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The Dialogues Project: Bridging People and Identities

mostar bridge

Project Overview   |   Research   |   The Documentary   |   About Aurash   |   About Mostar   |   Contact


Project Overview

The project is lead by the Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation (CIIAN), in collaboration with the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution (CICR), Modern Times Stage Company, Production Jeux d'ombres, and OKC Abrasević.

“The Dialogues Project” is a unique combination of theatre, conflict resolution mediation, documentary production and research. The focal point of the project is the production of the play “Aurash”. “Aurash” a contemporary play by celebrated Iranian playwright, historian and filmmaker, Bahram Beyza'i, is based on a 1000 year-old Persian myth about a heroic archer, Aurash, whose skills rescues Persia from destruction. For centuries, the myth remained a seminal story of nationalism and pride for the Persian people. In the 1970s, Beyza'i revamped the fable, taking an ironical look at its nationalism, and infusing it with strong humanist and pacifist themes.In conjunction with Mostar partner OKC Abrasević, the play will be cast with local citizens, professionals and non-professionals from various ethnic backgrounds, ages, and genders. Performances will be held in the city of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina in the spring of 2009.


Social groups within Mostar are still divided, fighting a war without bullets. The city is now one of the key areas where success or failure of long-term stability in the region will be determined. Monitoring the long-term application of the peace process is vital to overall security and reconstruction efforts. Peace building is not merely the absence of violence—it is the presence of durable formal and informal conflict mediation and resolution mechanisms. The formal state structures such as the legal system are being strengthened, but the informal networks of volunteers, family and neighbourhoods are being neglected. Without support for these groups, a vibrant civil society, a democratic and accountable government, and formal education and health sectors remains impossible.

The Dialogues Project focuses on these informal segments of society—it is rooted in the notion that reconciliation and peace is obtained through dialogue, and dialogue is at the core of theatre. Through careful selection of local actors from an array of ethnic and religious backgrounds, representing both genders and various age groups, Aurash provides the actors and the audience the opportunity to explore how identity and conflict interact. It affords them an opportunity to ponder how their own perception of identity impacts their daily lives. The presence of professional conflict mediators will facilitate constructive communications between all parties.

Download Video Document Icon The Dialogues Project Video (WMV Movie) - A short movie on the development of the project.

Research Papers 

For academics with proposals for research, please contact 'The Dialogues Project' Research Coordinator Roger Hill by way of project coordinator Renée Gendron.

Identity is a fundamental component to many conflicts. Identity can be manipulated to mobilize and militarize populations and push them towards conflict. When used negatively, identity serves to demarcate groups, heightening differences while downplaying similarities, common struggles, and shared achievements.

The cast of actors will be selected from the local population. They will be selected for their acting abilities and will represent the ethnic composition of the city of Mostar.  

Leading academics from the fields of conflict resolution and conflict mediation will be selected to participate. The research will focus on how the actors interact with one another and how stereotypes (both negative and positive) influence Maja1a person's perception of the 'other'. Moreover, the research will assess the degree of ethnic and social cleavage in present day Mostar and how these social divides impact the overall peace  process. From these observations, policy makers, analysts, mediators, civil servants, researchers, and members of the public will be able to better ascertain the current obstacles for peacemaking in the city and country.

The Documentary

A documentary film is to be made on the theatre rehearsals and production that promises to disseminate the results of the project to the general public and institutions of research, as well as provide pertinent interview material for researchers. A feature-length documentary will be made as well as hour-long versions for Canadian and European markets. Furthermore, a series of shorter educational videos will be created for specific pedagogical purposes.

About Aurash

In the original myth “Aurash”, the hero releases an arrow that travels three days and nights to land in a far away walnut tree, thus defining a vast new land of Persia. In Bahram Beyza'i's version, Aurash, a native of and humble stable hand, becomes an unwilling player in his country's post-war border treaty, with very different results.

The story is set in Persia, in a time when the country is on the brink of annihilation. The conquering country lays down the terms of surrender: an arrow must be released from Persia's highest mountain peak and wherever it lands, the new borders will be drawn. At a loss to find a willing saviour for his country, the Persian Commander decides to send an envoy to plead for more time. Aurash, a humble stable hand, is selected, as he is the only one who speaks the enemy's language.

Aurash travels to meet the conquering King of Turan. The wry and cruel king grants a reprieve, but with one small condition... Aurash must be the archer. Returning to Persia, Aurash finds the news of the arrangements has preceded him. The country's wrath falls on Aurash: he is beaten, and his name is cursed on every tongue.

Aurash laments his fate, but in the end decides to fulfill his role as the national “hero”. He begins his difficult and lonely ascent up Mount Elborz. His struggle is as much philosophical as it is physical: he seeks answers from his father's ghost, his shadow and Mount Elborz herself. But he finds himself neither solace, nor companionship on his path, and he arrives at the summit accompanied only by a raging heart. Summoning all his soul, he releases the arrow to the heavens.

The arrow sails away... never to land.

To this day it is said that Persians remain at the foot of the Elborz waiting for the arrow to fall to earth, and for their hero to return.

