Report - Caspian Studies Program

Civil Society and Peace-building in the North and South Caucasus (transcript)

Civil Society and Peace edited transcript.PDFCivil Society and Peace-building in the North and South Caucasus

November 16, 2000

Melissa Carr: I want to welcome you on behalf of the Caspian Studies Program and Women Waging Peace. Many of you are familiar with the Caspian Studies Program and its seminar series. From that, you know that we often focus on various conflicts in the Caucasus and efforts to resolve those conflicts. You may be less familiar with Women Waging Peace, which is a relatively new initiative at the Kennedy School. It is an important initiative that builds a network of women working to bring peace in conflict zones all over the world. It helps to bring these women and their experiences and insights to the table with policymakers, attempting to resolve violent conflict around the world.

Last year, they had one hundred women from ten different conflict zones here at the Kennedy School, including ten women from Armenia and Azerbaijan. This year they have added delegations from Burundi, Mexico, Sri Lanka and Russia. They have also asked members of the delegations that were here last year to return. Thus, Arzu is here this year from Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, Arzu''s colleague from Armenia was not able to come this time.

The program at the Kennedy School has a two-week colloquium of coalition building and research discussions. Women have been sharing stories, sharpening their skills and building coalitions to go back and continue their very important work.

We are fortunate to have a number of women who are part of the Women Waging Peace program here today. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we can only have three official presentations. But, we will introduce all of them, and we encourage you to ask questions of any of them throughout the discussion.

I will start by introducing each of the women, then introduce each speaker and tell you a little bit about them before they speak. Fatima Yandieva is to my left; Ida Kuklina is next to her. Then Arzu Abdullayeva, then Sophia Dobinskaya, and Liubov Vinogradova. They all will be willing to answer your questions.

We will start with a presentation by Arzu Abdullayeva. Arzu is from Azerbaijan and is from the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, which is an international network of civic, peace and human rights initiatives with branches in most countries of Europe. Arzu is not new to the experience of peace building or to civil society. She and her organization have been active in the Caucasus for quite a long time. The Helsinki Citizens Assembly opened its offices in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabagh in 1992 at the height of the conflict. It has been active since.

Arzu Abdullayeva, together with her Armenian colleague, Anna Viundur received an international prize in 1993 named for Olaf Palma. Their work has been recognized on an international level. Arzu has been an active member of the peace building community. She herself, before coming to the Women Waging Peace colloquium, organized an international conference for Helsinki Citizens Assembly in Baku. Seven hundred people representing 38 countries attended. Immediately after she finished that event, she jumped on the plane and came here to be part of the Women Waging Peace colloquium. We are very happy that all of you are here today. We will start with Arzu, and I will introduce each of you before you speak.

ARZU ABDULLAYEVA: Thank you very much for coming and for expressing interest in our problems. I was informed that you all know the specifics of our conflict. You know the situation in our country; that is why you are here. Let me give you some information about our most important activities in the region.

We try to work on the public level. This is important— and I think you will agree with me— because non-governmental organizations do not have the ability to declare peace. NGOs are never involved in the process of signing peace agreements. But, we prepare the public opinion for peace. It is never possible to have a political decision without working on the public opinion. Unfortunately, it is not only we who understood this and worked on it.

Why did the conflict start? The conflict started twelve years ago in 1988 in our countries— between neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan— because of Nagorno-Karabagh, this small mountainous place on Azerbaijani territory where Armenian national minorities lived. They had had a friendship before the beginning of the conflict.

The desire for national minorities to join their mother nation is easy to understand. It is easy to understand why they raised these sorts of demands. But at the same time, we understand that there were forces using these human, personal, and collective desires. What was the interest of the people outside? We could name it the third party. Why was a third party interested in helping these Armenian minorities living in Azerbaijan to join their territory to Armenia? Why did they support it? Where could we find the answer so that everything becomes clear? We could divide these people based on whether they are pursuing good or bad will. Good will people, as most people are, would try to protect national minorities'' rights. It is a good idea. It is a human issue. But, bad will people like to use these problems to their own advantage.

What is this advantage? It is a bad, dirty political game. At the time when conflict could have been solved, or we could have discussed it on a civilian level, this third party became involved in the process and pushed it to develop into a conflict. There was a time when the third party gave armaments to the sides. Sure, if you have a gun, what will you do with it? You will shoot each other. The same war model was used against our people.

