The Words of the Marion Family
From May 1-7, Konstantin Krylov, Dr. Oleg Mironov, and I met with Ambassadors for Peace and UPF volunteers in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The South Caucasus conflicts, like all territorial conflicts, cause a deep pain and resentment that is clearly visible in these three nations. Yet we always hear the same words: beyond politics, the peoples of these nations long to return to a normal relationship with the "enemy", because they once were part of a common nation and still share to some degree a common culture and language.
I arrived in Yerevan on May 1 and was welcomed by Hovhannes Barseghyan and his wife Nora, who lead the UPF chapter in Armenia. In the afternoon we had a seminar with UPF members and volunteers at the Hotel Ararat.
The next day Ambassador for Peace Rev. Aharon Ghazaryan, who attended the February 2010 International Leadership Conference in Korea, invited us to give a talk at his church, which is part of the Evangelical Church of Armenia. The dominant institution is the Armenian Apostolic Church, which has been the center of faith of the Armenian people since 301 AD, when Armenia became the first country in the world to adopt Christianity. A few Protestant churches exist today, but they are often challenged by the power of the Armenian Church.
Rev. Ghazaryan is pastor of a congregation of 1,000 members. He gained some fame under the Soviet Union when he was persecuted and sent to jail for his faith. On this foundation he receives support from the Armenian diaspora, particularly in Europe, which allows him to develop a strong congregation based in a large, renovated building in the capital city Yerevan. The father of eight children, he involves all his family in church activities.
On May 2, we held an afternoon Leadership Conference on the theme of "South Caucasus Peace Initiative" at the Ararat Hotel. The meeting was attended by 30 Ambassadors for Peace, guests, and UPF volunteers. Rev. Ghazaryan was present with some of his family members. Ambassador for Peace Mrs. Santosh Kumari Arora, a respected Indian professor in Armenia, came with some other Indian professors. Others were teachers, business people and students.
The conference began with a video introducing UPF and the 20-year anniversary of its founder Dr. Sun Myung Moon's meeting with President Gorbachev. I gave two presentations on the UPF philosophy of peace and the World Peace Blessing to an attentive audience. Six participants were appointed Ambassadors for Peace.
UPF-Russia Secretary General Konstantin Krylov travelled to Baku, Azerbaijan on May 2 and met with Ambassadors for Peace. On May 3 spoke about principles of peacemaking at the office of UPF Senior Advisor and former Prime Minister, H.E. Rahim Huseynov. Participants included government officials, scholars, businessmen, students, and NGO leaders. Mrs. Sabina Mammedkerimova, who working at the Ministry of Education, expressed interest in teaching these principles in schools
Mr. Krylov also met with UPF organizers. Mr. Nishiwaki, Secretary General of UPF-Azerbaijan, expressed gratitude for this effort to advance the work of UPF in Azerbaijan.
On May 3 I had the opportunity to travel to Tbilisi, Georgia from Yerevan by car, admiring the beautiful Caucasus Mountains. Georgia was the main focus of our South Caucasus Peace Initiative Tour this time. Our UPF chapter there is led by Vitaly Maximov (from Russia) and his wife Lena (from Belarus), who were blessed by the birth of two children since the UPF Peace Festival there in December 2008.
After a one-day seminar for UPF-volunteers, we gave a UPF presentation on May 5 at Sukhumi State University, the 3rd university in Georgia. We were introduced to University Rector Joni Apakidze, who at the request of Professor Indira Dgazania, offered UPF a room in their building for educational programs. We gave two presentations on UPF and the South Caucasus Peace Initiative to an audience of nearly 100 students and professors.
Dr Oleg Mironov, Senior Advisor of UPF-Russia and former Ombudsman of Russia, arrived in Tbilisi on May 5. Manana Kutateladze, head of staff of the Georgian Parliament Chairman, organized a series of meetings for him with Georgian officials and May 6.
The loss of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Russia's control is still very painful to Georgians. Since our UPF delegation was mainly composed of Russians, we sometimes faced visible emotions when we met with Georgian officials and had to speak with precaution.
We first met with the Georgian Ombudsman, George Tugushi, who had much in common to share with Dr. Mironov. He expressed his support of our work and particularly appreciated our emphasis on interfaith dialogue, since he is faced with complaints from smaller religious communities about the overwhelming influence of the Georgian Orthodox Church. He received a certificate of appointment as Ambassador for Peace.
We then met with Dr. George Khutsishvili, Director of the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation, a prominent peace center in Georgia. He shared his pessimism about prospects for the return of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia as well as his work promoting dialogue between Georgia and Russia. He expressed the idea that border conflicts in South Caucasus may be solved only within the framework of a confederation of Caucasus nations.
Our third meeting was with the Georgian Vice Minister of Reintegration, Elene Tevdoradze. She expressed very frankly her pain and ill feelings toward Russia for the occupation of Georgian territory. A woman with great political experience in Georgia as well as at the Council of Europe, she is responsible for the reintegration of the numerous refugees into Georgian society. She also offered her cooperation and support for our local activities.
Our last meeting was with the Head of Administration of South Ossetia, Dimitry Sanakoev. In charge of South Ossetia on behalf of the Georgian government, he deals in fact with Ossetian refugees in Georgia. He also proposed his cooperation with UPF for cultural or sports programs.
When on May 5 we mentioned about Russian Ambassador for Peace Eduard Yakovlev, who died while "running for peace" in Georgia during the 2008 UPF Peace Festival, university students and professors were very moved. It confirmed that his sacrifice laid a deep foundation in heart for our UPF work in Georgia.
We had decided to commemorate his passing away with a religious service on May 6. It was held at the recently restored Saint Nicholas Church, majestically located within the old fortress overlooking Tbilisi. An Orthodox priest offered prayers for Eduard Yakovlev in the presence of a few Ambassadors for Peace.
On May 7 we held a National Leadership Conference on the theme of "South Caucasus Peace Initiative" in the office of the Foundation for the Development of Human Resources, kindly made available by Ambassador for Peace Nodar Sarjveladze. The seminar was attended by 40 participants, including political leaders (former Vice Speaker Vakhtang Kolbaia, former Abkhazia Minister of Health Dalila Khorava), university professors, and NGO leaders. Konstantin Krylov gave two presentations on the ideal of peace and the root of conflict. I spoke about the resolution of conflict and the World Peace Blessing.
Then Dr. Mironov spoke about the South Caucasus Peace Initiative from his experience as former Ombudsman of Russia. The participants, many of whom had attended UPF seminars in 2008 and 2009, responded very well to the presentations. Dr. Mironov's talk also stimulated great interest. Speaking carefully about the sensitive Georgia-Russia relations, his tone was pleasing to many participants, who were reminded of the times when both nations were part of the same Soviet Union.
In seven days we covered three nations, holding seminars with both Ambassadors for Peace and UPF volunteers. The South Caucasus conflicts, like all territorial conflicts, cause a deep pain and resentment that is clearly visible in these three nations. Yet we always hear the same response: beyond politics, the peoples of these nations long to return to a normal relationship with the "enemy" because they once shared a common nation and still share more or less a common culture and language. The UPF principles of peace give them hope that such a reunion is possible, even if still seems in the distance. The ideal is revived by our presentations, and the consciousness of being Ambassadors for Peace gradually penetrates people's minds and hearts.