History, Memory and Identity

In our work on History, Memory and Identity in the Georgian-Abkhaz-South-Ossetian conflict, participants from different age-groups in all three regions engage in a dialogue on history. We strive to support our partners in overcoming the “silence on history” that characterises many interactions across conflict lines and acknowledge the grievances caused by violence and injustice on all sides. Thus, we contribute to the goal of building sustainable, trustful relationships between civil society actors on all sides, while bolstering sustainability in the entire peacebuilding system.

In these dialogue processes, participants exchange stories about their own history in a strictly biographical mode, listening to different voices and sharing various experiences. Voicing grievances and appreciating the other sides’ losses can initiate a step towards forgiveness.

Individual Projects

Through History Dialogue to Future Cooperation, 2015-2017
Stories Matter: Intergenerational Abkhaz Dialogue, 2014
From Trialogue to Dialogue, 2012-2014

Timeframe

2012-2017

An Inspiration: The Work of Dan Bar-On

Reconciliation in Practice >

Conflict Setting

The conflicts between Georgia and Abkhazia and Georgia and South-Ossetia date back to pre-Soviet times and erupted into various wars in the early 1990s and again in 2008. Historical narratives played a critical role in the escalation of violence, as they were used to back up various territorial claims. In the aftermath of the wars, individual memories and official victim- and hero-narratives have become key to commemorating the war on all sides. Due to these narratives, young generations often end up feeling responsible for former generations’ deeds or obliged to live up to heroic standards.

Atrocities and injustices, committed by all sides before and during the wars, are hardly ever addressed in current peacebuilding activities in the region. Nevertheless, they create an enormous obstacle to open-hearted and constructive encounters when left unaddressed. Often, the fear of opening old wounds or admitting failures committed by one’s own side lead to such neglect. The “silence on history” thus becomes a huge obstacle to the peacebuilding system as a whole.

Aims & Approach

History, memory and identity have been long-standing aspects of our work in various regions. We believe that they are the basis for future cooperation and peaceful cohabitation between societies. They can be used to further escalate a conflict, or to build peaceful relationships. Our aim is to encourage and support civil society actors in choosing and sharing stories that enhance peaceful and tolerant interactions with neighbours and former enemies. These stories should not be one-sided, either portraying only positive experiences or recounting violent experiences of living together. They need to combine a balance of different aspects which connect different facets of living together in an authentic way.

In our work on history, memory and identity we abide by three core principles:

  • Individual narratives are considered as central, collective narratives as background information. This strictly individual approach helps overcome stereotypes and generalised narratives. We strive to find and discuss stories that enhance the understanding of individual situations and decisions. In personal contact and with individual narratives, concepts of “the enemy” can be dissolved, creating increased understanding for individual needs and motivations.
  • Victim and hero narratives are two sides of the same medal. Each side’s victim narrative usually leaves “white stains” on the opposite side’s hero narrative. When exchanging stories across conflict lines, we strive to make people and topics heard that are otherwise ignored or left out in official discourse. In doing so, we also look for multi-layered and complex stories to counterbalance widespread, over-simplified official narratives.
  • Mono-communal intergenerational dialogue as a contribution to critical self-reflection. Cooperation and critical debate between younger and older participants on each side are key. While older participants can contribute their personal experience, younger generations can challenge dominant narratives and share their views on historical events. In a productive debate, both generations can gain new insights. This working mode prepares all sides to engage in a discussion of biographical and historical issues across the conflict divides.

Outcomes

The work on History, Memory and Identity in the Berghof Caucasus Program has generated various outcomes since 2012. In Abkhazia the Biographical Salon – a dialogue space, dedicated to topics of history and memory has opened in summer 2015. In regular evening events, war memories of various actors and war witnesses are controversially discussed.

By taking part in our process, the young teams heightened their awareness and acquired a new understanding of the links between historical and biographical knowledge and opportunities for reconciliation. In all three communities, older and younger participants have engaged in intergenerational, self-critical dialogue. Dominant narratives were challenged and formerly unheard voices were listened to and discussed.