What are we doing now? We try to explain to people,"Think. Who gains the advantage in this conflict? Who gets the advantage when we shoot each other?" If you could get an answer, it would be very easy to understand each other. Mothers lose their sons in the war. A lot of missing people, invalids, refugees, IDPs [internally displaced persons] - they are simple people who are the victims. But at the same time, it is an aggressive kind of society. That is why using these suffering people to escalate a new wave of the conflict is very easy.

We try to explain that there is a war model. Let''s start a peace model. Peace models begin when there is an interest from the people.

What can we do to achieve the peace? First of all, the mass media was used to create hysteria and the image of an enemy. We try to abolish this enemy image, and we have achieved this in our conflict. Sure, there are a few organizations and people on both sides of the conflict who do not favor the achievement of peace. Even now, they make statements that the conflict can only be solved through war. I can say frankly, however, that most of the population from both Armenia and Azerbaijan is ready for peaceful measures to solve the conflict.

We currently have a cease-fire that was achieved in 1994. The situation, as you can imagine, is not war but not peace. We should do our best to achieve a positive peace. A lot of people are thinking now that, "I join you in your peace-making activities. I am on your side when you say that peace measures should come first." But, the political decision is not ours. It will be made outside. A politician should do it. We could agree partly because we feel that if only politicians have the opportunity to make decisions, the result could be far from just. People could continue their work to sit down and think it out together, as we did to eliminate the enemy image in society. We have a lot of meetings and a lot of activities. We use the media for explaining the war model and the peace model. We have a lot of mutual actions. For example, we have gained the trust of society because we search for missing persons on both sides. Each side helps the other. For example, in Azerbaijan, we search for missing people from Armenia, and we promote the release of hostages and prisoners of war. At the same time, my colleagues from Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh promote the release of Azerbaijani prisoners of war and hostages. This is how we earn the trust of society, and they believe in our activities.

What are we doing in our society now? We continue our work to save our very fragile peace, because unfortunately we build our peace step-by-step, stone by stone. But bad-will politicians could destroy it. What can we do to prevent it? We just continue our work and our explanations. We educate people and repeat every time, "Who has the advantage?" And, "Don''t give them the opportunity to use you against each other. Don''t be the tool of someone who has other interests in the war."

I am out of time, but I would be pleased to answer questions.

CARR: Thank you, Arzu. Our next speaker will be Ida Kuklina, who is currently the Secretary of the Committee of Soldiers'' Mothers of Russia. She is on the Analytical and Information Commission and also a member of the Coordination Council. Many of you are familiar with the work of Ida''s organization. They have been very active in pushing for military reform in Russia: in the first war in Chechnya, for pushing for the end of the war, and also in the current war in Chechnya, they have been working to try to end the war, and to try to promote the human rights of people in Chechnya, and also of the soldiers and the soldiers'' families in Russia.

One of the organization''s most famous efforts, and one of Ida''s own personal most memorable experiences in peace work was in 1994 when the Committee of Soldiers'' Mothers of Russia comprised a delegation of a number of NGOs working for peace and marched on Grozny, trying to bring about peace and to voice the public opinion opposed to the war in Chechnya.

Ida''s organization, the Committee of Soldiers'' Mothers of Russia, has been active for many years and received an Alternative Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, of which the organization is quite proud. Ida is going to tell us a little bit about her work and her organization''s efforts to influence policy, and the environment that they work in in Russia.

IDA KUKLINA: Thank you for coming. It is a great honor for me to speak here. One small note before I start, there was a very well known peace march. But our evaluation of this action does not coincide with the word "well known" because we think the peace march created a very tricky situation. We are suspicious that after this peace march, the Chechen village, Somashki, was destroyed. So let us not speak about this peace march.

I would like to concentrate on the differences that exist between the first Chechen war and the second war; I mean the periods 1994-96, and since August 1999. I will try to show how the situation changed for the Soldiers'' Mothers, because of course we are the most massive grassroots organization in Russia. We are absolutely independent of the government and any political structures. Therefore, it is very interesting how an NGO can influence government policy, and in turn, what the government is doing to fight this influence.

