IHJR – Institutional Update

Following the institutional announcement made by the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) on 30 April 2016, EUROCLIO is proud to have been designated as custodian of the legacy of the IHJR. The Friends of EUROCLIO Foundation has agreed to keep all records and material of IHJR, including the publications of shared historical narratives.

Board Member of the Friends of EUROCLIO Foundation Erwin Capitain stated: “We are very happy to host the important legacy of the IHJR. That is what partnerships are for.”

The IHJR has been instrumental in bringing together historian from opposing perspectives in amongst others the Balkans, Israel/Palestine and Armenia/Turkey. These and other achievements of the institute are strongly aligned with EUROCLIO’s work on the key issue of Peace and Reconciliation. EUROCLIO’s role as custodian will allow IHJR’s founder Dr Timothy Ryback to explore further opportunities for renewing IHJR’s operations.

For more information on the IHJR legacy, please contact EUROCLIO Director Jonathan Even Zohar or Dr. Timothy Ryback.



Social Cohesion Project

The IHJR, in cooperation with EUROCLIO and the Anna Lindh Foundation, is developing Phase II of its Social Cohesion Project, a community-based approach for applying the IHJR reconciliation methodology of shared narratives. It is hoped that the “lessons learned” from this project can be expanded to other communities within The Netherlands, as well as within other European countries facing the challenges of increasingly diverse populations.

In 2015, the IHJR organized a series of lectures for its Netherlands-based pilot project  aimed at addressing societal tensions that are caused by historical conflicts such as 1915 or the relationship between Israel and Palestine. Building on its track record in historical reconciliation, the central goal of this project was to create greater understanding and contact between communities that differences. To achieve this ambitious objective, the IHJR held five informal dialogue meetings and public events on the historical conflicts between Armenia and turkey, and Israel and Palestine.


Informal Meeting in Leiden with Sinan and Ara

The IHJR’s approach of ‘shared narratives’ intends to counter historical myths  in communities that are divided by competing historical narratives, in order to foster mutual understanding and respect. The IHJR’s approach is relevant in nurturing social cohesion in places where existing conflicts have been ‘imported’. Increasingly, conflicts like Israel-Palestine, and Armenia-Turkey, directly affect on political dialogue in Dutch society and other European societies, whereby young people are often prone to identity-based misconceptions of the ‘Other’. The IHJR’s approach on the conflicts between Israel and Palestine, and Armenia and Turkey, serve as a methodology to start up challenging conversations between younger generations from antagonistic communities in Dutch society. The ultimate goal is to raise awareness of historical research by providing greater access to ongoing historical debates and facts within these communities and offer opportunities for dialogue and joint projects between them.

On the 28th of October, 2015 in Rotterdam, the IHJR organized the final event of the first phase of the pilot project at Galerie Kralingen on perspectives on 1915. Ara Halici, known for the acclaimed documentary ‘Bloedbroeders’, provided his personal experiences on making the documentary. Dr. Erol Emre and Dr. Tsolin Nalbantian, both scholars from Leiden University, provided lectures on their personal and academic experiences on memorialization and the Armenian Genocide. Subjects that they have engaged in both inside and outside the lecture room.

1st Public Meeting on 1915 (Armenia and Turkey)

In their lectures, Dr. Erol and Dr. Nalbantian pondered questions of why it is hard to talk about the Armenian Genocide. For a cathartic dealing with the past, people need to identify multiple layers of identity and thus put individuals at the center of discussion and step outside of a state-oriented way of thinking. These are all issues that young people from the Armenian and Turkish diasporas in the Netherlands come into contact with.

Other subject matters that were discussed concerned how young people can engage issues which are generally considered taboo. This relates to engaging difficult memories and how in doing so, one can gain empathy and understanding. By sharing some personal insights from their research and a recent study trip, the scholars showed how engaging with a taboo can lead to meaningful encounters.

In the subsequent Q&A and roundtable discussions, many fundamental issues related to media, education, young people and current obstacles surrounding Turkish-Armenian dialogue were explored. The outcomes of these dialogues shall be used in the design of future projects.

2nd Public Meeting on 1948 (Israel and Palestine)

On the 9th of December, the IHJR organized ‘Depolarizing the Past: Narratives of the 1948 War and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’ at Galerie Kralingen in Rotterdam. Dr. Alanna O’Malley gave a lecture on the role of the United Nations in 1948 of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dr. O’Malley is Assistant Professor in International Studies at Leiden University. Dr. Timothy Ryback provided a lecture on the multiperspectivity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dr. Ryback is the Deputy-Director of the Académie Diplomatique Internationale and co-founder of the IHJR.

