Looking Back to Move Forward

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From: “Katia M. Peltekian” <[email protected]>
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Washington Post, DC
June 23 2004

Looking Back to Move Forward

By Nora Boustany

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, the president of George Washington
University, is dedicated to interpreting history to extract enduring

Trachtenberg is the recipient this year of the Hannibal Club USA
Award for Service. He was honored for generating programs that bring
students on campus together — leading them beyond their disparate
cultural perspectives and boundaries.

Tunisian Ambassador Hatem Atallah, speaking about Trachtenberg at the
award ceremony last Wednesday, said the university president had
sought to teach students “that we are all part of the same line of
history.” The Hannibal Club here, one of several around the world,
was founded six years ago to honor prominent Americans in the public
domain for their contributions to fostering tolerance and interfaith

In response to the growing U.S. need for fluent Arabic speakers as it
addresses security challenges and powerful cultural and religious
influences, the George Washington University Classics Department and
its honors program launched an innovative Arabic-language studies
program. It provides a full-tuition summer grant for a special
12-week, eight-credit course for 31 students to study the
fundamentals of the language. “Educating our students to facilitate
communication with the Arab world is one way that GW can be part of
the solution to the global challenges of our times,” Trachtenberg
said when the program was launched.

Speaking engagingly at the event honoring him, Trachtenberg sought to
draw modern lessons from the case of Hannibal, the Carthaginian
general who conquered and lost, then killed himself.

Modern warfare has come a long way since Hannibal used elephants to
cross the Alps to charge against Roman lines in the third century BC,
but the wisdom of hero worship can still be questioned, according to
Trachtenberg. Do individuals like Hannibal really change history, he
asked, “or are they names we apply to historical currents, to things
that would have happened anyway, if slightly differently?”

Thankful in Armenia

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, a graduate of Harvard and
Tufts universities, met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and
other senior U.S. officials last week.

Oskanian said his government was thankful for being among 16 “good
partners” that can apply for U.S. financial assistance through the
Millennium Challenge program. Armenia cleared the first hurdle of
eligibility and can now apply for funding intended to support good
government, Oskanian said in a telephone interview last week. He said
Armenian officials are working on specific plans and funding

Oskanian said he discussed regional stability issues with U.S.
officials, including the conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh
region and the prospect of establishing diplomatic ties with Turkey.
He said the United States had expressed interest in a normalization
of Armenia-Turkey relations. Oskanian also praised U.S. officials for
their efforts to meet with representatives of small countries, even
though they are preoccupied with developments in Iraq, Afghanistan
and elsewhere.

Keeping Track of Liberia

Nickie Smith, the International Rescue Committee desk officer for
Liberia, says her mission at the nongovernmental relief organization
is to maintain awareness about the issues of displacement and
violence following 20 years of war in the African nation.

She said in an interview on Friday that gender-based violence is a
prime concern. The exploitation of women continues in Liberia, she
said, and demobilized female combatants continue to struggle to
secure food for their families. Camps have been set up in Liberia to
rehabilitate such women, and to provide psychological counseling and
case management in a partnership between the IRC and the United

“Cantonment sites,” where boys and men are separated from young women
after being disarmed, have high security walls and are run like
prisoner of war camps, she said.

In addition, the country faces major medical and educational
challenges, Smith said. Medical screening has shown that 73 percent
of the women have sexually transmitted diseases, while 65 percent
have been sexually abused. “The medical challenges are huge,” she

While there are pockets of stability in Liberia now and relief
workers have been able to reach wider areas of the country, safety
concerns still exist, she said. Her group of 10 international relief
workers and 160 local staff members has been working at more than 30
sites to help support internally displaced people.

Smith said the processes of disarmament and integration must develop
in tandem to prevent former combatants from fighting again. “If
reintegration and relocation programs don’t go on line, it is likely
these people will pick up their guns again,” she said.