building from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
A few years ago, 16 young women founded the Armenian Initiative of the Women in Black International Movement, with support from Global Fund for Women grantee partner Society Without Violence. Women in Black serves as an anti-militarist feminist platform of the Armenian women’s movement and uses such tools as regular peaceful vigils in front of the government building and public events that promote and educate about women’s role in the process of peace-building and reconciliation.
Elevate the voices of women peacebuilders in Armenia and Azerbaijan
Women’s groups in Armenia and Azerbaijan played a key role in promoting the implementation of UN Resolution 1325 around women, peace, and security in their countries and also collaborating across ethnicities and nationalities to build understanding. They also continue to work with women survivors of war-time sexual violence to provide psychological and legal support, trauma counseling, and skills training. They also advocate for changes in laws and policies in order to ensure that survivors can access justice.
“Women in the region have long been calling for peace in the Nagorno-Karabakh region,” says Mariam Gagoshashvili. “Now more than ever, we must listen and elevate their voices to the international community. We can no longer ignore this region and this unthinkable violence. Together, let’s make our voices heard.”
JOINT SOLIDARITY STATEMENT CALLING FOR PEACE IN NAGORNO-KARABAKH
Women’s human rights organizations and women’s funds around the world are together calling for peace in Nagorno-Karabakh. We call on our international community for solidarity with women and women’s groups in Armenia and Azerbaijan, who have been working for peace in the region for 20 years, and ask that we continue to elevate women’s voices calling for an immediate end to this violence. Together, let’s make our voices heard.
Global Fund for Women
International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF)
Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
Bulgarian Fund for Women
Ecumenical Women’s Initiative
Reconstruction Women’s Fund
Slovak-Czech Women’s Fund
Ukrainian Women’s Fund
Women’s Fund in Georgia
[Photo credit: Joint march of activists calling for peace, August 2014. Courtesy of Women in Black Armenia.]