Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
“I didn’t want to die without understanding why I’ve lived here. I had to find the “seed of peace” within myself, that I would have cultivated everywhere” (Tiziano Terzani, “The End is My Beginning”)
Having been born and raised in the small town of Gori, just 20 km from the region of Tskhinvali, or Samachablo, as Georgian people used to call South Ossetia at that time, my early childhood was affected by armed confrontations between ethnic Georgians and ethnic Ossetians on the one hand and Georgian paramilitary groups and Russian soldiers on the other. In the early 90’s, when war broke out, I was hospitalized due to a car accident; that same hospital was providing medical assistance to soldiers as well as civilians affected by the destabilization created in the town. One day, while the hospital was under the siege because an injured paramilitary group member was hospitalized. I can remember my mom’s frightened face and her desire to keep me under cover, in case they started shooting at the hospital. I’ve tried to delete these images from my mind. I also wanted to erase the images of when my ethnic Ossetian classmates were forced to leave class, fleeing towards Tskhinvali. That was when nationalistic politics started to surface and we, as children, were influenced by them, as they managed to implant in our minds that all Ossetians and Abkhaz were terrible and ungrateful people who wanted to take our land. We were the victims of a “single narrative”.
Ironically, to conclude my master’s degree, I’ve had to revisit these memories that I have for so long tried to repress. I decided to conduct field research on a topic related to the South Ossetian conflict. Contact with interviewees has made these memories come rushing back, the emotionality of which allowed me to start my healing process and open myself up to other narratives, to acknowledge the truth and to understand the feelings of those on the “other” side.
Just after concluding my research, I realized how grateful I was for the conflict. It enabled me to learn so much and to grow. I realize the paradox that the biggest challenges that we encounter in our lives turn out to be the biggest gifts. And here I am, accepted into this fellowship program because of the knowledge and experience gained from this conflict that I so badly wanted to erase from my memory. As one of the leading and inspiring peace building practitioners John Paul Lederach states: “Social conflict is a natural, common experience present in all relationships and cultures.” Conflicts bring about change. Without conflict there cannot be peace, which I believe is also a relational phenomenon.
Years ago, I was inspired by one Italian war and peace journalist, photographer and writer Tiziano Terzani, who devoted half of his life to South-East Asia, particularly to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and China, serving as a war reporter for the famous German newspaper, Der Spiegel. When I first read his latest book “The End is My Beginning”, I dwelled on how wonderful it would have been to discover this region and all of its dimensions.
That is why I live here now in this wonderland, in the land of smiles and the mysteries of Buddha. I am learning more about conflicts and developing my “seed of peace”, driven by “the feeling that the universe is extraordinary, that nothing ever happens to us accidentally and that life is a constant discovery”. (Terzani, “Another round of tournament”)
Sharing this amazing experience with a group of 24 Peace Fellows representing 17 different countries is very inspiring, since we learn so much from each other’s respective knowledge, experiences and wisdom. At the same time, it can also be very challenging. This is especially the case right now, when the so-called “honeymoon” period, the first exciting weeks of living here, come to a close, and we all start having our “well-defined” positions or understanding on sensitive issues, and coping with the challenge to see “other truths” or being ready to seek out “different narratives”. “Diversity is our strength” as Michelle, one of our fellows, pointed out. Yes, diversity is indeed a magnificent gift imparted to humanity. Each human being brings unique skills, experiences, and personalities to the table. By respecting and accepting this “uniqueness”, we embrace diversity.
An amazing simile was made in the inspirational movie “Le Concert”, where the conductor of the Bolshoy Theater explains the essence of an orchestra: “An orchestra is like the world, where each person comes with her/his unique instrument, unique talent, to play together and to reach harmony.” And how can musicians reach this harmony? By listening to each other, by being mindful of each note they play in concordance with the other musicians.
#Orcherstra / Beauty of Diversity / Harmony/ Oil Paint
For me, this experience is a wonderful reminder to be mindful, to play with the other musicians who came here with their own unique talent, unique instrument, to reach harmony and to see how we all together can embrace diversity and be a role model for peace-builders by developing the “Seed of Peace” within ourselves and cultivating it everywhere we go.
Inner peace leads to outer peace.
“Avocado Seed” / Inner transformation /Oil Paint
Nino Lotishvili – Georgia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 22