Prof. Ohanyan Hopes to Build Bridges for Peace In the Caucasus


Prof. Anna Ohanyan

Prof. Anna Ohanyan

By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

EASTON, Mass. — Global conflicts seem a world away from this small town. However, it is just possible that a key to solving the problem facing Artsakh (Nagorno Karabagh) may lie with young students at Stonehill College.

This small Catholic university is dedicated to the ideals of peace and justice and it is in this environment that Anna Ohanyan, the college’s chair of the Department of Political Science and International Studies, wants to create ties between Armenia and the West, as well as come up with creative solutions to solve both internal and external problems.

“Coming from conflict region, I always wanted to solve the problems. I didn’t want to focus on theory. I am very interested in how policies are made globally,” Ohanyan said.

This focus, she said, “drives my work.”

Ohanyan noted that she did not always want to work with an eye toward solving Armenia’s political problems. She noted that when she was studying for her doctorate, she aimed to veer away from Armenia, toward which she had a natural bias. Now, she says, “I don’t believe in bias-free research,” meaning that all researchers have an inherent point of view.

Ohanyan, a native of Armenia, graduated with a master’s degree from Yerevan State University, before studying for one year at the George Mason Institute for Conflict Analysis in Virginia and later receiving her PhD from Syracuse University. Ohanyan also did a fellowship at the Kennedy School at Harvard.

Ohanyan spent the 2012-2013 academic year as a Fulbright Fellow in Armenia and the South Caucasus, teaching and conducting research on regionalism and conflict management. In addition, she has published widely on international organizations, conflict resolution and peacebuilding in such settings as Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Afghanistan. Her research has been supported by organizations including IREX, the Fulbright Commission, the German Marshall Fund, the U.S. State Department, the Eurasia Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, the World Bank, the National Intelligence Council Project, the Carter Center, USAID and Stonehill College.

Her first book, titled NGOs, IGOs, and the Network Mechanisms of Post-Conflict Global Governance in Microfinance, was on the post-conflict era Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as Afghanistan. It was focused on the use of microfinance in post-conflict societies in order to revive them.

“Microfinance policies are quite remarkable. Donors have to figure out how to bring in people or to offer training,” she explained.

Her new book, which came out earlier this month, Networked Regionalism as Conflict Management, is about a region much closer to her heart. “It explores this narrative of whether or not it is possible to utilize regional ties in all kinds” of situations to help bring peace to the region. For example, she said training firefighters or teachers are things that need to happen throughout the Caucasus and the bringing together of these small groups, could make the larger society as a whole safer.

Ohanyan said that she does not believe that the region, even with the presence of adversaries Armenia and Azerbaijan, is doomed to fight forever. If, she said, India and Pakistan were able to come together on many issues, the two Caucasian enemies will similarly succeed, she said. (This interview took place before the early April attacks by Azerbaijan.)

As her press release about the book adds, “only the cultivation and establishment of regional peace systems can provide an effective path toward conflict management in these standoffs in such intractably divided regions.”

Another example she brought is how each individual nation in the region is too small to attract major investment. Their interests lie in coming together and presenting a bigger target for investment.

She added, “Conflict by itself is not the only hurdle. There is a lack of civil society and an inability to form links across the region.”

Azerbaijan, she said, is slightly different than Armenia and Georgia, in that its leader, Ilham Aliyev, is more focused on “not pushing confidence-building regionally” and instead, his “primary concern is regime survival.”

As well, Russia, the US and Europe are all trying to force these smaller states to choose sides. “My message to the west is to give up control to gain control. There needs to be greater push on Azerbaijan and Georgia to come together regionally,” she explained. “Neither the US nor the UN are going to be able to address the security problems in the region. It is figuring out how to use regional hubs and contacts are necessary to solve conflicts around the world.”

Stonehill in Armenia, Serbia

Ohanyan said that she is thrilled that Stonehill Students now can work with universities outside the US. The college now offers the LION (Learning Inside Out Network) program, an intensive international internship and research opportunity for students interested in the theory and practice of global security. The program builds on courses in security studies, conflict analysis and resolution, global crime, international criminal justice, human security, and international development through a semester-long international internship experience with a non-governmental organization (NGO), think tank or media organization in Armenia or Serbia.

In Armenia, she explained, students can learn about global security “and develop in leaps and bounds.”

One class is already working this spring with partners in Serbia and Armenia, and another will go to Armenia in the fall.

In Armenia the students will work with NGOs, including the Eurasian Partnership Foundation and Transparency International.

In June, those that are in Serbia will come to Armenia. Ohanyan herself will teach them for two weeks in Armenia.

“We want to create a space for young voices,” she said, adding that Stonehill’s academic partner in Armenia will be the Eurasian International University in Yerevan.

“I do want in a small way to rebrand Armenia,” she said. “There are exciting things happening in Armenia.”

The students can then bring their research to the NGOs that are dealing with those very same issues, making the theoretical actual.

And it is not only Armenia that will benefit from this program, she said. “The students can build up their resumes with a very solid avenue for professional development.”

The program is open to all social science majors who maintain a GPA of 3.0 and above and have strong writing skills.

For more information, students can contact Ohanyan at atwymanghoshal@stonehill.edu.