Ani, Kars and Gyumri: Journey Towards Understanding

The Ani, Kars and Gyumri: Journey Towards Understanding project aims at fostering Armenian-Turkish dialogue and a rediscovering of their shared culture and history.

The towns of Kars and Gyumri will be the focal points for exploring this joint cultural heritage. These towns, which were once good neighbors, share a striking cultural similarity and fulfilling a similar role in their respective provinces- are presently divided by the closure of the border.  The project will also center on the cultural history of Ani, once the medieval capital of Armenia, currently located in Turkey. This site once dominated the silk bridge over the Akhurian/Arpaçay River, which steep banks presently remind the onlooker of the encumbered relationship between the two countries.

The Journey Towards Understanding Project is divided into the following three sub-projects:

1)      Shared historical narratives: Teams of Armenian and Turkish scholars are jointly researching and writing on historical cultural linkages between Armenia and Turkey in the 19th Century. The work will be published by the IHJR as part of its publication series with Republic of Letters Publishing. The narratives focus on the following subjects:

A. “The Construction of the Tiflis-Aleksandropol-Kars Railway (1895-1899),” by Professor Candan Badem and Dr. Sonya Mirzoyan. As this region, the present border between Turkey and Armenia, was considered to be a crossroad of cultures at the time and experienced a high influx of migrants under the new Russian rule, the construction and exploitation of the railway serves as a focal point for exploring the previously peaceful coexistence and integration of multiple cultural identities. This publication is scheduled to be released by the turn of the year.

B. The musical tradition of the traveling bards of the region, known in Turkey as Ashiks and in Armenia as Ashugs. The bards, which fulfill a central role in the oral tradition of the peoples of central Asia, connect a unique form of art to a rich history of tribal values, legends, folklore and mysticism. The work on this shared narrative has been put on hold.

2)      The documentary picks up where the shared narrative leaves off. Mesut Tufan (Turkey) and Ara Shirinian (Armenia) are in the process of directing a film that shows the long tradition of cooperation between Turkish and Armenian artists, especially in the field of opera and music. The documentary focuses on the opera “Leblebici Horhor Ağa,” written in Turkish by the Armenian composer Tigran Tchouhadjian, and the opera scene in 19th century Istanbul. The documentary is meant to set a positive example to spur further cooperation between the countries, as well as to show that art can normalize relations and be a precursor to intercultural dialogue. The pilot project is planned to be released towards the end of 2013.

3)      A photo exhibition complements the shared narratives and the documentary film. The exhibition, entitled Crossing Borders between Turkey and Armenia is a visual dialogue between three photographers: Zaven Khachikyan (Armenia), Mesut Tufan (Turkey) and Kadir van Lohuizen (The Netherlands). They traveled separately through the borderlands of Turkey and Armenia, documenting the cultures, architecture, and every-day life of its people. Their work focuses on the “twin cities” of Kars, Turkey and Gyumri, Armenia, as well as the ruins of the ancient archeological site of Ani in Turkey. Several short documentaries provided by the Hrant Dink Foundation complement the pictures. As a whole, Crossing Borders is a testament to the shared experiences, past and present, of communities on both sides of the Turkish-Armenian border. The exhibition was launched on October 15, 2013 in the Atrium, The Hague, and remained on display for two weeks. Crossing Borders is designed to travel and is planned to go to Bern, Switzerland next.

By underscoring that their shared history is part of a collective identity, eroding stereotypes and enemy images of the ‘other’, this project seeks to promote rapprochement between Armenian and Turkish communities.

The IHJR

The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) works with educational and public policy institutions to organize and sponsor historical discourse in pursuit of acknowledgement, and the resolution of historical disputes. Founded in 2004, the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) is an independent, nonprofit institution based in Leiden.