In the first Chechen war, the conflict zone was absolutely open for us. The Soldiers'' Mothers came to Chechnya from both sides. They came from the Federal side to the military units to take their sons from the military units. There was a mass movement. They also came from the Chechen side looking for their sons who were prisoners of war, killed or missing. At this time in Chechnya, there were several hundred Soldiers'' Mothers who were looking for their sons. The conflict was also open for the media.

Now the situation has changed quite a lot. We had used the openness of the conflict zone to pursue our goals and interests. Now, with Putin coming to the Kremlin, the Federal authorities have prepared for us. They closed the conflict zone completely. We now cannot move to the military units. One of our regional representatives who tried to enter was told, "We will shoot any moving object if it is moving without our permission." As a result, we cannot go freely to the military units from the federal side.

The same is true for the Chechen side. The situation inside the Chechen community also changed a lot in comparison to the first war. It is too dangerous to go there. And, to where? For what? Those are the questions.

Nevertheless, we preserved some ties and connections with Chechen women and organizations. For example, we are still working very closely with the Chechen Committee for Human Rights. The chairman was at the Baku Conference. The last time we met was in Baku. We made a joint statement. We paid the expenses of a Chechen woman, Zen Abgashaiva, who was working with the peacemaking center in Moscow, to go to Nazran to deal with humanitarian questions. So, there is a connection, but it is a different kind of connection than it was during the first war. It could have been said that we had connections with all Chechen people - that we could move freely among them. Now it is not possible. That is one difference.

Another difference is that we mobilized public opinion against the first war. Very seriously. The government took this factor into consideration. As a result, they prepared public opinion for the second war. It was done quite correctly, from the point of view of the federal authorities. First of all, they presented it, not as a Russian or Federal aggression, but rather as Chechen aggression against Dagestan. Then, there was an explosion in Moscow. We don''t know yet— there have been no trials. But nevertheless, public opinion began to believe that there was a Chechen crisis. Though legally, no one can say that the Chechens caused the explosions in various cities in Russia.

Also, Putin himself immediately declared that if participants in the Yugoslavian peacekeeping operations were receiving $1000 per month, then Russia should pay its soldiers the same sum because they were engaging in patriotic work defending their homeland against terrorists.

In the very beginning of the second war, only a few mothers came to us for help. So we had to change our tactic to mobilize public opinion. We tried to reveal every lie that the military spread about the conflict. The first involved the human losses. There was a very broad public campaign in which we proved that they were lying about human losses. Of course, in the first period of the war, only a few Russian journalists openly declared their anti-war position. Most of the media was silent. So we used the foreign media so that the Russian media could no longer ignore the issue and the things we were telling them about the conflict zone.

There were also a lot of mass protests during the first war. There were meetings in Moscow and Chechnya. Now they have proven to be less effective. The protests in Moscow and the regions draw too few people. So we think we will use this kind of pressure on the government when we can be certain of its effectiveness. At the moment, it is not effective.

We used all of our influence in the previous Duma. The composition of the previous Duma was much better for us than it is now. In 1996 it was not so difficult for us to push through the Duma our amnesty project for all the participants of the conflict on both the Chechens and the federal side. We were the very first NGO that protected human rights on both sides of the front line. We pushed our amnesty project through the Duma, and it was a real achievement because a lot of Chechen people were not criminals or terrorists.

We also pushed through the Duma some amendments to the military laws including the Law on Military Service and the Law on Military Courts. We also managed, as unpaid volunteers, to enter some state structures, which were interesting to participate in, for example, the Board of the Military Prosecutor and the Presidential Commission of Prisoners of War, the Presidential Commission on Human Rights, and several others. It was very convenient for us because we received information, and we had a public forum to express our views.

Before my departure to the US, Putin issued a new decree regarding the Presidential Commission on Human Rights. Our representative was thrown off this commission. And, instead of Valentina (last name inaudible), our responsible secretary, the new member of this commission is the general, the main political commissar of the Ministry of Defense, General Azarov. This shows the difference between the situation in the first war and the second war.

As for individual complaints, the situation has not changed. We are very effective in solving individual complaints. Those soldiers'' problems are connected with the problems of conflict. The matter is that there is no state system of rehabilitation. None of the wounded or disabled receives any real help from the government. But at least we are trying to involve the regional authorities in this process to help the disabled soldiers. We are giving legal help in this field, and so on.

