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.
Through History Dialogue to Future Cooperation, 2015-2017
Stories Matter: Intergenerational Abkhaz Dialogue, 2014
From Trialogue to Dialogue, 2012-2014
Reconciliation in Practice >
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.
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:
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.
Our most important partners are:
Our most important funders are:
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.
"Cross point" is our weekly radio program, which we broadcast in cooperation with Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty for all of Georgia. In each program, one or two excerpts of our biographical interviews are recorded and then discussed by two guests. For the first time in autumn 2017, discussion guests from Abkhazia were also put on the program via Radio-bridge. Thus, "Cross point" not only provides a moment of inner reflection but transforms into a place of dialogue across the lines of conflict.
The radio programs are available on the Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty website >
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.