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 and the archeological site of Ani will be the focal points for exploring this joint cultural heritage. Here the 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. Construction of the railroad between Kars and Gyumri from 1894 to 1899. As the region 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.
B. 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.
2) The documentary picks up where the shared narrative leaves off. Not only do award-winning Armenian and Turkish filmmakers plan to set a positive example to spur further cooperation between the countries, they also estimate that their art can normalize relations and be a precursor to intercultural dialogue. The documentary, the filming and finalization of which is planned for 2013, will follow in the footsteps of the Ashiks/Ashugs and explore the region between Kars and Gyumri from a perspective which emphasizes the local similarities between Turkish and Armenian culture, architecture and history. The story will be conveyed through visuals, traditional music and interviews.
3) A photo exhibition complements the shared narratives and the documentary film. This part of the project is an Armenia and Turkish joint initiative, undertaken by two renowned photographers, who have chosen to portray descendants of survivors whose remembrances of the tragic past are still very much alive. Upon completion of an additional series of pictures from the site of Ani, depicting the ruins of a vanished civilization, the exhibition will be ready for the general public and will travel both within the region as throughout Europe and the US.
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.
Meeting on shared narrative, Istanbul 15th & 16th April 2011
The IHJR organized a planning meeting in Istanbul for its Ani, Kars, Gyumri; Journey towards Understanding project in Istanbul on 15 and 16 april 2011. The first confirmed research team consists of Candan Badem, Assistant Professor in History at Tunceli University and Dr. Sonya Mirzoyan, Vice Director of the National Archives of Armenia. They will study how the construction of the railroad between Kars and Gyumri influenced migrations and relations in the region, in particular between the Ottoman and Armenian population, who both had to adapt to the Russian influence in the region.
The subject and the detailed timeframe of the research were discussed during the meeting.
It was Dr. Mirzoyan’s first visit to Istanbul and Professor Badem gently served as her guide for a quick visit to Ortakoy, a district of Istanbul where a lot of different religious structures come together (see picture).