I forgot to add that in the new Duma, the situation is much worse for us than in the previous Duma. We still do not have a stable group of supporters in the strategic committees. There are a few deputies with whom we work effectively. But still, we need to broaden this support. We have begun this process, but it is very difficult because the composition of this Duma has changed politically, and not to our benefit.

A final few words about the military reform. We intensified the public campaign for military reform because our motto is "non-violence, human rights and the abolishment of conscription slavery." So in this war, we use the conflict to show that it is absolutely criminal to send young boys to this conflict zone to be killed or to become killers. This is a crime. They are not going there by their own choice; they are going against their own will. There was a very dirty story about how they changed the law concerning draftees who could be sent to the conflict zone. Our state demonstrated that they could lie shamelessly. The evil is in the details, as they say.

So we intensified our public campaign for military reform. We set the goal of military reform of the professional army in 1990 when there was the first forum of Soldiers'' Mothers, which was named Mothers Against Violence: Which Kind of Army Do We Need? And I think that in the field of military reform— I do not have the latest news from Russia except that latest Russian anecdote about the American elections. But Melissa told me that there was a meeting of the Security Council, and something was announced about military reform.

I think that it is inevitable. It was a lack of political will and a strong military influence that stopped the military reform. Why are we for a professional army? We think in Russia''s specific condition, this is the only way that human rights can be protected. When a draftee enters military service, he has less than no rights, he has negative rights. It is just a remnant of pure slavery. It is possible to work as an ambulance— and we are working as an ambulance, solving the individual cases— but it is not possible to change the situation toward better human rights without military reform. So that was another main direction of public campaigning in the second Chechen War.

I am sure that I did not discuss everything, but thank you very much for listening.

CARR: Thank you, Ida, for sharing the work of your organization. Our next speaker, Fatima Yandieva, is the coordinator of the Fund for Repressed Peoples and Civilians in the Northern Caucasus. Her organization is one of the first nongovernmental organizations that was formed in the Caucasus; it began in 1992-93. Its initial goal was to protect the rights and freedom of the people who were deported by Stalin. But as we all know, events in the Caucasus and particularly in Chechnya took a turn for the worse, and so her organization became very involved in protecting human rights, particularly in Chechnya.

As the focal point for the Fund in the North Caucasus, Fatima has monitored the situation and conducted field assessments and reviews, and written about the situation, particularly in Chechnya and Ingushetia. Fatima herself was recently in Grozny and will tell us some of her recent observations and impressions of the situation on the ground.

FATIMA YANDIEVA: I think it will be interesting for you to know about the latest events in Chechnya— about the war in Chechnya. It is hidden from the rest of the world because it is not really covered in the national or international media. Though we are very realistic— we know that it is a very small problem for the rest of the world. If it is covered in the national media, it is one-sided coverage.

There are different reasons for this. It is a hard place for everyone to access— not only for reporters and journalists, but also for humanitarian workers and other people who would like to go to see what is going on there and to offer help.

I was in Grozny a couple of days before my departure to the US. It is a very distressing picture to see the city and Chechnya in general. During the first war, I remember when we were entering the city center of Grozny. There was a huge sign on the concrete wall near the entrance into the tunnel. It was very visible; it said, "Welcome to Hell." This time, when I was able to get into Grozny after the heavy military actions, I saw underneath the other graffiti a sign that said, "Welcome to Hell, Part II." I think this is a very eloquent sign of what is going on in Grozny and in Chechnya.

This is a situation which is, I think, very bad for all sides who are to some extent involved in this matter— I mean the civilian population, the military and those Chechen fighters who were mostly forced to take up arms and fight back.

Grozny, which was once a very nice city, has become a grave for very nice buildings, and a grave for thousands of residents of the city. This picture has become even worse at this point. The city reminds me of the pictures on TV of the European cities of the 1940s which had been devastated by World War II. The city looks as if it is deserted, but then you can see that life is still warm there. I could see that in the so-called Center of Grozny where there is a central market. We call it the Central Market; it is a small functioning market. About 30,000-50,000 people who never got out still live in the city.

We can see people who are carrying cans with water— a sign that shows the level of their lives. And it is very scary when, at the end of the day, the city falls into complete darkness because there is no electricity or water, and gas supplies are occasional and only in some places. You can see many people who are carrying wood for heat. Around the city, especially on the highway, Rostov-(inaudible), I saw the forests which had been devastated by all of the cutting. It is a sign of the contemporary life in Chechnya.

