Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia have seen their influence in the world
increase due to their strategic location north of the Middle East
and their easy access to trade routes on the Caspian Sea.

Beth Dykstra
Vitaly Naumkian, the director of the International Center for Strategic and Political Studies in Russia, speaks at the panel discussion “Evolving International Relations and the South Caucasus” yesterday at the Alumni Center. (Alexander dziadosz/Daily)

However, with this increase in responsibility has come an
increase in military conflicts, as all three of the former
republics of the Soviet Union are engaged in wars.

In order to re-examine the region’s problems and discuss
what has gone wrong in the region in the past decade, the
University is hosting the International Armenian Conference this
weekend. The conference on Armenian politics that began yesterday
and will end Sunday will bring together some 35 scholars, diplomats
and negotiators from more than 10 countries, including nations in
Europe and the Middle East.

“We want to see if the trust between this very diverse
group of people can be strengthened, so that progress can be
made,” Gerard Libaridian, a professor of modern Armenian
history at the University, said during the conference’s
opening yesterday.

For the first time in years, diplomats and scholars directly
involved in creating policies for conflict resolution in the region
will come together, he said.

“This is an event that I’m sure many Armenian
academics have considered organizing, but because of my personal
connections, we were able to make it happen here at the University
of Michigan,” said Libaridian, who spent seven years as the
senior advisor to Armenia’s president.

After almost eight months of planning, Kevork Bardakjian, a
co-organizer of the conference and the director of the
University’s Academic Programs in Armenian Studies, said many
discussions will take place that anyone interested in Armenian or
Middle East politics will find fascinating.

Members of the Armenian Studies Program, one of the groups
hosting the conference, hope that it will facilitate a discussion
among powerful people who will reflect on and perhaps examine the
mistakes in policy decisions made in the 1990s that led to bloody
conflicts and unstable governments.

A civil wars is currently taking place in Georgia, while Armenia
and Azerbaijan have long been engaged in conflict. Additionally,
elections in Armenia have been deemed unfair by analysts.

LSA sophomore Alex Sarkesian considers himself 100 percent
Armenian although he was born in the United States, and he said on
a recent visit to the country “I saw the graves of the people
who have died fighting in the conflicts.”

“I am attending this conference because, not only is it
very important for students and the community to become better
informed about what is going on, but this is an exciting
opportunity for change.”

Participants in the panel discussions include Terhi Hakala,
Finland’s ambassador to Armenia; John Evans, the U.S.
ambassador to Armenia; and Prof. Hossein Seifzadeh of Tehran
University in Iran.

The conference also offers the opportunity for students to meet
diplomats and scholars and talk with the people whom they have read
about in textbooks. “This will bring the politics of Armenia
to life,” Libaridian said.

Following Libaridian’s speech was a panel discussion
titled “Evolving International Relations and the South
Caucaus.” The panel included sociology Prof. Michael Kennedy
from the University of Michigan, Vitaly Naumkin, the director of
the International Center for Strategic and Political Studies in
Russia and international relations Prof. Hadi Semati from Tehran
University.

Today’s events include a panel discussion titled
“The World as Seen by the South Caucasus,” from 11 a.m.
to 12:30 p.m., and one titled “The South Caucasus As Seen by
the Regional Powers,” from 2 to 3:30 p.m. All sessions are
free, open to the public and take place at the Alumni Center, near
the Michigan League.

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