Elazar Barkan

Elazar Barkan is a Professor of International and Public Affairs and the Director of the Human Rights Concentration at Columbia’s Schoolof Internationaland Public Affairs. His research interests focus on human rights and on the role of history in contemporary society and politics and the response to gross historical crimes and injustices. His human rights work seeks to achieve conflict resolution and reconciliation by bringing scholars from two or more sides of a conflict together and employing historical methodology to create shared narratives across political divides.  A recent pertinent article: “Historians and Historical Reconciliation,” (AHR Forum) American Historical Review, (October 2009). Professor Barkan’s other current research interests include refugee repatriation, comparative analysis of historical commissions, shared sacred sites, and the question of human rights impact, specifically with regard to redress and transitional justice. His recent books include No Return, No Refuge: Rites and Rights in Minority Repatriation (with Howard Adelman, Columbia University Press 2011); The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices (2000); and Taking Wrongs Seriously: Apologies and Reconciliation (an edited volume with Alexander Karn, Stanford University Press, 2006); Claiming the Stones/Naming the Bones: Cultural Property and the Negotiation of National and Ethnic Identity, (an edited volume with Ronald Bush, Getty, 2003). More information


The Challenge of History to Redress and Conflict Resolution

The politics of history plays a central role in international and intra-state conflicts. In the last few decades as a result of the growing centrality of human rights, societies have come to pay greater attention to past atrocity crimes (genocide, ethnic cleansing, gross violations of human rights, war crimes), and in turn this created a demand for redress. These developments coincided with the proliferation of cultural memory and commemorations, transitional justice mechanisms, reparations and state apologies. The dramatic increased in attention to historical injustices led to social and political movements that demanded redress around the globe. Some of these demands have been successful, others have failed. Notwithstanding this increased role of history in contemporary politics, history is yet to be engaged as a tool in conflict resolution and reconciliation. The paper describes the state of politics in relation to crimes of atrocity, it describes some of the more prominent social movements for redress, as well as the budding efforts to bring historical dialogues into conflict resolution through official and civil society efforts, including historical commissions, education, demythologizing nationalists’ histories, and constructing new historical narratives that take account of all sides of a conflict. Cases include those that result from the legacy of World War II; colonialism (slavery and indigenous peoples); and sites of contemporary political crises from North East Asia to the Balkans and to Turkey.