But one of the most distressing aspects of life in Grozny was also the darkness of the sky. It was a sunny autumn day two weeks ago, when I was there, and the sky looked very gloomy. It is because of the more than 30 oil wells which are burning constantly. Nobody cares about this. I think this can have very negative ecological consequences. And even today, it is really hard to breathe in Chechnya. When you get a little bit out of the city, you can see from a distance that the city is covered by this dark smoke.

Unfortunately, I don''t know why, but my feeling is that nobody really cares about anything. The government, which is operating now and collaborating with the Federal Government, appears to be enthusiastic about improving the situation. But for the ordinary people, it is really hard to understand and to believe that somebody really cares about them and what the situation is in Chechnya.

I should say that a sign of the war is also obvious when you see numerous checkpoints. It took me four hours to pass sixty kilometers from the border of Ingushetia to Grozny. Normally, it takes 40 minutes. I counted the checkpoints; there were about 15 of them in this 60 kilometers. Every time you are stopped, your identification cards are checked, and you are interrogated. Interrogation is applied especially to men, young men, of course, because the Federal troops consider every Chechen male a potential fighter. There is a very high degree of suspicion towards the whole male population.

There is some help provided to the people living in Chechnya, though very few organizations are able to work for a variety of reasons. It is not a secure place. But the UN is operating its programs through implementing partners and such organizations as IRC, Danish Refugee Council, People in Need (from the Czech Republic) and Polish Organization. They are physically staying in Chechnya and carrying on their courageous work, which I think should be noted since it is very hard today. Most of them are operating in neighboring Ingushetia.

Where are the people who once lived in the highly populated republic? They went everywhere. Chechen people, Russian people and other people inhabiting Chechnya went to Russian cities like Moscow; they went abroad. About 200,000 are displaced in neighboring Ingushetia. They live mostly in the refugee camps. Many also live in the private sector.

When we talk to each other and think of what can be done, I think nobody knows. It is a really complicated situation there. Nobody knows how to solve it. I know that all parties are really unhappy. Nobody wants to fight. When you ask soldiers, they tell you that they are really unhappy to be there. At first they were motivated to come because they were promised that they would be paid. But they were not. It is just another deceit of the government; they were promised and then they received nothing.

The same is true with all other people. They say, "We don''t have a place to go." When they go to the cities in Russia, they are not welcome in most of them. Who needs additional problems? If they go to Moscow— many people pin their hopes on Moscow for several reasons. One very strong reason is that people hope to give their children an education. Moscow is a center of education, and people want to go there. But in Moscow, there is strong discrimination towards Caucasian people on a daily basis.

Others are simply hiding, because they don''t want to have problems at the checkpoints. They stay somewhere: in their homes, in the refugee camps. I heard rumors recently that the IDPs in the refugee camps were sharing their fears that the Federals promised to conducts "cleansings," a normal process in the refugee camps. Maybe there are those who fought or who took part very actively during the military events. But some of them never took up guns, yet they are under the same suspicion. This also speaks to the atmosphere— that people suffer not only from being traumatized by the campaigns because of the material losses, personal losses, and losses of family members, but also because of the very unsafe and insecure state of their world. It is very disquieting. It is not a pleasant state for the people.

People often say that during the day, it is the time when the Federal troops are the masters of everything. At night, they say that the Chechens are ruling. So this is the shift, and the so-called pot where people are boiling. This is the atmosphere and the humanitarian picture of the life in Chechnya.

CARR: Thank you Fatima for sharing some of your recent observations. It only serves to illustrate more the need for civil society organizations and other governmental and international organizations to come together to build peace. This is something I think we all recognize as a big need.

At this time, we would like to open the conversation for people to ask questions. As I mentioned earlier, Sofia Dubinskaya who is from the organization Integration of Regional Mass Media is here, as is Liubov Vinogradova who is from the Russian Research Center for Human Rights. So, if people have questions specifically in those spheres, Liubov and Sofia are also ready to answer your questions.

QUESTION: Addressing all of the speakers, is there any dialog that has started about long-term political settlements in these areas of conflicts? That is, what ultimately could happen to Nagorno-Karabagh or to Chechnya?

