Civil society peacebuilding and conflict transformation approaches constitute the forte of Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF) and one of the methodological pillars upon which a significant portion of its work is based. With the support of its donors, such as USAID, the EU, Sida, and others, and relying on its in-house and outside expertise, EPF has developed a proprietary methodology to enhance the skills of civil society members, particularly youth, in conflict transformation and critical thinking. More than 800 participants from Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh have attended these schools since 2012 and received certificates. When appropriate, EPF, in cooperation with partners from Georgia and Azerbaijan, conducts CTS for mixed groups of young Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Georgians.

The CTS approach is based on citizen peacebuilding: it paves the way for civil society actors from different sides of the conflict to build trust using critical thinking skills and accumulating experience via joint undertakings. EPF runs CTS for a diverse range of participants, from civil society representatives, media, youth, and international organizations’ personnel to state employees, both Armenia-based as well as international. The School offers tailored foci based on the specific needs of the applicants. For instance, civil society and media professionals may require a focus on critical thinking, which is indispensable in the current era of so-called ‘post-truth.’ International personnel may seek knowledge and skills in conflict sensitivity and emergency planning, necessitating an understanding of conflict dynamics and their implications for development work. Individuals involved in facilitating dialogues with the ‘other side’ may require training in facilitation skills.

The CTS does not adhere to the traditional educational institution model; instead, it functions as a coherent, continuous, and methodologically grounded process for peacebuilding learning and exchange. It is built on various approaches of peace-building and CT work, including the comprehensive peace approach, capitalizing on the work of such classics as John-Paul Lederach, Johan Galtung, the Harvard Negotiations School, etc. It is informed also by the work of several British and European NGOs of similar values and methods, such as International Alert, Conciliation Resources, the Berghof Foundation, and others.  

EPF views the CTS as a sustainable platform to support the new generation of civil society peacebuilders. The School operates as an intensive, interactive workshop typically spanning three days and accommodating around 30 participants. Its success in Armenia is demonstrated by the fact that after every announcement for application to the School EPF receives 150-200 applications, from which participants are selected.

The CTS methodology is based on an assumption that critical thinking and rationality are the basis for a dialogue, and that the best mutually beneficial solution to the conflict will come when both sides accept that the truth is born from a constructive dialogue between the two, and that it is not fully owned by either of them. The participants to the CTS develop critical thinking skills and competencies, engaging heavily in text analysis, data verification, discerning fake news and disinformation, deconstructing historical myths, and dismantling propaganda messages. They learn to counter malign influences, develop joint action plans and implement them outside the scope of the School. Using its grant-making wing, EPF provides participants with an opportunity to utilize the skills they acquired via joint undertakings after the School, thus building also their project planning, design, and implementing skills, as a confidence-building tool and a part of critical thinking application to action.

In today’s world working in conflict and for its transformation becomes a skill which is useful to everybody rather than only to those who are directly engaged in dialogue and negotiations with the ‘other side’ of a large-scale violent conflict. While EPF does not specifically train on other types of CT, such as interpersonal or organizational, its other capacity building trainings for various beneficiaries contain modules on these issues and can address them as well. EPF’s success in helping CSOs, medias and other actors in strategic planning and organizational development, is based on the understanding that correct and constructive orientation and capacity to act in conflict situations so that there is a positive impact is a sine qua none for any strategic endeavor and its protagonists, whom we call The Strategic Who. It is EPF’s position that any development strategy—and particularly in the regions where we work—benefits from adopting a CT approach and using CT skills.

EPF learns CT and peacebuilding alongside with its beneficiaries. We have developed large reading and viewing lists, as well as series of online presentations, which may help deeper engage in some of the aspects of peace and conflict, such as the language of peace and conflict, etc. EPF’s peace work is also intrinsically linked to its other areas of work. Its link with civil society development was mentioned above. Its link and relationship with Human Rights is visible from the fact that we expressly address the CT approaches in the methods of our Human Rights work, as well as periodically renewing the mutual understanding of the actors who work on peace and those who work on Human Rights, on their relationships, complementarity and tensions.

EPF developed and published the first edition of its Critical Thinking Handbook in 2018 (second print run 2021), the only handbook that exists in Armenian on critical thinking. EPF plans to expand this edition and develop the second volume, as well as develop a handbook for CTS trainers/facilitators. EPF has worked, over the years, on developing a cadre of trainers who support its CT approach and contribute to its strategy. EPF has several broadcasts within its Jam Session series addressing various aspects of CT. EPF works on transforming the conflict both between large societal groups as well as within the societies; as a part of its work inside the Republic of Armenia, EPF with its partners have registered policy advocacy successes, addressing Mediation and Arbitration Laws adopted in 2023. EPF’s plans for 2024 and beyond include also addressing the complex interrelationship between Human Rights and Conflict Transformation.

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