In the Trialogue setting, views on historical and biographical narratives were exchanged and appreciation of the other sides’ perspectives articulated. An exhibition of historical narratives and the project in the engaged communities is raising awareness and creating public interest in possibilities of commemorating the war in a way that fosters peaceful cohabitation in the future. Key civil society actors in the field of war memory from all three regions have linked up and engaged in sustainable exchange. An exhibition of historical narratives and the project in the engaged communities is raising awareness and creating public interest in possibilities of commemorating the war in a way that fosters peaceful cohabitation in the future.

Partners

Our most important partners are:

  • World Without Violence NGO, Sukhum/i
  • Movement of Abkhaz Mothers for Peace and Development
  • Agency for Social & Economic & Cultural Development, Tskhinval/i
  • South Ossetia Union of Ex-combatants, Tskhinval/i
  • Memory, Tskhinval/i
  • International Center on Conflict and Negotiation, Tbilisi
  • Regional Development Support Society, Tbilisi
  • Peace Development Center, Tblisi
  • Young Facilitators Group – Abkhaz Section
  • Young Facilitators Group – Georgian Section
  • Young Facilitators Group – South Ossetian Section
  • PAX (formerly IKV Pax Christi), Utrecht

Funders

Our most important funders are:

  • Confidence Building Early Response Mechanism (COBERM). COBERM is funded by the European Union and administered by the United Nations Development Programme.
  • German Foreign Office

The Biographical Salon – meeting space and evening event

In 2015 the Biographical Salon was opened in Sukhum/i. This meeting space is centered around historical memory and the living histories of all Abkhaz. In regular evening events war memories of various actors are discussed controversially. During each event, a war witness is guest in the salon and reports about his or her experiences. The event is facilitated by a member of the Young Facilitators Group. Discussions at the salon events preferably focus on actors and aspects that are not mentioned in history textbooks and rarely referred to in official war memory. news>

During the discussions, there is room for questions and critical reflection. In the future, such salon events are planned also for South Ossetia and Georgia.

Latest Biographical Salon with high level guests >

Deeper Exchange - guests from Georgia in Biographical Salon >

Trialogue on History in Erevan, Armenia

An important feature of our work is the Trialogue format. During these meetings, key actors of war memorialization from South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia meet in Yerevan, Armenia. Young people and witnesses of the war take part in our meeting, together, to discuss memories of the wars from all three regions and Nagorny Karabakh. The individual approach encourages mutual openness just as a sensitive and trustful relationship between the participants. In spite of the difficult topics, all participants relate to each other in a very thoughtful and sensitive way. The discussions showed that on all three sides there is readiness to listen, to understand and to acknowledge painful issues. As part of the project „Through History Dialogue to Future Cooperation“ two Trialogue events take place every year.

The first Trialogue took place from April 12th to 15th 2014. Results were recorded in the Berghof Dialogue Diary.

Workshops and Discussion Rounds on History & Memory

Together with our partner organizations in Georgia and Abkhazia we conduct regular discussion rounds and workshops on war memory. As part of our project „Through History Dialogue to Future Cooperation“ life stories and war memories are shared in intergenerational groups. In this work we deliberately focus on rural and border regions as well as IDP settlements. It is our goal to make people and stories from all regions heard, who are rarely heard in official discourses. In Intergenerational Dialogue, older and younger people interact. Older participants add their experiences, younger participants challenge dominant narratives and share their views. To deepen and broaden the discussions, the Berghof team regularly conducts intergenerational one-day workshops, opening spaces for deeper discussion.

This local dialogue work originated in the Project „Stories matter“: between February and July 2014 over 20 discussion rounds took place. They were facilitated by our young teams in cooperation with experienced trainers. The “Movement of Abkhaz Mothers for Peace and Social Justice” organized these events. Family members of missing and fallen soldiers are a special target group. To support them in their work of mourning and dealing with trauma was a central goal of this project.

