Interview with Chair of the Board of Civil Society Institute Artak Kirakosyan
What type of a program does Civil Society Institute implement at the bordering communities, what is its goal?
The program we implement in cooperation with Saferworld, a British organization, aims at strengthening bordering communities and their security issues. The term security we understand in a broad context: first of all, we try somehow to struggle against military actions, gunfire aimed at peaceful population living in bordering villages, and to help solve issues of vital importance, which can be regarded as security issues, such as water, roads, economic development, creation of opportunity to cultivate the land and so on.
You are aware that bordering villages are under a great risk, and our task is to lessen the risks as much as we can through different means. When we talk about military actions, our approach is that all actions shall be registered, because we always hear about different numbers on how many times the ceasefire was violated, how many times gunfire was used (it does not matter, whether by us or them). Prior to our program there was no special attention towards violations against peaceful inhabitants by targeted or occasional shooting.
We register all the cases, which can be proved, specifically, if there is a damage to commodities, or, for god sake, if the fire reached people. The size of damage is not important, more important is the possibility to prove it.
How do you register the facts, do you keep it for your use or you also publish it?
Saferworld has created web pages, (http://protectcivilians.blogspot.com/ and http://protectcivilians-ru.blogspot.com/) on which the incidents are placed. The information is two-sided: it presents the impact of incidents both on our villages and on Azerbaijani villages. The site is currently available in English and Russian. We provide the information, and Saferworld places it on the site. The aim is to lessen the losses of civilians. 10 villages in Armenia and 10 villages in Azerbaijan have been selected, and the same program is also carried out in Azerbaijan. As a result we will prepare a report, which will include issues of the bordering communities and recommendations on solutions of these issues.
There is a difference between the situations when you are aware of problems so you can plan activities to solve them, and when you face the problems during the program implementation. You regularly visit bordering villages, what are the main issues?
We should accept that these villages live in a totally different situation, very different from the usual situation in Armenia. It is not an easy life for many Armenians, especially living in villages, they have various problems: economic, social, cultural. So, all these problems are common, but you shall add here the situation, when one cannot cultivate his/her land, one is under constant stress, because of continued gunfire. For investors here the economic risks are combined with other risks. Thus, additional incentives are needed to engage investors in these regions. In some cases, they invest money with the aim to help the motherland. However, the money spent may not return back, and this becomes an obstacle. For example, shops in these regions pay the same taxes as shops in Yerevan. The state defined some reduced taxes for land and property, but this is not a fundamental solution. The majority of people in these regions cannot cultivate their lands because of the risk of being shot.
Our main approach is that we shall accept that these communities are in a special situation. This relates not to all bordering communities, but some 5 or 6, which require special attitude.
During our visits we understood that it is not right to say that these villages are overlooked, some sponsors invest money, some international organizations or the government undertake actions to assist from time to time. However, in our opinion, there is no systematic approach, concrete plan, created through involvement of various governmental departments, which would consider issues of all these villages, and plan actions aimed at protection and not just protection but development of these villages.
The systematic approach would be much more efficient and productive.
As we could observe, initiatives have a spontaneous nature. For example, some sponsors help to plant trees to block the site from the opponent's side, walls are built in some other places, and in some other places there is a need to build walls. The Prime Minister has recently visited Movses village and promised something to certain students. And a question comes up: why Movses and not Aygepar village, or why Chinari and not Nerkin Karmiraghbyur? Because the solution came as a response to the urgent call, the population raised an issue and the Prime Minister responded. I believe that this is not sufficient. It is good that he reacted but not sufficient.
We talked about spontaneous assistance projects. A similar project took place at Civil Society Institute. Will you tell us how the idea came about and what results did it bring?
At one of our regular visits we observed that employees of a kindergarten in Chinari village almost attacked the village head with a question: 'when will we have running water?'. Then we discovered that the kindergarten have not had water supply for two months. Then it became clear that the majority in the village were in the same situation, living without running water. We learned from the village head that although some water pipes have been renovated with assistance of the Red Cross, there were other parts in the system which needed renovation in order for the system to operate effectively and provide the village with water.
We thought that the both sides of the problem are important- that people learn about the problems of bordering villages and wish to participate in solving these problems, and collection of money and providing direct support in solving the problem. I am very grateful to our good friend, blogger Samvel Martirosyan, who responded to the initiative and wrote about it on Facebook. The prompt reaction to the call was amazing.
He wrote about the initiative at about 6p.m., and on the next day, the two times the required sum was collected, and there were still people who wanted to give money. We were very glad for this fact, as it demonstrated that there is a potential, and that the public understands these issues, and also after it the government took some actions, and new initiatives were raised aimed at helping the bordering villages.
I do not intend to connect directly these actions to our initiative. However, one was clear that people appreciate importance of this problem. We only need to have systematic approach for actions.
All the collected money was transferred to the municipality of Chinari village. I am glad to say that the water pipes in the village were replaced and water supply restored.
When the program does finish and what will we have as a result?
The first phase of the project finishes at the end of the year. I already mentioned that we will prepare a report about 10 villages, presenting their issues and will try suggesting recommendations to our society, the government, and the international community.
We register incidents of the ceasefire violations and now no one representing any international organization can deny that they are not aware of such incidents.
For example, recently the State Department Assistant Secretary did not answer a question related to regular ceasefire violation from the Azerbaijani side, saying that he does not have any facts.
It would be good to have also a print version of the report. I believe that it is also important that the Prosecutor's office will institute cases on these incidents to collect documented facts, for later use, if necessary, because the problem is not solved by responding with a back gunfire. We should use other methods.
Interview by Mary Alexanyan