Mongolia is often regarded as synonymous with remoteness and in the case of its infamous 12 century ruler, Genghis Khan, for barbarism, brutality and authoritarian control. These are both myths, as I discovered when training mediators for the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (“CEDR”) in Ulan Bator, Mongolia’s capital city, at the beginning of April.
Since becoming a commercial mediator and mediator trainer with CEDR, I have had the good fortune to work in many fascinating places; none more so than on this trip. The Mongolian Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with a number of other interested organisations, arranged with CEDR for 15 of their members to do the highly regarded CEDR mediator training course. The Chamber is committed to finding new ways of handling commercial disputes, internally and with trading partners in Russia and China. Following the conclusion of the course this group of mediators will be engaged immediately in resolving disputes.
There was an eclectic mix of people. I was fortunate to work with excellent colleagues from the Lebanon and Germany, as well as England. The course participants included engineers, judges, lawyers, an economist and a geologist. Presentations were in English, with direct translation into Mongolian, which made for some challenges in communication; an essential skill for mediators! Irrespective of some cultural differences, the Mongolians were delighted with the training and we ended with a formal ceremony, when speeches were made and certificates handed out by the Chamber. Hopefully, we will be invited back.
What impressions do I have of Mongolia? It’s a fascinating country with a difficult and complex history, now emerging from its reputation for being remote and less well developed than many other places. In fact, the economy is, apparently, growing significantly, predominantly based on mining, amid concerns that this will result in it being exploited for its mineral wealth. Due to a new openness, there were reportedly almost half a million tourists who visited the country, which has a population of around 2.5 million, last year. Every one that we met was very friendly and eager to please, making Mongolia a great place to visit. Outside the capital city, northern Mongolia stretches into wide open plains and rocky outcrops; an area we were able to visit on our one day off. This is where in the past the Mongolian tribes men and women learned to ride their horses bareback from the age of four, making them ideal recruits into Genghis Khan’s cavalry.
Was Genghis Khan a nice man who was much maligned and misunderstood? As will all historical myths, there was probably an element of truth in his fearsome reputation as a brutal warrior who showed little mercy to those he attacked while building a vast empire from the Pacific almost into Europe. That said, we are talking about the twelfth century; a time when even in England gentleness and compassion were not the main attributes of our monarchs and barons.
Genghis Khan is highly revered in Mongolia, particularly since the Soviet withdrawal. Probably more progressive than his European counterparts, he abolished torture, granted religious freedom and facilitated free trade among other things. While he may not have been an obvious conflict resolver, nor delegate on a mediation course, Genghis Khan’s story is much more complicated than I anticipated and adds to the fascination of a country that it was a privilege to visit.