Cross-Border Film Project Gives Turks and Armenians a Glimpse into Each Other’s Cultures

Internews brought together young Turkish and Armenian filmmakers to create documentaries depicting human stories from both sides of the border.

Students silloheted in an arch
Turkish and Armenian students overlook Mount Ararat (in Turkey) from Armenia during a cross-border film project conducted by Internews. (credit: Halil İbrahim Ünal)

Despite the fact that they share a border, citizens of Turkey and Armenia rarely come in contact with one another. The two countries never established diplomatic relations after Armenia became an independent nation in 1991, due to tensions over Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Ottoman extermination of approximately 1 million Armenians in 1915 as genocide and Armenia’s conflict with Turkish ally Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. The border between the two nations was closed in 1993 and has not reopened since.

With little to no access to firsthand information about the everyday life, culture, and attitudes of their neighbors, people in both countries are susceptible to official propaganda and rumors demonizing each other and exacerbating the problem.

In this climate of mutual suspicion, Internews brought together young Turkish and Armenian filmmakers (six from each country) to create twelve short documentaries exploring historical, social, and cultural issues. The films, depicting human stories from both sides of the border, provide a unique window into a world that audiences would otherwise never see.

The documentaries have been screened at universities, NGOs, and cafes in both Armenia and Turkey, spurring public discussion on Armenian-Turkish relations and increasing interest in life across the border. A December 23 screening organized by the GPoT Center at Istanbul Kültür University happened to occur the day after the French Parliament passed a bill that makes denial of the 1915 massacres and deportations of Armenians as genocide a crime. Because of the strong reaction to this bill among Turkey’s political leaders, Turkish-Armenian relations were at the top of the news agenda that day (a rare occurrence).

A journalist from the national Turkish TV news channel “Haberturk” attended the screening and filmed a story on the students, their films and their experiences in Armenia for the primetime “Evening Report.” When the program aired, the mostly negative coverage of Turkish-Armenian relations was followed by a clip showing interviews with the students and scenes from their films, broadcast under the headline “Turkish-Armenian Friendship.”

Audiences across Turkey got a rare positive glimpse into Armenia, with scenes from Halil İbrahim Ünal’s film “In the Shadow of Ararat” featuring Azriv Ezicyan (an elderly Cilician  woman) and Armenian artist Artin Haroutyunyan, and from Bulut Tar’s film “Football: Game or Battle,” showing Armenians cheering and rallying before a national soccer match against Russia. According to the journalist narrating during the clip, “Just as relations [between Armenia and Turkey] have become strained in recent days, the students’ films are even more valuable by serving as an example.” 

The project was funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in conjunction with Internews Media Support NGO (Yerevan), Istanbul Kultur University’s Global Political Trends Center (GPot) and Cam Film (Istanbul).

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