These events on historically sensitive issues serve to connect young people from antagonistic communities with each other, as well as with young professionals and academics, in order to provide an opportunity for constructive dialogue, narrowing the gap between academia and society.

Staff Photo 1948 Event: Stanley Iwema, Dr. Ryback, Dr. O’Malley, Ties Schelfhout, Catherine Cissé-Van den Muijsenbergh

The IHJR wishes to thank its strategic partner, the Faculty of Humanities of Leiden University, and in particular Dr. Emre Erol, Dr. Tsolin Nalbantian and Dr. Alanna O’Malley for their involvement in ‘Depolarizing the Past’. Special thanks also goes out to Dr. Timothy Ryback, for sharing his insights into the IHJR’s groundbreaking work on a shared narrative in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We at the IHJR are grateful for the contribution of Ara Halici and Sinan Can. We also thank Francisco van Jole for facilitating the discussions at our public events. The IHJR also thanks Galerie Kralingen and the Advokatenkollektief Rotterdam (AKR). ‘Depolarizing the Past’ was made possible by the generous contributions of among others, the Van den Berch van Heemstede Stichting (vanberchvanheemstede.nl), Stichting Janivo, and the KNR Comissie PIN. The staff of the IHJR also recognizes the dedication, passion and efforts of many volunteers in making ‘Depolarizing the Past’ possible.

For more information on this project, please contact Dr. Timothy Ryback at director@ihjr.org

Stichting Janivo

The Georg Arnhold International Summer School 2015

Between June 22 and 27, IHJR’s Head of Finance and Programs Ties Schelfhout attended and presented at the Georg Arnhold International Summer School 2015 on Transitional Justice and Education at the Georg Eckert Institute (GEI). This was attended by fellow participants in the field from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. The theme of the summer school was on ways to engage children and youth through media and education, one of the top priorities for IHJR.

The IHJR would like to thank the GEI and the ICTJ for this unique learning opportunity that will surely contribute to new and improved ways of engaging young people on the important issue of history and peace-building.

Photo courtesy of Marek Kruszewski, Georg Eckert Institute.

Final remarks by our bloggers on storytelling and the law

The IHJR would like to give a warm thank you to our bloggers, Tiffany Wong and Ludo Aerts, for their fascinating insights on the relationship between history and the courtroom. Over the past several weeks, they have attended firsthand courtrooms in The Hague to inform us about the complexities of justice and history as it plays out in practice. In the future, we hope that we can continue to engage in stimulating discussions about reconciliation in current events. We hereby present their final blog post:



When we started on this blog a while back, we ended our first post with the desire to answer two intriguing questions: “What is the best way to render justice and reconciliation in societies torn apart by strife and atrocities? What are the things we might hope for through legal institutions, and where might we go from here?”

In the weeks after this first post we have attended multiple high profile international court proceedings at the Special Tribunal of Lebanon and International Criminal Court in the attempt to answer these questions from an extra-legal, interdisciplinary standpoint. We learned at the STL that there is always a contradiction and tension in how law both uses and creates history. We saw at the two ICC status conferences the way the very authority of these legal narratives are challenged by dissenting narratives, and how such contestation means that law can have an impact on a grassroots level that is potentially at odds with its goals of peace and reconciliation.

But if anything, the more facets of the law we have witnessed, the more ambiguous everything seems and the more questions we have. Even as we gained a better understanding of law’s limitations, we realized we had no roadmap as to how to account for the truth of the past, nor how to bring reconciliation – rather than certainty, truth and justice, we saw only contingency, unpredictability, and unknowability.



Perhaps the one thing we have learned is humbleness in face of what we do not know. Some might say that this is a cynical position to take, but we would say that is a hopeful one, full of possibilities. It is knowing that we do not know – and that we may never have the perfect answer as to how to deliver justice and the truth of the past – that gives us the desire to know, to figure it all out. It is this desire that is the impetus behind our desire to listen to narratives and tell stories in the first place.

