Ålands fredsinstitut
The Åland Islands Peace Institute

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In October 2009 the Åland Islands Peace Institute's project manager and researcher Sarah Stephan participated in a study visit to Azerbaijan, organised by Salto Eastern Europea and Caucasus Resource Centre and the Minsitry of Youth and Sport of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The study visit "youth work reality in Azerbaijan" organized jointly by SALTO Eastern Europe and Caucasus Resource Centre and the Ministry of Youth and Sport of the Republic of Azerbaijan provided the ideal opportunity for the Åland Islands Peace Institute to explore the home environment of its partner organisations in Azerbaijan. The Peace institute has worked with young women from Azerbaijan in the framework of the European Union's Youth in Action Programme. The institute currently hosts its second volunteer from Baku and has organised youth exchanges and training courses with participants from Azerbaijan on conflict management and gender issues.
As the youth officer of the Peace institute I had the pleasure to spend one week in Baku and Ganja, together with representatives of Youth in Action national agencies and representatives of youth organizations from all over Europe, to learn about youth work policies in Azerbaijan, share experiences, foster mutual knowledge and understanding and to promote sustainable contacts. I set off to explore what youth work looks like in Azerbaijan and to find out whether and how in particular young Azeri women are empowered through youth work.

azerbaijan_Study_Visit_group72The schedule of the visit was tight but multi-facetted. During a visit to the Ministry of Youth and Sport we had the chance to hear the minister's perspective on youth work. His staff accompanied us during the week and was prepared to answer to our questions. We visited the National Youth Council of Azerbaijan and a range of youth organizations, both in the capital Baku and in Ganja, Azerbaijan's second biggest city. After a week of discussions and exchange of experiences and ideas with government officials, youth workers and youth, a common impression among the participants was that youth work in Azerbaijan is an ambitious project, closely connected to the country's strive towards better education and internationalization. Many youth organisations work to provide young university students with training in leadership skills and are considered as a stepping stone towards a successful work life. Their aim is to raise awareness, about possibilities rather than problems. While the European Union's Youth in Action Programme and many national Youth policies in the member states of the European Union prioritize youth with fewer opportunities, inclusion seem to receive less attention in Azerbaijan. The perceived spirit of leadership is reflected by the national youth policy which puts emphasize on the support of young talents. Support is available for Azerbaijan's active youth but it is still difficult to activate those in disadvantaged positions, as for example young women in rural areas. Youth work is a part of public life in Azerbaijan, an area to which women only slowly but surely gain access. Azerbaijan has the youngest population in Eastern European and the Caucasus and the presence of young men and women challenges old structures. The Peace Institute's partner organizations in Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan National Committee of the Helsinki Citizen´s Assembly and Yuva Humanitarian Centre work to empower more young women and to break the public/private divide.

The visit to Azerbaijan has left me with beautiful memories of a vibrant capital by the Caspian Sea, historical Ganja and impressive young adults with Europe in their hearts. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is often described as an obstacle for development and Europeanization. During the visit we experienced a young generation tired of conflict. Participation in the Youth in Action Programme means to engage in intercultural dialogue. Young people are equipped with new approaches to conflict resolution who have the power to realize the European project - sustainable peace.

Sarah Stephan