23 Oct


The conflict, if it can be called that, between Turkey and Armenia, is an unusual one. It is more like a 100-year-old post-conflict that has been locked up and forgotten, at least on the Turkish side of the border. In Armenia it is much more difficult to ignore the real effects of that contested history. Inasmuch as this “post-conflict” has to do with the early 20th century Ottoman policy of extermination of non-Muslim minorities within Turkey, including the genocide of Armenians living there before 1915, it has also evolved to include the interests of more powerful countries. The presence of U.S. military bases in Turkey and Russian military bases in Armenia is no coincidence. The issue is further complicated by Turkish alliance with Azerbaijan regarding the Nagorno-Karabagh war.

So far, peace talks between the two governments have yielded no results. Although civil society occasionally engages in peace building activities across the closed Turkish-Armenia border, women’s issues are almost never on the frontline. Yet much of the nationalism and violence that has built and continues to build the borders of these two countries relies on the subordination of women, ensuring that their place within society stays within the private sphere. Women are supposed to be the mothers of the nation. They are supposed to be housewives, to give birth to boys. They are supposed to be polite and courteous, and they are supposed to remain silent. They are not taken seriously enough on either side of the border to be granted a seat at the negotiating table, although they are often the first to suffer the effects of violence, conflict and war.

Unfortunately, the decade long closure of the Turkish-Armenian border has also led to an atmosphere of ignorance on both sides, making it harder to imagine the “other” as anything other than a stereotype. A 2005 opinion survey [PDF] taken on both sides of the border revealed that a large percentage of respondents in Turkey did not know much about Armenia and that many of the respondents in Armenia had strong negative prejudices against their neighboring Turkey. In a way, both peoples have placed themselves inside of “cultural ghettos”, to use Elif Shafak’s term, and are now suffering as a result. In a speech on the power of storytelling, the prominent Turkish novelist states: “One way of transcending these cultural ghettos is through the art of storytelling. Stories cannot demolish frontiers, but they can punch holes in our mental walls and through those walls, we can get a glimpse of the other and sometimes even like what we see.”

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