Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a deadly conflict over Nagorny Karabakh for over two decades. Active hostilities ended in 1994 with signing of a ceasefire agreement, however, violations of cease-fire occur on an almost daily basis both along the line-of-contact around Nagorny Karabakh and along the Armenia-Azerbaijan international border. Civilian populations living in frontline areas around Nagorny Karabakh and along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border continue to suffer the consequences of the lasting conflict like no other group. They are particularly exposed to any escalation of conflict, regular shooting incidents, and landmines. The unresolved conflict not only poses a lethal threat, but also undermines the livelihoods of the local population in already impoverished areas. Absence of proper international oversight has created a dangerous environment whereby civilians and their properties have been repeatedly targeted by the opposing military forces. Apart from episodic media reports which cover only major incidents that involve casualties, there has been no systematic open record of incidents targeting civilians and their property.
Civil Society Institute (Armenia), Society for Humanitarian Research (Azerbaijan) and Saferworld (UK) with financial support from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs have initiated a community security project in the border areas of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The project aims at studying and publicising the security concerns of the communities living near Armenian-Azerbaijani frontlines and adding their voice to security provision and peace-building processes.
We will hold a series of meetings with local communities to better understand the local context and help the communities on both sides of the Armenia-Azerbaijan border to gain confidence in articulating their safety concerns, plan solutions to their problems and develop more constructive relationships with their respective security providers. At this stage, the project does not cover the Line-of-Contact around Nagorny Karabakh, which is a more complex environment. Instead, we will focus exclusively on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border context, where, unlike the Line-of-Contact around Nagorny Karabakh, civilian populations live on either side of the border. The target area for the current phase of the project is Tavush province in Armenia, and Gazakh, Tovuz and Agstafa districts in Azerbaijan.
An innovative element of the project is use of Google Earth and Google Maps to record and map out incidents involving targeting of civilians and their property based on information obtained from the communities on the ground. Local communities in frontline areas of Armenia provide us reports on incidents targeting them from the Azerbaijani side. Azerbaijani communities on the other side of the border do the same. These incidents are then tracked via the database to give an overall view of incidents in the region. The accuracy of information reported is verified by the partner organisations.
We hope that this innovative method, which has never been used by non-profits in the Caucasus before, will bring transparency and raise awareness, both nationally and internationally, on local incidents specifically targeting civilians and their property in border/frontline areas of Armenia and Azerbaijan. By providing a powerful community-driven and civil society-assisted message that incidents involving civilians and their property will be recorded and publicised, we hope the database will serve as a deterrent for targeting of civilians by convincing the perpetrators that their actions against civilians will not go unnoticed. The databasewill be regularly updated and made available to policy-makers, civil society, media and the wider public in Armenia, Azerbaijan and internationally.