Americans for Artsakh Brings Negotiation and Government PR Skills to Artsakh
Americans for Artsakh recently completed its third in a series of ongoing training projects for Artsakh government officials. With each course increasing in depth and complexity, August's project focused on two areas of prime importance to the nascent state in this crucial period of its development: negotiations and government public relations. The course was conducted at the Artsakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stepanakert, and class members included twelve staff members from the Ministry, two from the Office of the President, two from the National Assembly, and two from the Artsakh Information Office. It was funded by the Armenian General Benevolent Union, and special assistance was provided by Mr. Karen Kostandyan, Second Secretary of Multilateral Cooperation at the Ministry and AFA's Artsakh Coordinator.
The instructor for the first portion of the course, titled "Negotiations: Basic Concepts and Tactics," was AFA Executive Director Sarah Ludwig. Ms. Ludwig holds a certificate in conducting capacity building programs in post-conflict regions from the US Institute of Peace. She used USIP materials as a basis for the syllabus. With materials compiled specifically to complement the PR section of the course, the students were first introduced to basic concepts used in international negotiations, then given exercises that used the concepts in hypothetical conflict scenarios. As the materials were developed externally, class exercises included activities with such focus areas as tribal relations in Afghanistan, civic participation in Romania, media freedom in Vietnam, and six-party talks on North Korea. Students were given background material in advance of the course in order to familiarize themselves with these places beforehand.
Several of the class members acknowledged that such foreign subjects were at first difficult to conceptualize, and that having had limited exposure to the geographical areas and political situations presented in the material provided a greater challenge than simply learning the theories given. However, as the course progressed, students became increasingly able to abstract from the classroom scenarios and find parallels between the underlying ideas in the activities to their own situation. In the final activity — an examination of six-party talks on North Korea — students were split into groups and each asked to present an analysis of one of the parties involved, after which they had question and answer sessions with the group as a whole. "The class activities were very useful and interesting," commented Armen Sargsyan, Third Secretary of Bilateral Relations at the Ministry. "They helped us learn about a lot of new, different places." Marina Harutyunyan, Attache at the Ministry's Information Department, agreed: "We very much need these courses for our future work. We need to be prepared to face our counterparts [from other countries]...the classes were extremely helpful in this."
Each day of the course, the negotiations section was followed by lectures and exercises on developing the government's relationships with external audiences. Dr. Paul Dezendorf, a faculty member at Western Carolina University in North Carolina, led the series of workshops. His course was based on the classes he offers in the US, and will offer during his Fulbright Scholar appointment at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow this fall. Dr. Dezendorf's opening lectures aided students in understanding the eight categories of communications that governments typically use in building relationships with their audiences, such as press relations and encouraging compliance with laws. He focused on several areas that are particularly relevant to the Artsakh situation: dealing with the media, creating a "brand" image for the country and increasing tourism prospects, and public diplomacy. In each of these sections, students were asked to complete and share with one another worksheets that called for descriptions of a range of features related to life in Artsakh that require improvement. These areas included creating and refining media sources, expanding upon the government's ability to relate to the media, enlarging potential tourist mechanisms, and the utilization of social networking. At the completion of the course, several of the students formed a working group with Dr. Dezendorf and agreed upon a series of measures to be undertaken by the time of the next course in the spring. Dr. Dezendorf has taken an active interest in Artsakh and plans to correspond regularly with the group in order to aid them in the fulfillment of their goals.
In addition, Dr. Dezendorf met with the Office of Tourism to discuss collaborative research for the Office in developing "brand identity" for Artsakh. His assistance will be based on successful models for marketing countries following crises, such as Slovenia. Ensuing projects will focus on improving the understanding of how existing and potential audiences view Artsakh, and converting that understanding into marketing ideas for the Office. Dr. Dezendorf observed that Artsakh faces problems not unlike those faced by many other areas of the world. However, as he commented during his visit, "Artsakh has a great deal of natural beauty, an energetic population, and a focused and distinctive culture. These are substantial assets that will be of great benefit in marketing the country."
AFA plans to continue with its government training courses on a regular basis, and also offer courses in law, public administration, management, and other fields.
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