A music festival in Georgia strives to evoke a time when the nations of the Caucasus lived in harmony.
Volunteers work for three weeks prior to the music festival – called One Caucasus and held in the isolated Georgian village of Tserakvi at the end of August – to construct the festival site and conduct cultural and educational workshops for children in nearby multi-ethnic villages. Witek Hebanowski, the Polish Director of One Caucasus, says 240 applications were received, from which 33 volunteers were selected.
While not intended as a peace-building project, the One Caucasus festival strives to foster an environment that enables communication and cooperation. “One Caucasus is a kind of a space, a place, where young people from all over the Caucasus can meet and enjoy time together […] and work together,” Hebanowski said.
“We should … create a perspective and vision for young people to get back the spirit [of the region] that was [there] years ago,” he added.
The festival, which began in 2014, receives funding from Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The town of Tserakvi was selected to host the festival because of its location – along Georgia’s border with Armenia and Azerbaijan.
One Caucasus is held in cooperation with the Marneuli District Municipality of which the village is part. The district has a population of about 104,000, roughly 83 percent of which is ethnic Azeri. Ethnic Armenians and Georgians each comprise about 8 percent of the district population respectively.
Given the lack of infrastructure, festival attendees have to rough it. Yet, despite the out-of-the-way location and lack of many amenities, some recent attendees said the experience was unforgettable.
“It was like arriving on another planet,” said Stephane Voell, an anthropologist who runs an annual Student Research Project financed by the German Academic Exchange Service. Voell brought 20 of his participating students from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Germany to the second night of the festival.
“How did the organizers manage to create such an atmosphere in the middle of nowhere?” Voell continued. “Armenians were dancing to Azerbaijani music and vice versa. Villagers of the multi-ethnic area were also dancing together.”
Onnik James Krikorian is a freelance journalist, photographer, and media consultant based in Tbilisi, Georgia. He particularly focuses on conflict-related issues in the region and, in recent years, on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) globally. He can be followed on Twitter at @onewmphoto.