From November, 5 to December 4, 2020, the Association Rondine Cittadella della Pace implemented the project “Preserving Cultural Heritage”. Preserving Cultural Heritage brought together 20 experts in cultural heritage and related professions under the age of 45 from conflict-affected communities in the South Caucasus to train them in the basics of cultural heritage conservation, including during times of conflict and as a part of the conflict management process.
Preserving Cultural Heritage aimed at supporting a peaceful settlement of the conflict by bringing together in a virtual space (due to COVID-19 travel restrictions) young professionals from across the divide to equip them with basic academic and technical skills to intervene effectively to protect cultural heritage during conflicts and to integrate the protection of cultural heritage into the conflict management and recovery processes. In addition, joint activities have laid the foundation for trust and co-operation between divided communities.
Rondine has been active in the Caucasus region since its founding. Parallel to Rondine’s core programs, where students who would be “enemies” in their home countries live together and learn about conflict transformation, the organization has developed several initiatives of second track diplomacy, aimed at involving a more diverse group of citizens in the reconciliation process, and also as a support to the institutional, official process. South Caucasus has always been central to this work, and, led by Rondine students, the organization has promoted several initiatives in the area, especially in the aftermath of tensions and in moments of renewed crisis (which turned out to be the case for Preserving Cultural Heritage as well).
The involvement of Rondine students and alumni at every stage of the process was crucial: they actively participated in the drafting stage of the project, and during the training, they acted as facilitators. This is the value of Rondine and its unique role when dealing with divided communities: Rondine students have the first-hand experience of reconciliation and understanding that has led them to internalize the Rondine Method. They have learned how to work with relationships, which is the foundation for establishing a dialogue to start a reconciliation process.
Moreover, cultural heritage is a topic generally discussed at the negotiation level, given the relevance it has for communities and the history and memory of the people. Through this project, we hope to support policymakers and to contribute from the grassroots level, involving experts with not only technical skills but also willing to seek collaboration with the other side and to include the general public. Cultural heritage is linked with individual identity but also belongs to all of humanity.
The digital edition of Preserving Cultural Heritage was meant to be a one-week in-person session at Rondine, a neutral place in Italy. However, like the rest of the world, it has had to negotiate the global pandemic crisis. In the spirit of the Rondine Method, we have transformed the crisis into an opportunity and created a longer online course. Participants were culture sector professionals and had undergone a competitive selection process that took into account their ability to build a dialogue with others, partly from the other side of the divide, in the South Caucasus. While reshaping the program, it obtained an overwhelming number of registrations for the digital edition and designed high-quality training aimed to provide tangible professional tools and best practices advice. They wanted to bring their new knowledge back to their communities, initiating the processes of dialogue.
All selected participants attended the online training sessions from the South Caucasus. On the one hand, they could not benefit from the key element of the Rondine Method, which is human interaction. On the other hand, the digital form demonstrated their motivation and determination to engage in technical activities to acquire professional skills on cultural heritage. Furthermore, for most participants, distance learning was a first opportunity to connect with other people from the South Caucasus.
Rondine Method of conflict transformation was a central part of the training, thanks to the lectures and activities performed by Rondine’s team and Rondine’s World House students. This experience was successful and increased their eagerness to further develop contacts with each other. Many participants affirmed the intention to seek future opportunities to meet personally.
As a result, despite the coronavirus challenges, the project has yielded significant results, not only in terms of professional development but also as a way of planting the seeds of willingness to build dialogue among the participants in conflict areas.
The project was supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, in collaboration with: Red Cross (Tuscany Committee); University of Florence; RASHID International (Research, Assessment and Safeguarding of the Heritage of Iraq in Danger, UK); EAMENA (Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa, by the School of Archaeology, Oxford University, UK); CAMNES (Center for Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Studies in Florence, Italy); IIMAS (International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies in Los Angeles, the USA); Association MUS.E (Florence); the UNESCO Office of the Municipality of Florence.
The project was documented through a video reportage that will be released soon. Watch the preview to discover the numbers and the objectives of the project!