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Means and opportunities for cooperation across the Georgia-Armenia border

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, May 5
Lack of information on trade opportunities and import/export proce¬dures, cumbersome customs proce¬dures, language barriers and few platforms of interaction between the officials and communities are major factors impeding cross-border cooperation between Georgia and Armenia. A workshop held in Tbilisi on May 3 with the participation of Georgian and Armenian civil society actors, local self-governance officials and representatives of international organizations attempted to identify means and opportunities for forging the cross-border links further.

The workshop came as a half way through a study tour which CARE International in the Caucasus organized on May 2-4 under the project Poverty Reduction and Confidence-building in Border Areas of Georgia and Armenia by Strengthening Civil Societies in Sustainable Rural Development (STAGE II) . The project is funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC). Over 15 Armenian visitors arrived to participate in the event.

As Anthony Foreman, STAGE II project Director of told The Messenger, the project attempts to create conditions in which the sides can find out more about each other and identify the areas in which they may cooperate. “Obviously one of the products of this kind of work is to identify the information of what types of problems actually exist on the cross-national level. It’s a very narrow but targeted issue and we expect high quality results,” Foreman stated.

Emphasizing the clear need for cooperation in sharing information, CARE with its partner NGOs plans to identify these problems and find out what the partner organizations can do within the advocacy campaign. “Our first priority is to see which problems the NGOs are able to assist through delivering information, and then after that define the problems with decision-makers at the high level,” he told us.

In the frames of the study tour, Members of the Armenian delegation met with Georgian government officials and partner civil society organizations, to attend the Tbilisi Economic Forum organized by Tbilisi City Hall, visit food processing and cheese factories in Marneuli (Kvemo Kartli) and in Tsnisi (Samtskhe-Javakheti), a rural advisory service centre established with the support of CARE in Aspindza (Samtskhe-Javakheti), a bio-farm of project target association in Akhalkalaki (Samtskhe-Javakheti).

Suggesting creation of networks uniting civil and municipal societies and NGOs advocating the Georgian-Armenian cooperation, the sides agreed that NGOs can be the basis for raising awareness among the two nations through their flexible projects and serve as “bridges connecting new ideas.” David Melua Executive Director of the National Association of Local Authorities of Georgia (NALAG) offered the local NGOs to schedule their annual activities and discuss their plans with local municipalities. “Georgian-Armenian friendship has started centuries ago and we have to do everything to increase our cooperation and ignore the borders,” Melua stated.

As part of the study tour, the participants also met with Van Baiburt, Adviser of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Speaking about the initiative in general Mr. Baiburt welcomed such cooperation and spoke of Georgia as the “mediator in the South Caucasus.” Wishing he could also have seen Azeri guests at the meeting Baiburt told The Messenger that friendship among the high-rank authorities can’t be strengthened without cooperation between the “tiniest players.” Hoping that this tour would become the starting point for implementing large-scale activities the President’s Adviser said this meeting would become the "basis for tomorrow's fine weather".