ABDULLAYEVA: We have a dialog, and I am proud to say that we have a dialog on both sides at a non-governmental level. At the same time, we have a dialog between the NGOs and the official structures and the international organizations. For a long time, international organizations involved in the dispute between the two sides did not recognize public diplomacy and nongovernmental organizations'' opportunities in dialog and peace building. But I am proud to say that about two weeks ago, the OSCE, one of the important international organizations involved in the conflict resolution, made a decision to work with NGOs, human rights protection organizations, and organizations involved in peace building. But we started our dialog before. We sent our proposals and projects and programs to all international organizations who were interested in the dispute, and to our government.

KUKLINA: We have a one-sided dialog with the government, if you could call it a dialog. At the beginning of the second war, we sent Putin a letter asking, "What is going on? What is the legal status of this war?" He was silent. Then in the media, several terms were used to describe the second war, including, "anti-terrorist actions" or "the fight against international terrorism." But, there was still no legal status of the war.

Then we asked him about human rights violations. We noted that draftees should not be sent to the conflict zone involuntarily. Okay, he cancelled one decree, and the other one, which says, "After six months, the soldier has no right to refuse to go to the war." Can you call that a dialog? This is the dialog between the state and the NGO.

But inside the society there is a lot of dialog. I am a member of the permanent acting conference on the stabilization of the situation in the Northern Caucasus. There is a lot of dialog and many proposals. At one time, we favored a proposal to begin negotiations with Maskhadov, to satisfy him with a dignified retirement, and to start a new phase of the political process from this point. The Chechen people submitted this proposal, and we liked it. But now the situation has changed again.

We also have a dialog with the international structures: the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the OSCE and so on. But they are tied up with their mandates and all of their intergovernmental policies. For example, we proposed to Mary Robinson that since no one knows what to do about Chechnya, a multilateral commission on Chechnya should be organized. This multilateral commission would include Russian and international NGOs, international structures, federal authorities and so on. It was my impression that our commissioner on human rights liked this idea, but then she thought,
"How could I organize such a thing? There is no possibility. There is no mechanism." She is limited by her mandate and by UN procedures.

That is the kind of dialog we have inside society.

QUESTION: Do any of your organizations have informal contact with responsive leaders or commanders in the military with whom you could have some reasonable dialog, and then try to use the interests of the military in reform to push some of these things forward, or, perhaps, to find ways of opening or making more transparent the war itself?

KUKLINA: Thank you for your question, because I forgot to discuss this. Yes. In February we had the Second International Congress of Soldiers'' Mothers for Life and Freedom. We worked out eleven resolutions, which we sent to all the state authorities concerned, and first of all to the military. For the first time in the eleven-year life of our organization, we received a very detailed answer from the Chief of Staff, signed by Kvashmil. It is a very interesting document, and we are very grateful to the Chief of Staff for writing such a document. But it is so typical of the general position of the military - they didn''t take responsibility for anything. They say, "We are acting on orders. We are the military; we have to act on orders. So nothing is our fault. We are acting according to the laws."

In listing the laws that they must follow, he mentioned a lot of secret documents. And we are grateful, because our next step will be to send him questions, "What kind of documents are these secret documents?" If they are concerned with human rights, these documents should be known to society. We are very grateful to the Chief of Staff for deciding to begin an official dialog with us.

There is also the so-called Coordination Council, which consists of the military and the Soldiers'' Mothers organizations. In the Second World War, they activated their efforts to strengthen their so-called Twin Committees. It is the organization of soldiers'' parents who are acting under the aegis of the Minister of Defense. They are trying to strengthen this group of organizations. What they are doing, for example, is spreading a lot of propaganda in Krasnaya Zvezda, the official newspaper. They are also giving humanitarian aid and opening a very narrow path into the military units in Chechnya to deliver humanitarian aid and to give to each soldier his part of envelopes of sweets or other items.

We are not doing such things, though our regional committee sometimes uses the humanitarian aid to penetrate the military units. But it is another thing. In Moscow, we don''t deal with such kinds of humanitarian actions. But we are members of this Coordination Council, because we prefer to keep our hands in everything and to know all the information. I think in general they failed with the strengthening of these committees. On the other hand, there is a state program of military— patriotic education in schools. That is a strategic step on the part of the government.

