The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, campus was the site of an unprecedented, four-day international conference on "Armenia/ The South Caucasus and Foreign Policy Challenges" from October 21 to 24, 2004. Organized by the Armenian Studies Program at U-M, the conference brought together scholars and diplomats from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Finland, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Canada, and the United States.

    The purpose of the conference was to review foreign policy issues related to the South Caucasus, an area of increasing strategic significance during the past 13 years of independence in view of developments in the region and in international relations, as well as to analyze conflict resolution processes with special emphasis on the Nagorno Karabakh problem.

    The conference had the enthusiastic support of the University and was co-sponsored by the Center for Russian and East European Studies; Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies; International Institute; and Departments of History, Political Science and Near Eastern Studies.

    The conference opened on October 21 with welcoming remarks by the organizer of the conference, Gerard Libaridian (U-M Department of History), and a presentation by Mark Tessler (International Institute director, vice provost for international affairs, and Samuel J. Eldersveld Collegiate Professor of Political Science), who introduced the goals and characteristics of the gathering.

    The complex issues were covered by the participants in nine sessions: "Evolving International Relations and the South Caucasus," "Armenian Foreign Policy in Historical Context," "The World as Seen by the South Caucasus," "The South Caucasus as Seen by the Regional Powers," "The South Caucasus as Seen by the West," "The Impact of the South Caucasus on the Study of International Relations," "The World of Conflicts," "Nagorno Karabakh: A Case Study in Conflict Resolution" and "Reconciling the Past and the Future."

    The highlight of the gathering was probably the session on Nagorno Karabakh. An Armenian populated region of Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabakh is the oldest ethno-political conflict in the former Soviet Union. Since 1988, when the governing council of the region declared its goal to be come part of Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh has seen the conflict militarized, followed by a cease-fire in 1994. Negotiations, mediated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have continued without a permanent solution. Currently under the chairmanship of the U.S., Russia, and France, the mediation effort was seen in the early 1990s as the prototype of conflict resolution in the "New World Order," following the break up of the Soviet Union.

    The session brought together mediators and negotiators who dominated the intensive OSCE efforts through most of the 1990s: Ambassador Vladimir Kazimirov of Russia (retired); Ambassador Ömer Ersun of Turkey, (retired); Ambassador Joseph Presel of the U.S. (retired); Ambassador Tofik Zulfugarov, former minister of foreign affairs and Karabakh conflict negotiator, Azerbaijan; and Ambassador David Shahnazaryan, former minister and Karabakh negotiator for Armenia; and, Ashot Ghoulian, minister of foreign affairs of Nagorno Karabakh. Dr. Mahmood Vaezi, deputy director, Center for Strategic Research, Tehran and former deputy minister of foreign affairs of Iran, and former Karabakh negotiator, offered his views by forwarding a paper on the Iranian mediation efforts.

    The conference was attended by a large number of students and faculty from U-M and universities across the U.S., guests from Europe, as well as members of the community. All sessions were followed by a question and answer period and lively debates. In the view of many of the experienced participants both formal presentations and informal discussions during those four days have produced a better understanding of the challenges facing the region; it is also possible that these discussions will generate new ideas and approaches.

    Participants and members of the audience alike considered the conference a unique event in its scope and depth. "It is a source of deep satisfaction," stated Professor Libaridian, "that so much scholarly and diplomatic experience came together in one conference, that so many experts and diplomats from all relevant countries were willing to present their views and see them challenged for the benefit of a better understanding of the South Caucasus. I am also gratified that the conference has served the purpose of introducing U-M and its many units involved in international studies to the participants and guests."


    The detailed program of the conference, the audio recording and many of the papers presented can be accessed on the website of the Armenian Studies Program at <http://www.umich.edu/~iinet./asp/>.

    Sara Sarkisian is a senior majoring in Arabic, Armenian, Persian, Turkish and Islamic studies and history of art at U-M.