Building bridges over the borders!
It is almost twelve years since the three South Caucasus republics declared their independence, becoming democratic states. The South Caucasus is known as a region of frozen conflicts, resulting in various internal and regional problems that make it very difficult for the countries in the region to achieve cross-border cooperation, political stability and to act as ‘good neighbours. The most intractable problem is the breaking of negative stereotypes - national, religious, cultural, historical, ethnic for Armenians and Turks, Armenians and Azerbaijanis; national and historical for Georgians and Russians.
Guided by the fact that any political issue can be solved taking into account multilateral viewpoints, “Youth for Regional Cooperation and Trust” Training Course is a good opportunity to young people in the South Caucasus countries to conduct favorable relations with youth organisations and young people from the neighboring countries. As ambassadors of peace, the EFA Associate members and the IG Alpbach Armenia strive to initiate a dialogue in the region among young people.
The project “Youth for Regional Cooperation” will be the follow-up of the summer school program organized by the IG Alpbach Armenia (June-July 2012 in Yerevan) and entitled “The Priorities of the Foreign Policy of the Republic of Armenia”, with the aim to educate young students on the role and the activities of Armenia in the region. Our new project focuses on youth and is the perfect continuation of the previous one as it will help them to put the acquired information and knowledge into practice. We are targeting youth because they are not only vital community assets for today’s societies but also the future actors and decision-makers of our countries. It is important to inform young people about different possibilities and motivate them to start regional initiatives. But their willingness to cooperate with each other can be hindered by deeply-rooted prejudices and negative stereotypes, which is why it is also crucial to eliminate, or at least diminish these preconceived views and approaches, in order to ensure more active regional collaboration. Lack of trust and cooperation in the region has had and will have unfavourable, and in other cases, even disastrous consequences for the nations. The overall goal of the propject is to build bridge between the generations, to shape the discussions and to grow the future generation –institutionally and intellectually, developing them by providing the necessary knowledge, skills, positioning and mentality.
Following the collapse of the USSR many national issues rose to the surface, with some resulting in armed conflict. As the problems are not solved on a governmental level yet, non-profit organizations are trying to conduct cross-border and intercultural dialogue on youth level aiming to break the negative stereotypes among nations. It is important not only in terms of democracy, economic development, political dialog, and regional security, but also conceptually since it implies the utilization of integration processes for the achievement of stable regional development and establishment of reciprocal confidence in the South Caucasus.
We start by educating and motivating individuals one by one within a group dynamic. By inspiring one person at a time to collaborate with others and work towards something substantial, it is during this process that we will also encourage communities, societies, and nations to be friendlier and more helpful to each other. It is each individual that must transform first and then influence and contribute to producing strong and legitimate communities, institutions and, in effect, building strong and legitimate nations.
By bringing together a group of young people, this project aims to:
1. Start a dialogue among the youth of Armenia and of its neighbouring countries
2. Raise awareness about the necessity to enhance cross-border cooperation and inform about all the possible ways to increase collaboration
3. Facilitate healthy discussions, regional cooperation debates and exchange of ideas, provide a positive experience
4. Break negative stereotypes
5. Build trust and mutual understanding through non-formal education, (this in turn plays a fundamental role in the economic, social and political development of the region)
6. Support the social and emotional development of the youth by fostering democratic values
7. Encourage young people to develop initiatives and create regional networks of cooperation
The young generation of the region countries, their communities and the societies on the whole will directly benefit from this project. The present and future governments are the indirect beneficiaries of this project as, by starting cross-border initiatives, young people will later be able to positively influence important political decision-making processes and events in the region. With the purpose to establish good relations among the youth in the South Caucasus and to develop youth cooperation, the IGAA aims to increase people to people links among the youth from conflict-affected communities. We are committed to working with and through an appreciation of our own and others’ humanness-expressed by our openness and willingness to listen, learn, and communicate. We generate revolutionary global responsibility in a celebration of diversity that honors the human spirit and generates stability.
The short-term goal of this project is to rear pluralistic society through active youth participation. In the long term, this will certainly play an important role in breaking negative stereotypes, shaping good relations with neighboring countries and developing cross-border cooperation. In order to achieve our immediate objective, the following important steps should be taken:
1. A Need assessment to find out what percent of young people in the region are open for cross-border cooperation in Caucasus, intercultural dialogue and involved, to understand what factors (such as history, religion, nationality, etc.) other than pure disinterest affect their decision to be closed to their neighbors, to analyze and sum up the reasons which cause the problem and come up with possible solutions. This is an important preparatory stage for the project which is to be held shortly afterwards.
2. Organizing a five-day long event which will educate the young participants on the subjects of tolerance and intercultural skills, provide a set of guiding principles on good neighborliness, strengthen their understanding of the role of youth participation in minor and major political events and decision-making, help them see themselves as potential leaders, and, ultimately, replace their negative connotations about politics with healthier, more objective and constructive judgment.