ABDULLAYEVA: We have experience with dialog with our military structures, too. Within our organization, the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, we have a commission that acts like the Soldiers'' Mothers. They have started cooperating with Russian Soldiers'' Mothers.

Sometimes very funny stories come from these structures. For example, even two years after the cease-fire, they didn''t make a statement about army mobilization. Young people were in the army for five or six years. Because it was so difficult psychologically, many deserted. We raised this question and sent a letter to the staff in the Ministry of Defense. We asked them what had happened and why, when there haven''t been battles and there is a cease-fire, was the rule still in place.

Do you know what answer we received? They called us and asked for a private meeting. They said, "Please, raise this question in front of our boss, the Minister of Defense. It is a very appropriate question, but we cannot raise it ourselves. Please, if possible, organize a mass mailing of letters to the Minister." It was clear that they were afraid of losing their jobs. We did it, and since that time, we have had very good relations with the military. Sometimes we receive some cowardly questions. They are very useful for us and useful for them. They want to solve a problem, but they cannot do it themselves.

For us, the ratification of the Geneva Convention was very important. It didn''t work at first in our country. First we raised the question of signing and ratifying it in both of our countries. The Soldiers'' Mothers organization from the Armenian side heard us, and we had joint activity together.

We were interested in the treatment of the prisoners of war and the hostages. According to the Geneva Convention, hostages are not allowed, so they should be released without conditions. But the treatment of prisoners of war on both sides was unfortunately very cruel. We raised the question of passing domestic laws in accordance with the Geneva Convention. People violating these laws should be arrested. We succeeded in this.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions. One, you talked about public opinion in this war versus the last one. I was wondering, as we watched this war begin at the same time as Putin was coming to power, it seemed like support of Putin and support of the war were very much tied together. I wonder if that is still true? As Putin''s approval ratings are still pretty high, is there any chance that the approval rating of the war has declined? In other words, people are more and more against the war? If that is true, if there is any effect of the mass media— Berezovsky, Gusinsky— being anti-Putin now, whereas Berezovsky was supporting Putin before? Or if NGOs can have an effect on public opinion?

That is kind of a big question, but the second question was, do you work at all with the women in Afghanistan now considering the history of your organization?

KUKLINA: I will begin with the second question. The history of the Union of Soldiers'' Mothers Committees of Russia is not connected with the Afghan war. It is a new kind of grassroots NGO, created without any intellectual support, without any ideological preparations. It is a grassroots organization that began in the peak of Perestroika when a lot of NGOs were emerging. And the Soldiers'' Mothers were among them. In the beginning, I think one could not call it human rights because they had a very definite task to return the students [from military activity in order to finish their university education]. At that time, all students had to go into the army for two years after their first year of education. After being in the army for two years, they could return to their educational institutions. The Mothers wanted no interruption in their sons'' education. That was their first task.

They returned almost 200,000 students to their auditoria at that time. Then, as the committee developed further, the Mothers created a human rights wing in their organization. The Soldiers'' Mothers movement is not monolithic; it consists of various organizations. Some of them are political, some are pro-military; all of them are Soldiers'' Mothers. There is a strong human rights wing of the movement.

Regarding the first question about public opinion, I think it is the Russian fate always to choose between bad and bad. Worse and worse. The support of Putin was to a certain extent the expression of the unacceptability of the Yeltsin regime. At least to a certain extent. I am sure of it. Then there was a qualified action by the government to prepare public opinion for the war. I already talked about this. I think the human rights organizations are also to blame. We were not prepared for such a course of events. In the first Chechen war, we were trying to prevent it, though we had no experience in such actions there. This war was absolutely unexpected for us - not only for us, but for all the human rights movements in Russia.

The public also failed to understand what was going on. The evaluation of events takes time. After two or three months, we understood that the public opinion had changed in relation to the events. The flow of mothers increased from day to day, especially the mothers of draftees. None of the mothers wanted to send her son to the army because they were afraid they would be sent to Chechnya.

But in other aspects, of course our society is divided. There are not clear indicators that public opinion is changing. But I think in the anti-war sphere, there are some very significant changes.

