This study is concerned with societal or collective trauma, the primary characteristic of which is the destruction of the societal construct that makes us feel safe. This relates not only to physical safety, but also to the social and political and cultural systems that we belong in and through which we make sense of the world.
Through the shaping of behaviour, trauma can change not only our own lives, but that of whole generations, altering the course of a society’s history. Our unresolved traumas are passed down through family and collective narratives and emotions from generation to generation, becoming a public legacy and have the tendency to come back to the fore even many years later, bringing us and our societies back into the state they were in when they experienced the initial trauma. This can be used to escalate conflict, which many of the interviewees for this study believe is exactly what happened when military operations began in the Karabakh context in autumn 2020, making old tragedies, even those that happened a century ago, feel like they happened only yesterday.
An understanding of what drives people in societies that have experienced traumatic events – their anxieties, fears, individual needs and how these interact or conflict with societal needs when traumatising factors are present – is important for conflict analysis and thus for conflict transformation. Such an approach can help explain societal trends, or why certain unexpected events take place, as well as open up new perspectives on working with the legacy of conflict.
Working with societal trauma has great potential and need for joint endeavour and cooperation between the conflicting parties. Developing approaches to working with societal trauma could serve as a point of mutual interest for dialogue, the exchange of information and experience, thus deepening analysis. We hope that this paper can be the start of such a process.
This publication is part of the ‘Healing Collective Trauma’ initiative implemented by Indie Peace and funded by the European Union, Foreign Policy Instruments. The views expressed in the publication are the sole responsibility of Indie Peace and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union. In this paper we use neutral spelling and place names where practical, with the exception of direct quotes which use the phrasing of the speaker in question.