In May, Armenia and Azerbaijan will mark the 15th anniversary of the 1994 ceasefire agreement which put the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, a mainly ethnic Armenian-populated autonomous oblast situated within Azerbaijan, on hold. Since then, international mediators continue to talk of a lasting peace agreement being in reach, but few following the negotiations are as optimistic.
With a new generation of Armenians and Azeris growing up unable to remember the time when both lived together, it's perhaps no wonder. Nationalists and politicians in both countries continue to exploit the unresolved conflict to further their own political and economic ambitions -- and despite the overlaps in culture and history which Thomas de Waal, author of Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, touched upon during an interview in 2002.
Yet, civil society groups appear to half-heartedly engage in peace-building initiatives, apparently only in order to receive funding from international donors, and change their position depending on local political developments. However, there could be a glimmer of hope if a recent documentary aired on Al Jazeera English is anything to go by. Visiting the Caucasus late last year, journalist Michael Andersen discovered such an example in the Republic of Georgia.
While fixing the Armenia leg of the film, Michael told me about a Georgian village where Armenians and Azeris live, work and study alongside each other. Footage of the school in Sopi is now available online as part of the second half of the 22-minute documentary. Brief it may be, but the sight of teachers and children from both sides working and studying together is encouraging.
Although the two ethnic groups follow different religions, for example, one Azeri child seems hard pressed to name any differences other than language.