WHEN IT COMES TO STEREOTYPES….
Since we were living at the two sides of a closed-border and under the shadow of a still non-recognized genocide, as women from Armenia and Turkey, we were conditioned to be enemies rather than neighbors. Therefore, FEAR was the first obstacle we had to overcome. Hatred and hostility towards our national identities were so widely spread in both of our cultures, stories we had learned or experienced involved mainly verbal or physical violence (insults, swear words, crimes, attacks or conspiracies). Before our first gathering which happened in 2013 at Şirince, Turkey, we decided to talk separately in our mother tongues about cultural and national stereotypes towards each other. Just for being open and honest to ourselves and to each other, we first tried to face our own fears, our own prejudices, our own stereotypes. These conversations have been transcribed and translated into English, so we could share our reflections within the Beyond Borders Initiative and with the public.
For publishing these conversations, we used nicknames because we would have liked to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, there is a long way to go for people from Armenia and Turkey in order to be neighbors and not enemies. At one side of the border, what happened in the past is left hidden, covered or only whispered. At the other side of the border, this denial fuels the everlasting rage and hatred carried from generation to generation.
In our story as Beyond Borders Initiative, we were strangers to each other in the beginning. In time, through the shared artistic experience and living together we went beyond neighborhood, we went beyond cultural collaboration, we went beyond political support. We became dear friends who support each other, no matter where we are and what we do. We have chosen to act with love and compassion while at the same time to acknowledge and honor our fear. Our discussions about stereotypes towards each other are in this link, presented in English, Armenian and Turkish.
‘’I grew up internalizing the official ideology of the Turkish Republic. I was accepting all written information in our school books; for example, I believed that the Armenian parties were harmful. I had neither an Armenian friend, nor a Kurdish friend. We were living as conservative “white Turks” in our town.’’
‘’I remember the Armenian parties Taşnak and Hınçak from our history classes, too. When we were told these stories about traitor Armenians, I was studying in the class together with my Armenian friends. At that time, I did not think about the difficulty of that situation. What were they feeling?’’
‘’The birthday cake was sitting on a round coffee table and I humbly made the whole event into a celebration by turning around the table and shouting “Damn the PKK!” (PKK stand for Kurdistan Worker’s Party). There is such a scene in my mind. I could have been 5 or 4 years old. How did it happen? And why? ….It cannot stick in my mind because I thought that it was something shameful for me since at that time I was not evaluating things as I do now.’’
‘’Whenever we talk about Azeris we say they are Turks. It’s like you said, we identify them as one and the same. But I don’t think that they are the same.’’
‘’I smoke cigarettes, but hookah is different for me. I know that it’s ordinary tobacco with flavoring, but just the thought that say, four Turks had sat and smoked hooka and planned how they would kill my grandparents…Then I tried it and realized that I’m just dumb. I mean, how can I associate some simple object with such a thing? With genocide?’’
‘’In Istanbul, I did not tell where I come from. I was afraid that they’d treat me differently if they knew I was Armenian.’’
‘’When we find out that someone is Turkish, we think about how people say that Turks have a specific smell. I thought they’d say the same about me, that I smell…’’
‘’because being Armenian meant being a survivor of genocide. We are the survivors of suffering. And so who was responsible for that? It was Turks, it was Azeris. So being Armenian always means hating Turks…..And so it’s not about hating Turks so strongly, but rather not understanding who the Turk is and, from a young age, assuming that the Turk is bad.’’
‘’Was it possible that this woman who has such a husband (hating Armenians) knows the history? And that feeling of guilt was so strong inside of her that she felt the need to hug me and say to me in a really low voice that she was sorry?’’