YANDIEVA: At the beginning of this second campaign, Putin was the initiator and the author of the war. I think the Russian society had certain hopes for the young promising leader who had touched their nationalist feelings. He aroused the dignity of the Russian people who had been doubting it. And, the society was sick and tired of Yeltsin who had become incapable of governing the whole country. The fact that the Chechens were presented as scapegoats before the beginning of the second campaign also played a big role.

The Russian society was really deceived. They were unaware of what they were doing. I think most of them, average Russian people, didn''t know what was happening there, and what the real issues were. They didn''t care. They were told that all of their problems and the instability in the country were linked to the Chechens as an ethnic group.

But later on people began to realize— as the losses of soldiers mounted and the campaign lasted for months and months with only coffins and no results. What are the results? Nothing has changed for the better. That is why I think there is a shift, a so-called declination, in accepting Putin as strong, popular leader of the country. But I think he played a good game; all the cards were in his hands at that moment. He used them in the best way.

KUKLINA: I think there is a process of elite consolidation. Gusinsky, Berezovsky, maybe they will be thrown out. There is a purification of the elite around Putin. I think this process could be called the consolidation and purification of our elite, which is absolutely estranged from society.

QUESTION: I have a question for Fatima. I would like to ask you to describe what the feelings are now within the Chechen society about the future and about the possible settlement of the conflict. I am asking because in 1995 I had a feeling that people there were kind of happy with the agreement; that there would be a five year period before the legal status of Chechnya would be decided. Yet, within this period, another war was started. I am not sure whether this was necessary. What were the real reasons? What was the situation in Chechnya before the start of the military operations, and how is the situation now? What do people in Chechnya want now? What would be next after the end of the military operations?

YANDIEVA: I asked many people whether they really wanted this autonomy or independence, and whether they wanted to separate from Russia. I could hardly find anybody who said, "Yes, we want to be a separate country." I think that the price that they paid was so high, that for them, the only dream is to come to peace and stability. It doesn''t matter to them whether it is within Russia or outside of it. Normal people want to have a normal life.

After the end of the first war, there were elections when Maskhadov was elected by the majority of the Chechen population. At that time, there was an agreement between Yeltsin and the Chechen side. Chechnya was given a kind of autonomy, some autonomous status. The elections were internationally recognized as fair and democratic, including by the Russians. People''s hopes were raised by that event. At that time, they thought that peace and stability would come, and they would be able to create a new state, and everything would proceed in a civilized way.

Unfortunately, we know what happened between these two wars. Most people connect the events which happened before the second war with the weakness of Maskhadov who was not able to be a strong leader. Maybe he was too weak, and the opposition was too strong for him. We saw the results: kidnappings, robberies and total destruction of all norms of civil society, and the remnants of what once could have been called a society.

But even with the rise of this whole range of events, I remember in 1991-1994 when Dudayev came to power with these radical nationalists and proclaimed independence. Who asked the people about this? Did a referendum take place there? There was nothing of the kind. This was the decision of a politically active group of the leadership of Chechnya. The fate of the Chechens was a toy in the hands of the politicians on both sides. We can see that the Chechen leaders were not interested in bringing the country to stability. And the Russians, up to now, have not been interested in resolving the problem. The fact that they are dealing with Kadyrov and Gantamirov is an eloquent confirmation of this, I think.

I don''t know if I answered your question or not. It is hard for the people. They dream that they will have a stable and peaceful life. People are tired of wars and conflicts.

CARR: Thank you. I want to reiterate the theme that you brought up at the end, Fatima. It is something I have heard from Arzu, from Ida and from all of the women from the region that these women represent, and also from the other regions participating in the Women Waging Peace Conference. It is that most of the people in most of the regions where these horrible conflicts are going on, don''t see that as their future. Violent conflict is not what they are looking for. They are looking for peace and economic security, development and forward progress. I think, hopefully knowing that and women like the women who we have here before us, and men who do similar types of work, trying to advocate the needs of the people, and trying to advocate for progress in these various societies, hopefully will bring that about. I am personally very grateful to all of you for coming, and I have enjoyed interacting with you and learning from you. I am inspired by the work that each of you do. I think this was a good discussion and a good opportunity for everyone to hear a little bit more about your work.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Abdullayeva, Arzu, Sophia Dobinskaya, Ida Kuklina, Liubov Vinogradova, and Fatima Yandieva.. “Civil Society and Peace-building in the North and South Caucasus (transcript).” Caspian Studies Program, .