The City of Mostar 
Stari Most

The city of Mostar was the principal Turkish administrative centre of the Herzegovina region during the sixteenth century. Mostar is on the Neretva River. Mostar derives its name from the stone bridge, the Stari Most, that spans its banks. It was transferred to Austria in 1878 and then Yugoslavia after the Second World War. Mostar was a significant commercial centre in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It produced tobacco, aluminium, bauxite and wine. There is also a hydroelectric plant nearby. 

During the Bosnian War, Mostar was under siege for eighteen months. The army of Bosnia-Herzegovina allied with the Croatian Defence Council. Together they successfully repelled the Yugoslav's People's Army attacks. Once the siege had lifted, the city was divided into two camps. West Mostar, was run by the Army of the Republic of Croatia, and East Mostar was run by the Bosnian government. The bridge built in 1566 by the Ottomans, was destroyed in 1993. The destruction of a historical landmark not only divided the city in two, it left deep social wounds.

Maja2 The 1995 Dayton Accords brought the conflict to an end. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe initiated a mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina with specific emphasis on the rule of law, good governance and the protection of human rights.

The situation in Mostar to this day remains strained. The destruction of the bridge visualized the deep social chasms of the city. Although the bridge has since been rebuilt, the trust between the various communities in Mostar remains damaged.

Project Objectives
  • Produce a beautiful play for the residents of Mostar  (4 performances)
  • Produce a documentary that explores the experience of creating and producing the play, looking at the role of identity and ideology in present day Bosnia and Herzegovina.Goran
  • Provide mediation for the actors
  • Provide lessons learned from project and assess the current stressors to peacebuilding efforts. Publish results of findings.
  • Create educational videos for Canadian and European audiences

Project Participants

Soheil Parsa is an award-winning Iranian-Canadian theatre director. In 1995, Soheil received the New Pioneers Award by Skills for Change for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts by a recent immigrant to Canada. He has received four Dora Mavor Moore awards as well as a Chalmers Fellowship. Soheil is the co-founder of the Modern Times Stage Company (based in Toronto), known for its daring, highly imagistic productions of international themes. Soheil will be the director of the play.

Vesna Dasović-Marković will serve as mediation specialist during the project. Vesna received her law degree from the University of Belgrade. She was a judge in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her knowledge of the criminal justice system provided Vesna with unique qualities that enabled her to train over 300 hundred judges in mediation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro and Macedonia. She is an Honoured Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution (CICR). Among her many accomplishments, Vesna was the country director and lead trainer and mediator providing Third Party Neutral (TPN) courses in a community-based conflict resolution project coordinated by the CICR. Vesna is a member of the Ontario Mandatory Mediation Program (OMMP) and the Association of Mediators in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She has mediated and co-mediated in over 200 cases. She has prepared the Evaluation Report on the “Introduction of Mediation in Banja Luka Basic Course Pilot Project.

Peter Farbridge will direct the documentary. He collaborates with the film production house Productions Jeux d’ombres, and has directed two documentary films, “Change From Within” and “Not an Extra”. Peter has a diverse background in theatre production, acting, directing and writing.

Dr.Ben Hoffman is contributing his expertise in conflict resolution to the project. He is Director of the International Peace and Prosperity Project (IPPP). Ben was recently a Visiting Scholar at the University of Victoria. He directed the Conflict Resolution Program at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. He is President and was a co-founder of the Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation. He received his Masters in Psychology from Wilfred Laurier University and a second Masters in International Relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, a Specialization in International Peacekeeping from Harvard and a PhD from York University, Great Britain.

Brian Strom is contributing his expertise in conflict resolution to the project. He is the Executive Director of the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution. He worked for 23 years at the Farm Credit Corporation. The last eight years of his time at the Farm Credit Corporation, Brian was Senior Vice-President. Brian has been involved in the field of conflict resolution for the past 12 years, in the private as well as public sector. He is a member of the Civilian Peace Service Working Group.

Roger Hill is a Senior Associate of the Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation (CIIAN), Roger Hill is an international affairs specialist now focusing on conflict resolution and peacebuilding. With extensive experience in multilateral diplomacy, advice to parliament, university teaching and research, he has served as Political Advisor with a major international organization, Deputy Director of a group advising parliamentary committees, and Research Director of a government peace and security institute. He has served as advisor to Canadian delegations at more than thirty international conferences. Affiliated with CIIAN over the last decade, he has carried out a multi-year study on the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and other conflict resolution techniques in  the world’s conflict situations, as well as work on Cyprus, Balkan issues, and Indian Land Claims in Canada.

Contact Information


              Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation  (President: Dr. Ben Hoffman)


            Canadian Institute of Conflict Resolution (CICR) (Executive Director Brian Strom)

            Modern Times Stage Company (Coordinator: Sue Balint)

            Productions Jeux d’ombres (Documentary Producer: Anne-Marie Gélinas)

            OKC Abrasević (Media Coordinator: Husein Orucevi)

For all information concerning The Dialogues Project please contact the Project Coordinator: Renée Gendron

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