Education as a tool for reconciliation — Armenian-Azerbaijani School for Peace
At a time when missiles are being launched and the fighting ensues between Armenian and Azerbaijani defence forces, I draw on the lessons from a Jewish-Arab school for peace to envision what co-existence might look like once both communities come together and start to live in peace, if and when that happens. Integrated schools with Armenian-Azerbaijani students should be at the heart of future peace and reconciliation efforts.
Since I first heard about Neve Shalom or Wahat al-Salam (‘Oasis of Peace’ in Hebrew and Arabic, respectively), a Jewish-Arab peace-building community established in 1970 (NSWAS, 1994), I have been childishly dreaming of an Armenian-Azerbaijani educational community that will lead the way in establishing sustainable peace in the South Caucasus. While there does not seem to be hope for peace between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the foreseeable future, both need to start planning for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the region where everyone can live peacefully.
Located at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the buffer zone between Israel proper and the West Bank (Nathan, 2007), Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam is a small village where Jewish and Arab students participate in a peace education program (Feuerverger, 1998). In addition to being the first binational/bilingual primary school (pre-K to 6th grade) of its kind, Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam also operates the School for Peace for adult learners, a spiritual community center, a museum, and a humanitarian aid program, among many other activities (AFNSWAS, n.d.). The main philosophy of this community is rather simple:
“[..] to be the setting for a school for peace … people would come here from all over the country to meet those from whom they were estranged, wanting to break down the barriers of fear, mistrust, ignorance…