And as we have seen, narratives matters. Storytelling matters, because it illuminates that magical, mysterious process in which we recall the way the narratives of the past are told, retold, forgotten, remembered and re(discovered) – (conveyed, perhaps, in the curious way even now the word for “history and “story” in French is the same: histoire).  Storytelling as offering the very potential for the past reveals the way that history was always meant to be a companionable process between the speaker and the listener, between performer and witness. In this way, the desire to storytell, our engagement with history because we do not know, has always been a dialogue.

A dialogue never needs to end. Even though we, Tiffany and Ludo, are now saying goodbye to the blog, this is hardly a final conclusion. The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation will be looking for other students to explore the relationship between narratives, justice and reconciliation. We hope that our investigation these past few weeks have been enough to encourage that own glimmer of doubt in you and chiseled at the fault lines of rock solid certainty.

Or, in the words of the great Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

We hope that you will all continue to listen, to question, and to carry on this dialogue.

Blog post 3: Laurent Gbagbo, Blé Goudé, Bosco Ntaganda, and contesting narratives at the International Criminal Court. By Tiffany Wong and Ludo Aerts


On April 21st and 22nd, two status conferences took place at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The first covered the joint case against Laurent Gbagbo, the former President of Ivory Coast and Charles Blé Goudé, his former Minister. The second status conference concerned Bosco Ntaganda from the Democratic Republic of Congo. While Bosco Ntanga politely attended his status conference on the 22nd, Laurent Gbagbo was noticeably absent from his own – in fact, as the judges noted with concern, Laurent Gbagbo had yet to attend a single session of his own trial and had consistently waived his rights to do so, preferring to stay in his room at the Scheveningen penitentiary. Charles Blé Goudé, Gbagbo’s supposed right hand man and counterpart to the joint trial, was smiling during the hearing. However, as he announced early in the session, he would regrettably need to leave midway, as he had to attend to an “important visitor”; the only reason for his presence at the status conference in the first place was to “welcome” one of the new presiding judges and to “pay his respects” to the court.

Even more perceptible than the difference in presence of the main actors was the number of people in attendance. The number of viewers at Bosco Ntanga’s status conference could be counted with two hands. Yet a day earlier, even in the absence of Gbagbo himself, the public gallery was crowded. A stream of supporters filed in continuously throughout the session. Some were in tennis shoes and t-shirts. Perhaps most notably, several wore orange t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Free Gbagbo.” One man wearing such a shirt waved at Charles Blé Goudé, who waved back through the glass panel amicably.


We talked in previous posts about how the law always attempts to create an authoritative, historical narrative. The creation of this narrative, of course, is not an easy process. As we have seen in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, historical narratives are frequently contested within the courtroom. What happens, though, when this challenge of judicial narratives transcends the boundaries of the courtroom? More concretely, what occurs when the law’s very authority and legitimacy as a narrator is contested?

This might help us understand why a large group of angry people showed up at Laurent Gbagbo’s status conference, whilst a day later at the status conference for Bosco Ntanga, the public gallery was only filled with a handful of interested students and interns. The law does not take place in a vacuum. We must look at the context that these respective ICC trials are taking place, and the narratives that surround and are represented by the figures on trial. How do they corroborate one another, and how do they contradict? What are the areas of tension that might make it more difficult for a judicial narrative to become accepted?


It is easy to comprehend why Bosco Ntanga is being tried by the ICC. He was a military leader in eastern Congo DR since the mid-1990s. His power stemmed from the violent repression of civilians and top-down support from his superiors. During the period 2002-03, when he was the deputy chief of general staff of the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo, his militia ravaged the eastern parts of the Congo, supposedly conscripting child soldiers and spreading terror among the local population. For this reason, he is accused of being responsible for 13 counts of war crimes and 5 counts of crimes against humanity.


At the end of Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goude’s status conference, both the prosecution and defense indicated their unease over setting the starting date for the trial for the year of 2014 due to the upcoming elections in Cote d’Ivoire. According to the analysis of a recent UN expert report, the elections were classified as “high security risk.” Not only would the safety of witnesses be potentially compromised due to heightened political sensitivity, there was also the lack of knowledge as to how courtroom narratives might impact the “polarized” Cote d’Ivoire society as a whole. “We do not know how testimony re-transmitted might be used in politics” the prosecutor stated in his address to the judges, “We cannot predict how the court might be used during the elections.”


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The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) under the auspices of EUROCLIO works with educational and public policy institutions to organize and sponsor historical discourse in pursuit of acknowledgement, and the resolution of historical disputes. Founded in 2004, the IHJR has conducted multi-year projects in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.