Peace from the Opposing Side
Can peacemakers have a positive and enduring impact on conflict situations when they are from one side in a conflict and have to overcome deep-rooted distrust of who they are?
This is the issue addressed by Alexander Cromwell and Margarita Tadevosyan, who studied peacebuilding in two of the world’s most problematic areas of conflict: the Indian Subcontinent and the South Caucasus, respectively. While researchers have studied best practices in conflict resolution, Cromwell and Tadevosyan show how positionality (or a person’s identity/background and relationships with locals) affects this work.
Cromwell, an American, worked with groups of young people from Pakistan in peace education programs designed to foster peaceful relations among communities and nations. He had to overcome anti-American prejudice to win their trust and deal with his own misconceptions about Pakistanis. In this article he looks at how his close connections with these programs led to increased trust and understanding between him and these youth; he also describes to what extent his identity as an American constrained these interactions.
Tadevosyan worked with several peacebuilding groups addressing the Armenia-Azerbaijan, Georgia-South Ossetia, and Georgia-Abkhazia conflicts. As an Armenian, she faced particularly strong distrust from Azerbaijanis. But she also had to deal with her fellow Armenians assuming she supported their positions. In the Georgia-South Ossetia/Abkhazia disputes she represented someone with a similar perspective because of her connection to the de facto state of Nagorno Karabakh as an Armenian. She explains how her identity affected her interactions with each of these groups.
Taken together, their experiences illuminate three lessons for better conflict resolution that acknowledge how peacemakers’ identities can impact the effectiveness of their work, especially when they are seen as loyal to one side of the conflict.
For future reference: DOI: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1476750320960803
The photo shows Alex Cromwell with colleagues in Pakistan.