Blog - Thursday, July 1, 2010 0:03 - 0 Comments

Beyond Politics — Music as a Tool in Building Dialogue


When Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a cease-fire back in 1994, little did the two sides know of the outcomes of the conflict and how long would it take to actually come to a mutual agreement. It has been 16 years since the cease-fire and a peace agreement is yet to be signed. Numerous initiatives taken either by the governments or civil society representatives have shown little success, and there is still much work to be done in bringing the two sides together and reaching mutual ground.

But on the positive side of the spectrum, the long-lasting dialogues and endless conversations also pushed peace actors to find new ways and new solutions in breaking down stereotypes, prejudices, and hatred. As a result, while traditional meetings are still happening, a new wave of initiatives has joined the peace-building movement in this region.

Music is one such initiative. And it is not the good old argument, fighting over whose piece of music belongs to which side or whether “Sari Gelin” (“Yellow Bride”) is Armenian or Azerbaijani. No, this type of music is not about who owns what. It is about sharing what is at hand, showing tolerance, understanding, and making music together for peace.

In May of this year, a jazz festival — Kavkaz Jazz — was organized in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, bringing together talented jazz musicians from all three countries of the South Caucasus on one stage. Initiated by the US embassies in all three countries, musicians met “to strengthen [existing] traditions and relations.” As organizers and musicians describe the festival on the Kavkaz Jazz home page, “Jazz is the best means for this, as it is the symbol of tolerance, unity, freedom, peace, and friendship.” It was described as a “culture bridge” by local online channels.  Taking place on two evenings within a ten-day period, the jazz festival turned out to be a total success and was broadcasted live online featuring joint jam sessions, joint concerts, workshops, and master classes.

And it looks like it’s not one of its kind. In 2006, a professor named Dr. Roasling Hackett initiated The Jazz for Justice Project. It is a similar project though unlike Kavkaz Jazz, Jazz for Justice aims at raising funds, awareness, and support in the post-conflict reconstruction of northern Uganda.

Unlike other music events such as the annually held schmaltzy Eurovision song contest, where instead of building contact, the contest only breaks and negatively influences whatever dialogue there is, especially between Armenia and Azerbaijan, these initiatives are perhaps some of the best success stories.

My only hope is to see more of such creative initiatives to come and not only in terms of music but in terms of cinematography, cuisine, fashion, and much more. It is an alternative that could encompass a wider and diverse audience with different backgrounds, interests, and ideas and is a step forward in building dialogue. Perhaps it’s what we all need right now — some jazz…

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