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Program Staff: Conflict Resolution

Hrair Balian, J.D.

Hrair Balian joined The Carter Center in 2008 as director of the Conflict Resolution Program. He also served as an adjunct professor at the Emory University Law School from 2008 to 2017, teaching an advanced international negotiations seminar.

Since 1991, Balian has worked in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, the independent states emerging from the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, and Africa, serving in intergovernmental organizations (the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and nongovernmental organizations (International Crisis Group and others). He has worked on elections, human rights, and conflict resolution.

Balian received his Juris Doctor degree from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. In May 2009, the New England College awarded him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, for his "lifetime commitment to the dignity, respect, and self-determination of all peoples" and for his "uncompromising effort to resolve international conflicts."

He is fluent in English, French, and Armenian, with a basic knowledge of Arabic. He was born and raised in Lebanon, moving to the United States for university studies.

Tom Crick
Associate Director

Tom Crick joined the Center in 1994, first as a research assistant in the Conflict Resolution Program, becoming executive assistant to the director of peace programs, then assistant director of the Center's China Village Elections Project, and finally associate director of the Conflict Resolution Program. Crick has worked on numerous Carter Center election and conflict resolution projects, primarily in Africa, including the Carter Center-brokered 1995 Guinea worm cease-fire in Sudan, the Great Lakes peace initiative from 1995-1997, and the Center's mediation between Sudan and Uganda. Most recently, his work has concentrated on peacebuilding in Liberia.

Crick received his bachelor's degree from Bristol University and his master's degree from the Queen's University of Belfast. He has conducted doctoral research at the London School of Economics and at Emory University. Prior to joining the Center, he lectured in political science at a number of polytechnics in the United Kingdom and worked as a journalist and as a project leader at an interdenominational youth project in Northern Ireland. Crick is a licensed mediator in the state of Georgia and an adjunct faculty member at Emory Law School.

Houda Abadi, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Middle East and North Africa

Houda Abadi joined the Conflict Resolution Program in June 2014 as associate director for the Middle East and North Africa. For the first two years, she worked on Syria and the Israel-Palestine conflict. During that time, she developed what is now the Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Extremism project.

Abadi holds a graduate certificate from Duke-UNC in Middle East studies; an M.A. in international relations and diplomacy, with a concentration in Middle East studies and conflict resolution, from Seton Hall University; and a Ph.D. in political communication and media studies from Georgia State University. She was the 2013-2014 Transcultural Conflict and Violence Presidential Fellow at Georgia State. She was born and raised in Morocco and speaks French, Arabic, and Spanish.

Prior to joining the Center, Abadi served as the director of education in two nonprofit organizations that facilitated dialogue between Jewish and Muslim youth. She worked on curriculum development and youth interfaith dialogue. She also served as a researcher, translator, and writer for Muslim women’s issues at Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality. While in graduate school, she was the MENA intern in a human rights organization and acted as a liaison between the United Nations Institute of Research and Training and Arab diplomats. Abadi has published scholarly articles and taught at Georgia State and UNC.

John Goodman, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Africa

John Goodman is the Conflict Resolution Program's associate director for Africa, with responsibility for the design, implementation, and evaluation of the program's mission and strategy in East Africa.

Goodman comes to The Carter Center from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), where, since 2010, he served as delegate and head of sub-delegation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Goodman's responsibilities included representing the ICRC with government officials, armed actors, international agencies, and civil society; managing relief operations; visiting prisoners of war; and promoting international humanitarian law. In particular, in the Congo, Goodman directed the ICRC's programs in eight prisons and multiple transitory places of detention. In South Sudan, his portfolio included ICRC programs in health, civilian protection, and relief along the border with Sudan.

Prior to joining the ICRC, Goodman was an attorney in private practice in the United States, working primarily in civil litigation on behalf of the immigrant community. He holds a bachelor's degree from Centre College, a master's and juris doctorate from the University of Kentucky, and a doctorate from the Graduate Institute, University of Geneva (Switzerland). He spent parts of his youth in Gabon and the island of La Reunion, as well as California, New Mexico, Alabama, and Kentucky. He speaks fluent French, Spanish, and Catalan.

José Vericat, Ph.D.
Field Office Director, Israel/Palestine

José Vericat joined the staff in 2018 as the field office director for Israel and Palestine. He is also a non-resident advisor at the International Peace Institute in New York, having worked there as Middle East advisor before joining The Carter Center.

Previously, he worked in the region for a decade as a spokesperson for the EU and correspondent for the Spanish news agency EFE, providing prize-winning coverage of the Second Intifada and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, among other major historical events.

Vericat has a doctorate in Oriental studies from the University of Oxford and a master’s from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. At Oxford, he was the Sheikh Zayed Islamic Studies scholar and taught courses on the politics of the Middle East, political Islam, and the U.N. in the Middle East.

José speaks Arabic and some Persian and has professional working proficiency in Hebrew.

