“ Can you see it? It’s a glass border and we can look each other through it. We are so close and only a small effort would be enough for breaking this barrier”.
The Democracy Wheel project has been realized in between 17-20 November 2011. “The Future is Yours” NGO from Armenia has carried out this project in partnership with Toplum Gönüllüleri Vakfı (Community Volunteers Foundation) of Turkey- and with the support of US Embassy in Armenia and Eurasia Partnership Foundation.
Twelve young people from Armenia, aged between 18 and 22 years, joined the four days’ program in Istanbul, to develop a dialogue with young people from Turkey. The Future Is Yours and Toplum Gönüllüleri Vakfı collaborated together to create this great opportunity for young people living in the two countries to have a direct experience and a mutual understanding of their cultures. The Democracy Wheel project has been started in August 2011 with the aim of connecting two countries’ young people with a strong relationship but a difficult history and to let young people communicate in order to start to break the border between them and between theircultures. The dialogue among them has been seen as a base of shaping a tolerant atmosphere and a positive reflection to decrease the harshness and to promote a better relation in the region.
A long work of research and documentation has been developed behind the realization of these four days of activities and speeches. The preparation included various tasks. Young people from Armenia have started to work in August, in different groups, to analysis the current situation in various fields. They have made an analysis observing the human rights and the democratic field, the cultural, the economical and the political spheres. Moreover, they have decided to create some souvenirs and gifts for the young people in Turkey that they meet. They have produced some objects that were representing the symbols of their culture, like the pomegranate as the sign of prosperity and good luck, and they also decided to make some pendants with the shape of a wheel that was the icon of the project.
This group of twelve young people from Armenia had made a great job on analyzing the relationship between their country and Turkey. The two populations have more than six hundred years of common history, they have been sharing daily life’s experiences and needs, they were living in the same land. Until the event that is called on one side the genocide and on the other one a civil war, they were cooperating for building up a good place where they could live together. Historical difficulties, as the diasporas, and recent problems connected with the closure of the border between Turkey and Armenia, as a consequence of the conflict with Armenia and Azerbaijan-and the position undertaken by the two countries-, have been influencing the maintenance of positive relations.
The program shaped in these days was extremely interesting and intense. The activities chosen had the purpose to underline the interconnection between these two cultures and wanted also to stress the strong historical influence of Armenian population in Turkey. Unfortunately, the coincidence with the exams’ period has been created a lack of participation from Turkey on the first day, constraining the structure of the program to concentrate all the discussion on Saturday. Luckily, day-by-day, we have had an increase into the involvement of young people from Turkey and a great interest from both the participants’ sides. The first day, after a welcoming speech and some ice-breaking activities, the participants had a presentation on Toplum Gönüllülleri Vakfı and a general overview of NGO’s role in Turkey (After the visit to TOG’s office, the group was supposed to visit Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, but because of the tiring journey, they preferred to have a walk around and go back to the hotel).
On the second day, they had the opportunity to meet the Armenian Patriarchate and they visited the Hrant Dink Foundation and AGOS. Both of the appointments were touching and informative for the young people coming from Armenia. The large amount of questions they asked was a clear sign of the interest they had in being in Turkey. Some of the participants from Armenia also decided and defined a time to be baptized from the Patriarch. In fact, in Armenia it is common to do not be baptized until the adulthood. A third interesting site has been visited on the same day, this was the Dolmabahçe Sarayı, a great example of an Armenian architecture and the first palace built in Istanbul in European style.
Saturday was mostly dedicated to the group activities. After a morning meeting in the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation-BSEC-, the young people coming from Armenia started their presentations about the four different fields (Human Rights & Democracy, Culture, Economy and Politic). Their purpose was to give an overview of the existing situation between the two countries, analyzing it from both points of view (Turkish and Armenian), to establish the best condition for starting a formative dialogue and debate, in order to achieve a similar vision or, at least, to plan a common project to set up a better relationship. An interesting point during the presentation was the understanding of how many similarities and connections are present between the two populations, thanks to centuries of shared life and for a territorial proximity. The young people were showing these resemblances starting from simple things such as food or non-verbal communication.
The deep interrelation of these two brothers’ countries makes even more difficult to comprehend their difficulties. But, as in every family, it is also easier to fight with the people that are closer to you. All the activities that have been developed during these days have been only a starting point to share opinions and to understand their mutual visions of the past and the present.
Only through a direct communication it is possible to create the conditions to reconstruct the bonds between these two countries before the negative effects of history. The result of this project has not been the resolution of the problems between them but, these young people had the opportunity to confront themselves and to discuss together, even when that meant to find points of unsolvable distance in the vision of reality. What was evident in these days was the will of building a bridge to find each other.
These young people simply show how it is possible to avoid historical difficulties when the desire of peace and brotherhood is the strongest feeling. Young people from Turkey and Armenia have some differences, but they are sharing the same strong respect and pride for their countries, they have the same generosity and desire of sharing. These are key factors to re-establish a good relationship, because only across respect and awareness of distinctions, together with the will of sharing, it is possible to build up a deep friendship. What is surprising even more than everything else is how these young people are feeling their history in every moment of their life and how much it is affecting their emotions and it is shaping their hearts. A strong difficult and so touching history created young people as the ones we had the pleasure to meet in Istanbul during this project. People extremely generous and solar that wants to restart from the point where their common happy story ended.