School of Thought: Turks and Hyes find friendship during summer study

A group of Armenian students have learned that it takes only a week to reshape views that have been decades in the making. Turks and Armenians can be friends, they say.

Last month, 12 university students from Armenia spent a week studying with Turkish students in Antakia, Turkey (Antakia is the historical Antioch that was the southern seat of the Armenian kingdom in 83-69 B.C. during the reign of Tigran the Great).

“The aim of the summer school was not to achieve historical truth. We just wanted the young people of the nations to get in touch, know each other and be able to build trust between the two countries,” explains Isabella Sargsyan, coordinator of youth programs of the Armenian committee of the Helsinki Civil Assembly (www.hra.am).

It appears that, in at least come cases, the program was a success.

“After becoming acquainted with them for several days I understood that Armenians and Turks can make the best friends in the world and be honest neighbors,” says Magda Markosyan, 20 a student of the Yerevan State University Department of Economics. “There is just the need to first of all agree on the ‘Armenian Question’, and then we, Armenian young people, should realize the present-day young people are not responsible for the atrocities of the past. We, more than other nations, have many similarities.”

During the week, students studied issues such as Nationalism, Problems of Social Individualism in Globalization Era, Peaceful Journalism. Lectures were led by Turkish and Armenian specialists.

“The topic of my report that referred to the field of Non-Governmental Organizations in Armenia changed there when I understood that some of the Turkish students know almost nothing about Armenia,” Sargsyan said. “Therefore I first of all told about what Armenia is like, where it is, what statehood it has, then I turned to the core topic.”

According to the Armenian students the friendly attitude of the young Turkish people is explained also by a lack of information about Armenia. In contrast to the Armenian side the young Turkish people have learnt about historic Armenia only by means of several sentences in the textbooks that can hardly cause deep hatred.

The idea for the summer studies came from Turkey two or three years ago, and was realized this year due to funding from the Council of Europe.

“We Armenians have constantly received an anti-Turkish upbringing,” says Yerevan State University Department of Political Science student Gayane Vardanyan. “We left for Turkey carrying that in mind. At the beginning I was so stressed that I did not want even to smile. But gradually I became comfortable. I even felt I am making friends and loving my Turkish mates.”

The Armenian students say their hosts actively tried to establish friendly relations. And the ice broke on the moment when one of the Turkish guys began singing an Armenian song.

“It is amazing, but there were those among the Turkish students who even said they are ready to accept that their ancestors have committed genocide,” says Lusine Grigoryan, student at the Journalism Department, Yerevan State University.

(On the other hand, the Armenians weren't challenged to accept Turkey's version of history. The Turks say that, friendly relations aside, the Armenians' attitude is unbending and senseless to challenge.)

Yes, I asked. They answered me that Turkish side realized that irrespective of good relations, Armenians’ attitude is unbending in that problem and it’s senseless to speak about it.

During the course of study, the Turks and Armenians went to the famed Armenian territory of Musa Ler (site of the popular historical novel “Forty Days at Musa Dagh”). There, they participated in the blessing of the grape harvest, an Armenian tradition.

“I was trembling while watching the young Turkish people entering the round dance of Armenians and begin dancing with the same spirit,” says Magda Markosyan.. “And I was especially touched when one of the students began weeping during the mass in the Armenian church.”

The organizers of the summer school say the results exceeded their expectations. The Armenian side aims to organize a similar summer school for next summer, in Gyumri.