American University of Armenia hosts talk on Turkish identity
The American University of Armenia (AUA), a private, nonsectarian, independent university founded in 1991 in Yerevan, hosted a talk on Turkish identity on Wednesday.
Meltem Naz Kaşo, a former Today’s Zaman daily reporter and a research fellow participating in a Turkey-Armenia Fellowship Scheme established by the Hrant Dink Foundation, was a guest speaker at the event. Participants included 25 second-year Armenian students who took the Armenian Language and Literature course at the university. The class was taught in English and focused on the questions of identity formation through literature.
The course instructor at the AUA, Nareg Seferian, who invited Kaşo to the event, told Today’s Zaman that it was the first time that many of his students had interacted with a Turk in their lives. “This was a thought-provoking session for them. A seed was planted in their minds to transform clashing narratives into a much more nuanced common narrative,” he said.
Kaşo’s discussion focused on three aspects of Turkish identity that she found important to the collective identity of her native country. “The Turkish identity is not a rigid construction, quite unlike Armenian culture in Armenia, which appears somewhat monolithic [and] consists of a single religion, race and certain traditions,” she said. Her talk highlighted Islam; the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the republic’s founder; and patriarchy as three key values of the Turkish identity. “These three aspect of ‘Turkishness’ are usually in conflict with each other, causing Turks both individually and as a society to struggle to be in peace with themselves,” she said. Kaşo also mentioned the increasing polarization among Turks based mostly on the questions of the practice of their faith, social class and political stance.
After the talk on Turkish identity, Seferian told Today’s Zaman that in modern times, it was very easy to base Armenian identity in a stark contrast with the Turkish one. The idea is that “we are Armenians because we are not Turks,” Seferian explained. According to him, Armenian students are not exposed to the Turkish identity enough. “The Turk is a character or a figure in Armenians’ minds. It comes from their collective memory. The Turk is not a person with a story,” he said to Today’s Zaman.
Students were also active participants of the event, raising questions both during and before the talk and also sharing their perspectives. They were made up of Armenians coming from different countries, including Canada, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the Netherlands and the United States.
Meghety Karjikian, a Lebanese-Armenian student who joined the Turkish identity talk, spoke to Today’s Zaman after the event. “I am glad we had this talk because we needed it. We had been exposed to only one side of the story,” she said.
The Turkey-Armenia Fellowship Scheme promotes cross-border affiliation and cooperation of professionals from Armenia and Turkey within the framework of the Support to the Armenia-Turkey Normalisation Process program financed by the European Union.