Bishop Ilia Osephashvili, a mediator for peace between the religions in the South Caucasus, was appointed Project Ambassador of the House of One in Georgia on 11 November 2020. The clergyman of the Evangelical Baptist Church has been heading the Peace Academy in Tblisi since 2015, which organizes meetings between Yezidi, Christian and Muslim children.
Dear Bishop Ilia, we are pleased to welcome you as another ambassador of the House of One in Georgia.
For me it is a great honour to invest even more energy and time in reconciliation between the religions. We can learn a lot from each other and encourage each other.
Reconciliation is needed. The situation is currently very tense throughout the world.
Indeed, many people in our region have also lost their lives in this war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. There have been many misunderstandings and conflicts. That is why we need impulses for peace to further promote and support reconciliation.
This mediating function you and Bishop Malkhaz perform during the war, is a very important work. How difficult was it to bring together the various religious representatives for the prayers for peace?
When the war began almost two months ago, we invited an Azerbaijani sheikh and priest from the Armenian Apostolic Church. One could immediately feel the distance between these people. They did not want to talk to each other - even though we are in Georgia and not directly in neighbouring Azerbaijan or Armenia where they fight. But we have a lot of experience with this work. People need to come together and start talking to each other. We must encourage and support this process of exchange, all over the world.
What about the work of the Peace Academy that you run in Tbilisi?
Unfortunately, Corona prevented the implementation of our plans this year. Usually we invite Christian, Jesidic or Muslim children from all over the country to Tbilisi, where we plan various activities with them. The Corona situation is catastrophic. It is not forbidden to bring children together, but we are careful. Moreover, it is not easy to travel to Tbilisi from remote places. Therefore, we only met via zoom. The children were thrilled to see each other. We try to stay in touch, also via Facebook, to hear how the children are doing and what they need. In some cities the schools are closed because of Corona.
How is the Peace Academy's offer being received?
Unser Projekt ist inzwischen recht bekannt. Wir bekommen viel positive Resonanz, besonders von muslimischer Seite. Vor Corona haben wir Ausflüge mit unseren Kindern in verschiedene Regionen gemacht. Viele Eltern und Großeltern haben uns herzlich gedankt und gesagt, alle Kinder in ihren Dörfern träumen, an diesem Projekt teilnehmen zu können. Die Kinder sind unsere kleinen Friedensbotschafter in den Dörfern und Städten.
What is the project about?
Prejudices and misunderstandings are to be broken down through the encounters oft he children. This works wonderfully. The children feel like real friends after a while. They know exactly who is Christian, who Muslim or who Yezidi, but that is not important. They appreciate and love each other just as they are. They spread this spirit also in their homes and so slowly throughout the country. Unfortunately the number of places in our project is very limited. We can only take 30 children at a time.
Do you have an example of togetherness among children?
I can think of an example of a Yezidi girl. The Yezidi have their own traditions, also when it comes to prayers. The Yezidi girl wanted to pray and needed special preparation. It was very interesting to observe how the Christian and Muslim children helped her to keep her prayer according to their tradition. That is wonderful. And this message of peaceful coexistence is slowly spreading. The children tell their friends, neighbours and parents.
Are there similar interfaith organisations like the Peace Academy?
For example, there is an ombudsman's office set up by the government. This organisation brings together religious leaders who then try to engage in dialogue. It is on a different level than our project.
How is the situation after the parliamentary elections in Georgia?
The situation is tense, not only in Tbilisi. The Society is divided. The leading party "Georgian Dream" won the elections in October. The opposition protests and speaks of election fraud. There is so much hatred in the way people treat each other, quarrelling and slander. Sometimes it is unbearable and difficult for the whole country.
In Tbilisi you and Bishop Malkhaz have another project, the Peace Cathedral.
In the Peace Cathedral we are building a place like the House of One. Under the roof of the already existing cathedral we are building a mosque and a synagogue. A house for the monotheistic religions. We are all brothers and sisters because we have a common root. Of course we do not have much space. We are nevertheless trying to build these two additional shrines. This is unique in Georgia.
How is the progress of the construction works?
The mosque is almost finished. At the moment we have to raise funds again, Bishop Malkhaz is very busy finding supporters who will give a donation for the sacred space of the other religion.
Will there be a fourth room like in the House of One in Berlin?
Yeah, above the mosque. There we will organise meetings or have multi-religious services.