Building peace, chapter by chapter, in Tajikistan
By: Julie Titone
Tajikistan is a difficult laboratory for a nationwide experiment in peace education. It is isolated, extremely poor, divided by mountains into contentious regions, and struggling with the lingering effects of Soviet domination.
Yet it is there, in war-weary Central Asia, that university educators have worked to create a textbook and teachers’ guide for an introductory course in conflict and peacebuilding.
John Paul Lederach, Kroc Institute professor of international peacebuilding, has been a key player in the effort. He was invited to consult on the project in 2001 by Randa Slim, executive director of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue (IISD).
“I have been a fan of John Paul’s work for a long time,” said Slim. “He has a sense of true participatory approaches to peacebuilding. He also has the patience to work with the process and not try to impose from the outside.”
While the textbook will be published in the Tajik language, half of its chapters were written by Americans. Lederach invited contributions from three other Kroc faculty members: Scott Appleby, Larissa Fast and Martha Merritt. Their work was paired with chapters written by Tajik scholars. For example, Abdurahmon Mahmadov of the Physical Education Institute composed the opening chapter, “Conflict Study and Development of the Field in Russia and Central Asia,” which is paired with Merritt’s “Conflict Resolution: Its Roots and Offshoots.” Next, Sharofiddin Imomov of Tajik State University wrote an explanation of how conflicts are classified, followed by Lederach’s discussion of conflict analysis and mapping.
The project reached a milestone in October 2004. That’s when a final draft of the text was presented at a three-day conference in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. Fast and Merritt joined Lederach at the conference.
“Larissa and I brought differing perspectives,” said Merritt, an expert in Russia and other countries carved out of the former Soviet Union. “I’m a regional specialist. Larissa is a specialist in conflict resolution. It’s important that we went as a team.”
“It was a message of support from our institute,” Fast said of the trip.
The textbook project is part of a public peacebuilding initiative that IISD started in 2000. That institute’s involvement in Tajikistan dates back to 1993, two years after the country emerged from the 1990 collapse of the Soviet Union. Civil war followed between those who wanted a new regime, and those who wanted a return to communism.
“We launched the first joint American-Russian effort to work as unofficial third parties to bring together representatives of warring factions,” recalled Slim.
A peace agreement, mediated by the United Nations, was signed in 1997. The UN has described the subsequent peace in Tajikistan as one of the world’s most under-reported “good news” stories. Slim credits the success in part to the relative absence of hard-core Islamists in the Muslim-majority country, and to the presence of a moderate, tolerant culture.
“It’s a culture that respects very much the power of the word,” she said. “People quickly abandoned the idea of an Islamic state.”
The end of the Tajikistan conflict was momentous, agreed Lederach. “The inter-Tajik civil war is one of the very few examples of a conflict involving religious motivation where the war was ended through negotiations; elections were held; and the minority — in this case, the Islamic party opposition — lost, and then remained loyal and respected. Many Tajiks view this as a major accomplishment not paid attention to by the rest of the world.”
The new government’s education ministry commissioned the development of the university-level course in peace and conflict. The 24 participating Tajik professors work at eight universities, two of which are private. The scholars represent different disciplines, including philosophy, political science, English, history and ideology. Lederach and Slim led four training seminars for the Tajiks. For each seminar, two professors wrote papers that became the basis of textbook chapters.
“We were able to build a common vocabulary, perspective and approach that is now shared more widely among the universities,” Lederach said. “This seems a good model for encouraging collaboration, but also for getting a clearer picture of what is happening in a given country across various regions.”
Regional differences were still surfacing at October’s conference. For example, some participants questioned the practice of teahouse managers acting as informal peace negotiators — which is common in the Ferghana valley.
The textbook, which will have 20-plus chapters, is undergoing final revisions. It will be published in late 2005. Five thousand copies will be distributed free to the eight universities, all of which will eventually require students to take a course in peace and conflict resolution.
The training is definitely needed. In the past three years, a radical Islamic movement has emerged, Slim said. High unemployment, drug trafficking and corruption are creating conditions ripe for more conflict.
Financial supporters of the Tajikistan project include the Hewlett and Kettering foundations. The Kroc Institute’s participation shows its increasing involvement on the international scene, said Merritt, who is associate director of the institute. “John Paul has moved us a lot closer to hands-on peacebuilding.”
Contact Julie Titone at firstname.lastname@example.org