1 Jun 2010
We often tend to overlook the importance of this word — dialogue. In day-to-day life, we actually use it all the time when we speak to our parents, siblings, friends, neighbors or colleagues at work.
While doing research on essence and basis of a dialogue I also came across an interesting article that was exploring importance of dialogue in schools among student and teacher interaction.
The author of the article, a teacher once himself, was assessing his previous experience as a teacher and the way he interacted with his students; it was purely on a written basis, with very little dialogue. “I saw clearly how much information I had lacked […] I had known very little, for example, about my students’ own perceptions of their writing and about their strategies and processes for writing […] in my comments […] I had been engaged in a one-sided conversation […] carrying on a monologue when dialogue was called for.”
Now, let us move from the “classroom” context into a more complicated “post- conflict” context, where instead of students, we have civilians, from two conflicting sides, with little or almost no dialogue. With such a situation persisting, it is unlikely for any peaceful prospects for both sides.
To me, this is how it has been in case with Armenia and Azerbaijan, the two countries that know very little of one another and whose people are engaged in very little dialogue. But things are changing. Through regional meetings among youth, civil society and human rights activists, small steps are taken. A sign of possible positive outcome for the future, these meetings are perhaps the only way to explore the “other” side since there are no other means of communication apart from the virtual world.
When I was first invited to participate at one of these regional meetings, I had zero expectations. But with me, low or no expectations is a way to go; that way I always get more. At that particular event, I was there as a trainer to talk about new social media and its impact on dialogue between the two countries. I was actually presenting together with a British journalist, Onnik Krikorian of part Armenian descent and a blogger, and that was how we virtually met — through our blogs.
The event was taking place in Georgia, in a small town, just few hours from Tbilisi. Participants were young people from all three countries representing different organizations, universities and age groups. Seeing how these young people interacted among each other, talked to each other and laughed together made me realize that we need more of this. And it was the final team project at the end of our third day that made me realize that there is so much potential in this youth and that with a little help they can change their future. Through communication, sharing, perhaps even shouting and crying — by simply starting up a dialogue, change is possible.
The more I got involved, the more I saw of such regional meetings. Among these were Model Caucasus Parliament, CRISP, DOTCOM and Imagine Center’s Dialogues. Even American Councils together with the US Embassies of all three countries organized an alumni-gathering event for graduates of FLEX, a one-year exchange program in the US to learn and discuss future joint projects among alumni in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.
Each of these meetings/trainings/conferences have different agendas — education, youth development, civil society development, political participation and activism, but yet, they all are one in their purpose and that is creating room for dialogue.
Of course, one cannot guarantee an absolutely smooth transition. In cases like these, there is always a possibility that things might go wrong, that someone might say something the other side might not like. The chances are always high for an argument, confrontation or anger explosion, and that is when experienced facilitators come into play.
Personally, I have had a problem only once, and that was ironically with the team from Azerbaijan. To me, this was caused as a result of participants’ young age and little exposure as well as experience for these types of events. But these are small things when compared to a greater picture, and that is breaking deeply embedded stereotypes through dialogue. And so, I want to end this post with a Somalian proverb — “To agree to have dialogue is the beginning of a peaceful resolution.” Let us agree on having a dialogue first; the rest will slowly come.