One Caucasus: the Festival Worth to Attend (and Even Volunteer for)

On the borderline of three southern Caucasian countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia), this is the place where every year the One Caucasus festival is held. The small village of Tserakvi during the hot Georgian summers turns into a vibrant venue full of music, peace, and most importantly: learning. Find out how the festival works in the conflict resolution field without being involved in the conflict solution.

The Southern region of Caucasus on the borderline of Europe and Asia consists of more than fifty ethnic groups. At least three language families are specific for this area. Historically, the area was ruled by the Persians, Ottomans and then by Soviets. Each era left a cultural footprint on the peoples. However, under the Russians, the idea of ethnicity was suppressed, and a supranational Soviet identity was reinforced.

Southern Caucasian area – culturally rich, ethnically diverse

Increasing pressures from the Russian side, disputes over the independence of the Northern Caucasus regions, the never ending war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the issue of recognition of the two regions of Georgia – South Ossetia, Abkhazia, these are the best-known examples of the conflict zones in the region. Somewhere there the One Caucasus festival is trying to challenge and change the tensions among people in its own way. 

It has been quite successful. In five years of its existence it connected more than 10 000 people and was joined by 467 musicians from 18 countries creating together 34 new international music projects. In past festival’s team offered to its open-minded participants 79 different workshops led by educators coming from 33 countries, four continents for more than thousand kids and youth coming from 23 villages and towns in the Kvemo-Kartli region.

What makes the festival’s venue so unique is that despite all these differences, it is known for a centuries lasting peaceful co-existence of Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Georgians, and other ethnic groups; while living in peace in the Caucasus still remains an issue.

Important part of the festival success: Volunteers

One Caucasus creates every year at the end of August an inspirational and safe space inviting all people from the entire region as well as for participants from abroad to attend 4-days program activities. To create such a special event is quite unique occasion in the Caucasus due to the range of conflicts and tensions that the area suffers from.

The festival was founded in 2014 and one of its founders – Witek Hebanowski explains the unique atmosphere there making impossible possible and interconnecting artists from problematic Causasus regions to cooperate and work on something important together: “One Caucasus itself does not ask Armenian musicians to play with Azerbaijanis together or movie makers to cooperate. It just happens, that moment just simply happens. And it is usually the first time for them they meet someone from the other country. Now they are given a space and people start questioning everything they knew before about the other country”. That part of questionning themselves and critical thinking is an important part of the festival.

In May the call for volunteers is finalized, in June all the program suggestions from three involved countries are discussed by the festival’s team. Artists, musicians, architects, educators, and volunteers come to Kvemo-Kartli region, where the village of Tserakvi lies in. For three weeks the locals and international volunteers co-create the venue in exchange of meals, a place to stay and most of all: a unique experience. Various teams then take care of different tasks, sharing logistics and responsibilities all together. Few weeks before the festival starts, the whole place is getting ready step by step.

Team work is crucial. Cooking is in the hands of the Kitchen team, Outreach team already works on the event promotion, logistics are under the control of Organization Team while every moment is captured by the Documentary Team. All happening in the One Caucasus Town, also called as ‘Not-Perfect Town of Our Dreams’ which is designed and constructed by architects or students of architecture. Educational programme and art-projects are created by the Workshop team.

Participants as workshops’ co-creators

The participants of the workshops are rather co-creators than only students. Each workshop is shaped by unique ideas of the present individuals. The methods are based on informal and non-formal way of education, such as learning by doing, mapping the local contexts, focusing on creating actual pieces as a result of workshops/actions such as: films, installations, animations, exhibitions, performances, etc. The implemented workshops are interdisciplinary, involving local kids, youth but also adults. Pictures, videos, art installations as a result of the workshops are exhibited in the One Caucasus Town during the three musical days of the festival.

The festival also contributes to the regional development by restoring the local school and repairing some parts of the road to Tserakvi, implementing Caucasus first participatory budget, conducting all-year Informal Educational Program for villages in Kvemo-Kartli or working on affecting by training a teaching style of teachers from different villages.

Co-founder of the festival, Witek Hebanowski, says that One Caucasus celebrates peace without officially declaring it. He believes that “no one can participate in the process of peace building without being really living the situation and gaining the experience”. According to him “the festival is more effective than many other peace-making projects in the area”.

For Witek’s team the most important achievement is that Armenians and Azerbaijanis used to work together – that was the reality of One Caucasus. But as he says, the crucial thing is that it must come from the participants themselves. One Caucasus provides them safe and inspiring space but “it’s the people who decide to cooperate, brainstorm, work together, play music together, support one another, live in the same environment and become friends. The Armenians and Azerbaijanis used to make the biggest joining groups of participants every year”. The festival works in the conflict resolution field without being involved in the conflict solution. They prefer to challenge people on their own, so people prove themselves they can work together and if they can work together in such things, they could solve all the problems in future. That is the Witek’s philosophy beyond One Caucasus festival. Let’s wish it will continue to work also next year despite the tough challenges related to the pandemic Covid-19-era and the on-going Nagorno–Karabakh conflict.

Written by: Kateřina Nováková – IDS student at the Department of Development and Environmental Studies of Palacky University in Olomouc, Czechia;

Photos: One Caucasus team. More info and next call for artists, volunteers and participants here: http://www.onecaucasus.org/

About Media about Development

Writing hope-based stories and reporting about global challenges, international development topics, community development projects (in Slovak, Czech and English language)
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