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.

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

“[..] 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, misunderstanding, preconceived ideas — all things that separate us — and to build bridges of trust, respect, mutual understanding, and, if possible, friendship.” (Hussar, 1989, 103)

The School for Peace “facilitates a process of socialization, familiarization, and acceptance, making them [students] aware of the inadequacies of their perception of the other in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict” (Shalom, 2006, 10). In other words, classrooms become a conduit for a dialogue and reckoning with ethnic/national self-identification. To borrow from this idea, how might lessons from Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam inform peaceful co-existence of Armenian and Azerbaijani communities of Nagorno-Karabakh?

Figure 1. How do we get from A (conflict) to B (peace)? A → B social mechanism (Source: Author).
  1. Budget & financing: governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan along with an international partner or a coalition of organizations will finance the Խաղաղության դպրոց/Sülh məktəbi. Students and their families will not be asked to make any money contributions toward the upkeep and maintenance of the integrated school. To ensure financial sustainability of the school, fundraising and charitable donations will be pursued.
  2. Curriculum: one of the central issues regarding the integrated School for Peace should involve academic planning and class materials for students. A task force comprised of Armenian and Azerbaijani education experts assigned to develop peace education curriculum must be the first step in this direction. There are two principles that should guide the curriculum design process. First, curriculum should provide a balanced mix of both Armenian and Azerbaijani narratives. All disagreements related to the content should be resolved by the experts before they make it into the curriculum. Rather than attempting to provide students with a sanitized ‘objective’ view, the curriculum should allow space for students to grapple with issues that are challenging, murky, and sometimes problematic on both sides. The second important principle should be the flipped classroom approach to curriculum design. Flipped classroom assumes that the students are in charge of curriculum design as much as the experts are. In other words, teachers and administrators have to work with students to understand what kind of knowledge and skills are important for students to master and make space for them in the curriculum.
  3. Medium of instruction: both Armenian and Azerbaijani languages will be taught in dual-language immersive classes where students will arrive with some proficiency of one of the languages (Armenian or Azerbaijani) and will start developing their proficiency of the other language. At first, using other familiar languages such as English, Georgian, Russian, Turkish, etc. students will slowly improve their understanding of both languages. Here is an example of what dual-language immersive classes look like in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam.
  4. School leadership & teachers: the integrated school will be led by three co-directors appointed by the Armenian and Azerbaijani ministries of education on the basis of merit as well as third co-director who will be appointed by an international partner involved in financing/managing the initiative. All decisions affecting schoolwide policies should be made by the three co-directors. Beyond day-to-day operations, the school will have an advisory board similar to parent-teacher associations made up of community members representing both communities of Nagorno-Karabakh. The rest of the school administrators should be hired through a transparent application process open to all. Teaching staff should be hired based on their teaching qualifications and proficiency in the subject matter. Each class will be taught by one Armenian and one Azerbaijani teacher with similar subject matter expertise.

“Buildings may have been burned, but our longing for peace and brotherhood is alive and well and we will continue our journey.” (Salaime, 2020)

Nothing can replace the loss of life during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But the fighting will have to stop one day and the reconciliation process will resume. As long as there are supporters of peaceful co-existence on both sides, the journey towards Armenian-Azerbaijani reconciliation is possible. The sooner we start, the earlier we will get there. And classrooms are one of the fewest spaces, if not the only ones, where consistent and peaceful exchange of ideas, knowledge, and genuine reconciliation between Armenians and Azerbaijanis can take place. We are here because education has been overlooked and ignored for far too long as a force for reconciliation. Now, the gargantuan task of advocating for integrated schooling lies on the shoulders of peace-promoting parties in Armenia and Azerbaijan.

PhD Student, Teachers College, Columbia University #highered #access #internationalization #postSoviet l lifelong learner, curious educator, outgoing introvert

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