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NGO Coalition Tackles Conflict in CIS

Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, ethnic and political conflict has stood in the way of reform in the Newly Independent States. The NGO Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution was formed in 1998 to help build constructive relationships and assist in peacekeeping efforts in the region. Andre Kamenshikov is the director of Nonviolence International – one of the NGOs that form the Working Group coalition – and the coordinator for NGO support of the Working Group. He spoke with EurasiaNet about the organization's plans in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The text of the interview follows:

EurasiaNet: What is the main aim of the NGO Working Group?

Kamenshikov: The main aim is pretty clear from its name – it's the CIS NGO Working Group On Conflict Management and Prevention. And the main aim is to develop cooperation between non-governmental organizations in the CIS in this field – in preventing conflict - so we're coming at the consequences of conflicts that took place and helping people to end conflicts. The importance of this group is that, first of all, it unites NGOs from different countries, so it helps to develop trans-border projects; and it also unites NGOs from states in unrecognized regions. It also helps develop cooperation projects in cases like Abkhazia and Karabakh. And because it is a wide group and it unites people from practically all of the CIS states today, it creates an environment in which it is probably easier sometimes to discuss their interests, their issues, rather than having a bilateral situation - let's say for example from Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan - it may be, in a sense, psychologically easier for people to communicate.

EurasiaNet: What kind of NGOs are involved?

Kamenshikov: Quite a few. They work in different fields, and it depends on the peculiarities of the situations that they represent, but there are many NGOs that are based directly in conflict areas. For example, there is an NGO in Dagestan that is doing extensive work, both on the border between Dagestan and Chechnya, and in Dagestan, repairing relationships between different ethnic groups; there are NGOs from such areas as Abkhazia and Karabakh that are also involved; there are also groups that are focused more on research and information sharing; there are groups that are involved in training activities. So there are quite a few organizations, but they all, in one or another way, are involved in activities that serve the purpose of preventing and managing conflict.

EurasiaNet : What is the biggest obstacle or obstacles to the formation of this working group?

Kamenshikov: Actually, I think that the greatest difficulties in the formation of the working group came from two sides: on the one hand, because it united so many different groups – representing, of course, not official oppositions - and it would include people from very different areas and with very different views and opinions, it was a challenge to develop some kind of structure that could be suitable for all. And also it was a pretty difficult task for the group to prove to international organizations that it can be self-sustainable, that it can manage its own affairs, and it doesn't need to be seen as just a kind of a project of some major international organization. Because in the beginning formation of this working group there were attempts to present it as some kind of a project of an international organization that would set the agenda and manage the major issues.

EurasiaNet: What does the working group see as the most severe hot spots now?

Kamenshikov: I can't say that the working group – it's over a hundred organizations – sees that such-and-such areas are most dangerous. The working group consists today as three sub-regional networks: one is Central Asia; one is the Caucasus, which includes southern Russian territories and the three trans-Caucasus states; one is the Western CIS, which includes Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus; and today there's talk, but so far it's still only in the very early stage, of also more actively involving groups from Central Russian regions and various autonomous republics like Tatarstan and so forth. I was a guest at the meeting of the Central Asian network that took place in Kyrgyzstan in September. And there was a pretty unanimous understanding that the situation around the Ferghana Valley is probably the number one concern. And another issue that was new for me was that that situation – besides simply interethnic tensions and problems, and problems relating to the difficult internal situation in Uzbekistan – there are also major issues that are related to the environment and the resources, specifically water supply, in the area which also create a very conflicting and very dangerous situation.

NGO Coalition Tackles Conflict in CIS

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