Ben Spears
Senior Program Associate

Before joining the Conflict Resolution Program in 2018 to focus on Sudan, Ben Spears interned with the Carter Center in 2013 and joined as program associate in 2016. With the Democracy Program, Spears coordinated election observation and transition monitoring in the Middle East and North Africa and in Sub-Saharan Africa. Spears previously managed field operations for multiple political campaigns, coordinated outreach for Congressman John Lewis’ district office, and directed programs for Ultimate Peace, a peer-to-peer sports initiative in the Middle East. Spears studied Arabic in North Atlanta High School’s International Baccalaureate program, liberal arts at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco, international development at The George Washington University’s Elliott School, and nonprofit management at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.

Kate Keator
Manager, Syria Conflict Mapping Project

Kate Keator became part of the Syria conflict mapping team in 2013 as an intern before graduating to full-time employee and supporting the development of the project. As a program associate, Keator helped manage daily operations and build a database that tracks conflict incidents and maps armed-group networks across Syria to better inform the work of humanitarians and mediators.

In 2017, Keator left The Carter Center to pursue her M.A. in conflict resolution at the University of Bradford as a Rotary peace fellow. She rejoined the team as manager of the Syria Conflict Mapping Project in November 2018. Besides an interest in the growing field of peace technology and its intersection with conflict resolution, Keator’s academic and professional explorations include the role of non-state armed actors in mediations or negotiations and organizational change management. Her language proficiencies entail ongoing improvement of French and Arabic.

Nancy Azar
Program Associate

Nancy Azar joined the Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program in January 2016 and supports the implementation activities of the Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Extremism project. Prior to joining the Center, Azar’s role was the coordination of all aspects of regional drug prevention programs in more than seven Arab countries for Mentor Arabia, the regional branch of the Mentor International Foundation, established and presided over by Queen Sylvia of Sweden. Azar holds a bachelor’s degree in political sciences and public administration from Université Saint Joseph in Beirut. Her professional and academic interests include the role of youth, women, and religion in peacebuilding. She was born and raised in Lebanon and speaks Arabic and French.

Anthony Byrd
Research Associate

Anthony Byrd joined The Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program in July 2016 and supports the research activities of the Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Extremism project. His research interests include both classical and contemporary Islamic thought (particularly in the fields of dialectical theology and ethics), comparative theology, and virtue theory. He has presented and published on such topics as modern Islamic political theology, phenomenology in the field of Islamic studies, and repentance in Mu‘tazilite ethics. Byrd holds a bachelor’s degree in history and philosophy from Kennesaw State University and a master’s degree in religious studies from Georgia State University. He is a Ph.D. candidate in religion at Emory University. He has taught courses in philosophy, comparative ethics, and Islamic history and theology at several Atlanta-area universities, including Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He was a 2009 U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholar and a 2013-14 Charlotte Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellow in Religion and Ethics. He has studied Arabic in Morocco and Egypt.

Michael Scholtens
Program Associate

Michael Scholtens joins the Center's Conflict Resolution Program after two years of election observation and capacity-building projects in Sub-Saharan Africa and Native America with the Democracy Program. Prior to working at the Center, Scholtens interned with the U.S. Department of State, the Scottish Parliament, and the Center for Arab-West Understanding. He holds bachelor’s degrees in political science and history from Furman University and a Master of Science in International Relations of the Middle East with Arabic from the University of Edinburgh.

Annie Charif
Program Assistant

Annie Charif joined The Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program in June 2016 and manages the logistical and operational aspect of the Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Extremism project. Charif worked at The World Affairs Council of Atlanta as an organizational development intern. She was also part of a study-abroad research delegation at Georgia State University for six months, addressing the relationship between Turkish policy, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the role of civil society in post-conflict stabilization. Charif holds a master’s degree in political science with a concentration in international and comparative politics. Her academic interests include conflict resolution and the role of non-state actors in failed states. She was born in Lebanon and speaks Arabic and French.

Cassandra Grant Thomas
Program Assistant

Cassandra Grant Thomas is responsible for creating and managing program budgets, providing administrative and logistical support, and coordinating with local and international partners to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the program. She has served on Carter Center missions in Venezuela, Liberia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Sudan.

Prior to coming to the Center, Thomas served as administrative officer for the National Training Agency of Jamaica, where she coordinated the application and testing process for new recruits and managed the fiscal and administration functions of the organization for the northeastern region of the island. She also has worked with the National Development Foundation of Jamaica, a financial institution providing loans to small businesses.

Thomas holds a bachelor's degree in management from Nova Southeastern University in Florida and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

Ross Hegtvedt 
Program Assistant

In Autumn of 2016, the Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program welcomed Ross Hegtvedt to the Syria Project. Hegtvedt works at the nexus of the project’s financial, administrative, logistical, and programmatic needs. Prior to joining the Center, Hegtvedt worked in politics from the local to the national level as well as with the Atlanta-based, ed-tech nonprofit honorCode. His professional interests in the confluence of security, governance, and development guide his work inside and outside The Carter Center as an advocate for intersectional politics and human-centered innovation.

Hegtvedt holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Brown University with a specialization in the Middle East. He has studied at Al-Akhwayn University in Morocco, University of Nizwa in Oman, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His language proficiencies include English, Arabic, Spanish, and enough French to make a native speaker speak English.

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