Armenians and Azerbaijanis Dance Under One Sky in Georgian Village
On 18 November, the inaugural multicultural festival ‘Under One Sky’ took place in the Georgian village of Khojorni, celebrating the co-habitation of its Azerbaijani and Armenian population.
Nestled in the hills and forests of Georgia just a kilometre from the country’s border with Armenia, the residents of Khojorni, a small village numbering just 635, held on 18 November the first of what it hopes will be an annual multicultural festival, Under One Sky. Though such events are not uncommon throughout the country, what made this one special was that the population comprises one made up of ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis.
Lali Margiani, one of the teachers at the local school told the Tbilisi-based Aliq Media that the idea for the festival had been around for years, but plans to stage it had been frustrated by the recent pandemic. According to Margiani, the festival was important to demonstrate that it is “possible to live under one sky without conflict,” and to offer yet another narrative of “coexistence and unity.” Several other villages in the area are also co-inhabited by the two ethnic groups.
“During the years I have lived here, I have not encountered any conflict in this village,” 77-year-old Terlan Suleymanova, a Khojorni resident, told me on one of my many visits for over more than a decade in 2021. “People have always treated each other well, visited each other’s houses, and congratulated each other on their birthdays. We have always had a good relationship. At school, our relationship was even better.”
This was echoed on another visit to the village earlier this year. The children at the local school even celebrate events such as Novruz together, ethnic Azerbaijani teacher Hüseyin Abdulrahmanov, who also speaks Armenian, told me. This is even more remarkable given that ethnic Armenians make up the majority of residents. Less than 10 kilometres away, incidentally, is the village of Tsopi where that demographic is reversed, and ethnic Azerbaijanis are the majority.
Moreover, just ten minutes away by road is the ethnic Azerbaijani village of Sadakhlo, the first main population centre on the road past the Armenian border to Tbilisi. Situated in the Marneuli Municipality of the Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia, cars, minivans, and trucks from Yerevan pass to and fro. Georgian trucks also make the journey through this mainly ethnic Azerbaijani region. More than 1.2 million incoming travelers from Armenia crossed into Georgia via Sadakhlo in 2019.
Chaikhanas (tea houses) and a few shops line the road passing through the village and a SOCAR Georgia petrol station is the first encountered on the outskirts of town. Travelers from Armenia are among those that stop as they travel between the Armenian and Georgian capitals. Some 83.8 percent of the municipality's population of around 107,824 residents are ethnic Azerbaijani with ethnic Georgians and Armenians making up minorities of 8.6 and 7 percent respectively.
In recent weeks, both Baku and Tbilisi again outlined the potential role that Georgia could play in hosting talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan as other platforms continue to falter. They point out that for many ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani citizens of Georgia there is no conflict among them, especially in locations where the two live in close proximity. This is a remarkable reality that speaks volumes given that found elsewhere. The Khojorni festival hammered that home.
"Dancing together […] under the same sky, Armenians and Azerbaijanis and… me. One Georgian!," exclaimed Margiani on Facebook the following day.