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Tensions between Turks and Armenians largely center on collective memories of conflict, and one Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation (BST) grantee decided to address those tensions in a unique and neutral way.
Convinced that historical differences could be discussed constructively and lead to mutual understanding, Turkish Policy Quarterly and the Imagine Center for Conflict brought together six Armenians and six Turks in Gudauri, Georgia, a region that is neutral to both Turks and Armenians. The organizations used a $30,000 BST grant to fund the project.
From June 8-14, 2012, the group participated in a project called “Capturing the Mountain,” which combined conflict-resolution trainings with analytical discussions, team-building activities, and fostering mutual empathy through sharing of personal stories, the team focused on history to present day relations and prospects for the future.
“Deciding on participants was an issue,” said Nigar Göksel, co-organizer and co-facilitator of the project, and the chief editor of Turkish Policy Quarterly.
“The Turkish and Armenian facilitators decided to make it a diverse group” within the general identities of Armenians and Turks, she said.
The diversity within each group, including Armenians from Armenia as well as from the Diaspora in the United States, Syria, Lebanon, and Georgia, as well as Turks of Kurdish and German origin, and various ideological and professional backgrounds, enabled different layers of identity and collective memory to come to the fore.
“We wanted the composition of the group to bring out the fault lines in Turkish–Armenian relations,” she said.
During the first phase of the project, the participants spent seven days in Gudauri, a mountain resort in Georgia. With the help of three professional facilitators (Armenian, Turkish, and American), the participants were guided through an intense dialogue process of reflecting on historical and present-day relations between Armenians and Turks, current challenges faced by the two nations, the development of personal relationships among the participants.
The discussions were coupled with relationship-building exercises, including a number of hikes in the mountains of Gudauri, that fostered an environment of trust.
“Sometimes the dialogue got intense,” Göksel said. “Breaking out of a dialogue impasse can require a change of environment and mode—climbing a mountain together helped as such.
“Our dialogue composed of getting outside of the room and connecting on a human level, climbing the mountains of Gudauri. The methodology was to bring out the differences, but it was just as much about bringing people together and [building] empathy. It could be draining on a human and emotional level.”
Subsequently, toward the end of the program, each participant shared personal stories about how they had been individually, or as a family, affected by the Turkish-Armenian conflict.
The entire dialogue program was captured on film by one Armenian and one Turkish cameraman, each of them also a participant in the dialogue.
“Two of the Armenians have recently met with their Turkish counterparts in Istanbul, the group dynamic is still very strong,” Göksel said.
The second phase of this innovative project will focus on further deepening this Armenian-Turkish dialogue while climbing Mount Ararat/Agri Dagi, possibly in the summer of 2013, and producing a documentary film about the entire journey. Mount Ararat sits on Turkish land, but has historic and religious significance for Armenians.
“Mount Ararat is symbolic of the problems,” Göksel said. “Armenians see Mount Ararat as their historic homeland, and a holy one as such. “‘Capturing’ it together and what it symbolizes to both sides – both by climbing and by filming—will be one of the objectives of the future project.”