“Stories Matter” Interview Trainings in Sukhum/i and Tkvarchal

In order to support the local discussion rounds and to gain new interviews, we conducted two workshops at the end of March 2014 with teachers and young people, whom we wanted to engage in our process of collecting and discussing life stories.

For the first time, we worked also outside the Abkhaz Capital Sukhum/i – in Tkvarchal. We were impressed by how openly and knowledgeablely the participants covered all areas of Abkhaz history and explored new ways of remembering.

“Their Stories” Workshops

23-26 May 2013, Sukhum/i, Abkhazia, for Abkhaz participants
19-22 September 2013, Tbilisi, Georgia, for Georgian participants
25-28 October 2013, Sukhum/i, Abkhazia, for South Ossetian participants

During these workshops, participants from different age-groups discussed interview segments and shared and examined stories across conflict lines. Some of the stories reached back to the beginnings of violence in the late 1980s, others dealt with refugees’ experiences in 2008. Central questions were: how is war remembered in our and in “the other” society? How do we deal with responsibility? Which stories would we like to share across the conflict line in order to create a peaceful future?

The workshops were facilitated by Andrea Zemskov-Züge and Oliver Wolleh co-facilitated in part by Cinta Depondt.

“Our Stories” Workshops

28 February - 3 March 2013, Sukhum/i, Abkhazia, for Abkhaz participants
7-10 March 2013, Tbilisi, Georgia, for Georgian participants
18-21 April 2013, Vladikavkaz, Russia, for South Ossetian participants

During these workshops, participants of different age-groups engaged in biographical work. In “history boxes”, they collected items and stories central to their own biographies and shared their experiences with each other. On walks, they led each other to places of importance for their lives. The consequences of conflict, violence, displacement and loss, as well as peace activism in individuals’ lives were discussed and links between collective and individual history were reflected.

The workshops were facilitated by Andrea Zemskov-Züge and Oliver Wolleh and co-facilitated in part by Cinta Depondt.

“Remembering for Trialogue”

Seminar for Young Facilitators from South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia
Vanadzor, Armenia, 14-18 November 2012

In this seminar, young facilitators were introduced to methods and theories of biographical work in conflict history. They were trained to record biographical narrative interviews and learned about the impact of official and individual memory on conflict escalation, de-escalation and reconciliation. During storytelling sessions, they shared their own and their families’ memories of conflict and of peaceful cohabitation.

The seminar was facilitated by Andrea Zemskov-Züge, Oliver Wolleh and Cinta Depondt.

  • History Dialogue between Georgians and Abkhaz: How Can Working with the Past Pave New Ways?” In: Politorbis No.60-2-2015, pp.23-29.
  • Dealing with the Past in the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict. The Power of Narratives, Spaces and Rituals.” In: Austin, B. & Fischer, M. (Eds.): Transforming War-Related Identities. Individual and Social Approaches to Healing and Dealing with the Past. 2016. Berghof Handbook Dialogue Series No. 11, pp. 51-58.
  • Andrea Zemskov-Zuege: Erinnerung, Geschichtsbilder und zivile Konfliktbearbeitung – Ein Erfahrungsbericht zur Anwendung theoretischer Konzepte in der friedenspädagogischen Praxis. In: Sicherheit und Frieden, 3/2012, 164-170.
  • Andrea Zemskov-Zuege: Helden um jeden Preis. Leningrader Kriegsgeschichte(n). In: Osteuropa, 8-9/2011, 135-153.
  • Andrea Zemskov-Zuege: Narrating the Siege of Leningrad. Official and Unofficial Practices in the Memorialization of the 'Great Patriotic War'. In: Alf Lüdtke & Sebastian Jobs: Unsettling History, Archiving and Narrating in Historiography. Frankfurt/New York, 2010.