Today's Zaman, Turkey
May 1 2011


Turkish, Armenian journalists meet to find `common ground'

01 May 2011, Sunday / SERVET YANATMA, WASHINGTON, D.C.

Participants in the Turkish-Armenian journalism internship program
seeking to foster stronger relations between the two nations together
during their stay in the US.

A Turkish and an Armenian journalist are together in the US on April
24, the day Armenians mark as the anniversary of Armenians being
killed at the hand of Ottomans in 1915. They sit at the same table for
an Easter meal, telling about the cuisines of their culture to their
American host family.

It immediately emerges that their food cultures have much in common.
Many dishes even have the same name. Of course, `serious issues' also
come to the agenda. However, both of them try to make comments that
would not `disturb' the other. Young people of the two countries are
now able to discuss many issues without getting hung up on the
`genocide' debate.

Although Turkey and Armenia have yet to normalize bilateral relations,
things are moving much faster in the civil society wing of the
normalization efforts. Six Turkish and six Armenian journalism interns
came together in the US last week to attend a joint internship
program, in a move to strengthen communication between one another, as
journalists have a role in shaping their country's today and tomorrow.
In this way, they will obtain direct knowledge about their neighbors
and better understand each other.

The program had many parts. The journalists first attended courses on
American media for a week in Washington. They also had courses on
issues such as journalism, media ethics, conflict resolution and
mediation. The most important part of the program, which is still
under way, is the second phase. The journalists were divided into six
groups, each consisting of a Turkish and an Armenian journalist. They
visited a number of states for three weeks. They follow news stories,
attend editorial meetings and examine the news editing process at
American newspapers. This is of course not a one-sided learning
process. They are also exchanging views about their profession with
their American colleagues.

The internship program is not just limited to the office. Perhaps the
most colorful part of the program is that the interns are staying in
the homes of the staff of local journalists. They are observing their
colleagues' working methods and lifestyles. This is also a good
opportunity for the three parties -- American, Turkish and Armenian
journalists -- to get to know one another's cultures.

The conversations at the dinner tables are mostly centered on Turkish
and Armenian dishes. Americans are asking about them and Turkish and
Armenian journalists are answering. It is impossible to skip 1915
incidents during these conversations. However, the debate aims to
understand each other rather than engaging in an argument. Armenian
journalists are aware of the change in Turkey in recent years in
approaching this issue and they are pleased with that.

Conferences in Yerevan, Ankara

The dates that coincide with the internship program are also
noteworthy. The six teams, each compromising a Turkish and an Armenian
journalist, came together on April 24, the anniversary of the deaths
of Anatolian Armenians during World War I, which is marked as
`Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.' Some of the Armenian journalists
attended commemoration ceremonies of the Armenian diaspora. Some of
them went to church with Americans since April 24 also coincided with
Easter, one of the major holidays in Christianity.

One major leg of the program is the joint `border projects' the six
groups will take part in. Some of them will examine the possible
economic outcomes of reopening the Turkish-Armenian border. The border
between Turkey and Armenia has been shut for 14 years due to deep
political disagreements between the two neighboring countries. Some of
them will travel to border villages to question the meaning of the
border for the villagers and some of them will research Armenian
architects in the Ottoman era.

The program is not limited to just those things. In June, six
Armenian and Turkish journalists and the editors of the dailies they
worked as interns for will get together at a conference in Ankara. The
joint border projects will be presented at this conference and the
stories encountered during the projects will be shared with the
public. Soon after this conference, the same team will head to Yerevan
and hold the same conference there.

The program is being carried out by the Washington-based International
Center for Journalists (ICFJ). The project is funded by US Department
of State as well as the US embassies in Ankara and Yerevan. The US
administration believes that the normalization between the two
countries can only be ensured through improvement of dialogue between
the two countries. Journalists are the first group which comes to mind
when the issue is dialogue.




From: A. Papazian