Okan University organized a winter school entitled Turkish-Armenian Dialogue and School of Discourse Transformation in the framework of the Support to the Armenia-Turkey Normalization Process Grant program, funded by the European Union's Instrument for Stability. The Winter School, organized under the coordination of Asst. Prof. Dr. Umut Azak from Okan University’s Department of International Relations; Sevil Budak from Okan University Research and Project Development Center; the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation; and Association of Young Historians in Yerevan took place in Yerevan and Istanbul from 11th to 20 January 2015.
Winter School began when the Turkish group composed of two organizers, five students, and two research assistants from Okan University have travelled to Yerevan and met with Armenian participants on 11 January. Workshops held in Yerevan under supervision and facilitation of project directors, Umut Azak and Phil Gamaghelyan, and coordinators, Sevil Budak and Veronika Aghajanyan, focused on national historical discourses in Turkey and Armenia. During this first phase of the program, history narratives and national memories of the two societies were compared by the participants in order to search for the possibilities of a dialogue based on mutual empathy. Besides several team building activities, visits to Yerevan History Museum and Museum of Ancient Manuscripts (Matenadaran) were realized too in the framework of the program.
The second phase of the Winter School began with the arrival of the 18-person team from Armenia to Istanbul on 15 January 2015. During the dialogue workshops which took place in Okan University Tuzla Campus, participants explored mutual perceptions and suggestions concerning the present situation and the resolution of the conflict between the two societies. On 16 January, participants met with the faculty members of Department of International Relations (Assoc. Prof. Zeynep Alemdar, Asst. Prof. Hasret Dikici Bilgin and Şirin Duygulu Elçim) and learned about their related research interests. Another meeting in the framework of the program was held in DEPO Cultural Center with the participation of Prof. Dr. Ayhan Aktar from Istanbul Bilgi University and Çiğdem Mater from Anadolu Kültür Foundation, on 18 January. This talk about the reflections of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue in academia and civil society in Turkey was followed by another meeting entitled “A Musical Journey from Armenia to Turkey”. This open to public event, held in Cezayir Meeting Hall, hosted the DJ and music writer Murat Meriç who gave a lecture on the contributions of popular, known or unknown Armenian composers to the music scene in Turkey and shared a part of his record collection with the audience.
The Winter School ended on 19 January after the group’s participation to the commemoration ceremony for Hrant Dink in front of the Agos newspaper building where Dink was murdered in 2007. In the evening of the same day, the participants of the School were awarded after sharing with each other their future dialogue projects and ideas inspired by the program.
In summary, the 10-day long workshops and activities created intense interactions which will be important steps towards a dialogue and discourse transformation, as targeted by the Winter School. Thanks to 18 individuals who took part in the program, new and hopefully permanent bridges have been built between two societies.