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Experience of youth involvement in peace building

Presenter: Ketevan Sulava


Panel Discussion on IDPs and Refugees from Abkhazia

Experience of youth involvement in peace building

processes in the South Caucasus

 M-r Chairman, honorable excellences, ladies and gentlemen,
I am very proud to be today here and to share with you hopes and concerns of Georgian young generation. My name is Ketevan, and I am from Abkhazia, small region on the west of Georgia, which was separated during the armed conflict in 1993 and we were forced to leave my beautiful Abkhazia. Later I learned that now I am not simply Ketevan, I am an IDP, as I was introduced by my new teacher to my new classmates at my new school which I had to change seven times while I had to move with my family due to continual  resettlement until we finally resided in the collective centre-hotel. Not many people from IDP community have the opportunity to appeal to honorable ambassadors to UN and diplomatic community. I was in this building several years ago, when we together with our Abkhaz peers visited the building of UN, but I could not dream that time that one day I would be able to bring my thoughts to your attention.


I was very lucky – from very young years I participated in different programmes organized for IDP children and youth from Abkhazia, which gave me a possibility later to become a member of youth peace dialogue. For many years, non-governmental organizations in Georgia proper and in Abkhazia, including my organization, the IDP women Association, tried to bring together people who were divided by the conflict with the hope that one day we again will return and live together.  


Why it is so important to work with the youth? As Herbert Hoover said “Older men declare war but it is youth that must fight and die”. Indeed, in case of armed conflicts, the youth are affected the first – they may become direct victims of violence. Or, they will be forced to take a weapon and become a perpetrator.


The programme’s major achievement in the South Caucasus has been the number of young people from both sides of Abkhaz and Georgian conflict who have learned to trust, understand and respect each other, even hostilities resumed around us.  


My little experience shows that such kind of meetings is very useful, as for many years people from divided societies had no opportunity to communicate, and for children it was difficult to imagine that on the other side are the same children, who like the same music, dance the same dances and think about the same everyday problems. One of the main results of the Georgian-Abkhaz dialogue had been that the “enemy image” became less intense and more diffuse for both sides.


However, even from my perspective, it is more and more difficult to organize such meetings and to meet even with our “old” friends”, time is running, we became  older and better understand problems which separated us, but our feeling is that we can overcome these division lines and  build trust and understanding which will allow us to reconcile.

Youth programming is most successful when it empowers youth to take responsibility for constructive action rather than relying on others.  


Experience of our association in organizing of peace camps, youth meetings, publication of interactive children’s Magazine shows that young people, who really believe in peace values, become very active in reconciliation and can be better taught and mobilized to support peaceful solution of conflict, they can be agents of positive change in relations between communities.


Teenagers from both sides of artificial barriers created by the conflict found themselves to have a lot in common and share the happy moments of their lives with each other in two youth camp set up in Ganmakhuri and in Upper Abkhazia. Regrettably these camps for some have become a burgeoning chip.    


I am a member of the youth network for reconciliation, which was developed with the educational support of Conciliation Resources. In this network we try to analyze the roots of conflict and to find solutions which will bring peace and reconciliation. It is not an easy work, and we do not see much supporting factors around, but we are young and we trust that our good will be able to change the attitude of adults and bring us more close to our homes and native lands.


In UN SC Resolution 1781, the role of the youth is stressed, as well as our right to return and live in our own homes. Home – it is not simply a building; it is a whole environment in which we were born and which we miss so much. We are ready to work even more hard to ensure our right to return, but we cannot do it alone – you should be with us.


Resolution of UN Security Council 1325 stressed that women and young girls are not only the victims of the conflicts, but can play important role in reconciliation and post conflict rehabilitation. We, as young generation of IDP community, are ready to assume our responsibility and to contribute to organization of process of return. I personally believe that this is possible, but for this we need you - UN, you have experience, you have the tools to make this return possible, we believe that you can initiate the preparation process of return.

I have grown up in the atmosphere of collective center, where IDP’s each evening discussed what is new, what else can happen, each new statement or speech of Georgian or foreign leaders they are listening with careful attention with the hope to find the solid ground which brings them home. Even small children in collective centers, where I am volunteering in educational programme, draw Abkhazia and Sukhumi, even though they have never been there, but they still dream of it…  


Surveys, conducted regularly by different non-governmental organizations, demonstrate that IDP’s intention to return is not changed during the years, they have not aggressive attitude and are willing to participate in post-conflict rehabilitation of Abkhazia.  


Post-conflict situation – return should be dignified:  today there are spontaneous returnees to Gali district, but our peer cannot afford quality education, they cannot study on their native language; they live under constant risk of robbery and other criminal actions. Education and health facilities in Gali are poor. All population, including children and youth live under high psychological tension. We know this as our Association works with children and women from Gali district with the support from EED.


The language issue is a subject of separate analysis, but all queries conducted in the framework of IDP National Strategy development demonstrated that students of the high school from Gali rarely could achieve real success in the national exams in Georgia proper and need additional education in their native language. Life in post-conflict zones puts incredible psychological tension on IDP children – many of them suffer from chronic depression and fear. The lack of adequate security has a further negative impact on children’s psychological well-being due to fear of becoming a victim of criminal activity.  


We, IDP young generation, are quite independent, we try to find our place in the society, but it is twice more harder for us – for the generation without homes to be successful then for an average young man or woman.  


Displaced Georgians tend to live visibly separate lives from their hosts and this has led to an increasing sense of estrangement between two communities. I myself graduated from Tbilisi State University, currently I am making my master degree and to afford this, I work at the local bank. I can be an example of “successful”, “integrated” young woman, but I know that if tomorrow it would be possible to return to Abkhazia, I will definitely do so. It is my home, I belong there…


As a result of Georgian youth involvement in peace building processes we feel that we have the influence, even limited influence in defining our own future, we tend to avoid violent behaviors in favor of peaceful dialogues. In addition, youth’s involvement in decision making processes during conflict transformation and resolution can greatly reduce the likelihood of violent outbreaks. Instead of being the part of “the problem” we strive for becoming the part of the solution.
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