Ani Dialogue kick-off conference reveals great potential in Turkish Armenian civil society cooperation

The first meeting of the Ani Dialogue has ended with great achievements in building relations and preparing the ground for future joint projects between the Turkish and Armenian civil society. A new bottom up process was inaugurated, which aims at contributing to a better understanding of both societies and, in a long term, to a relaxation in Armenian Turkish relations.

On 14th-17th October, 70 representatives of civil society organizations from each of the two countries came to Yerevan and took part in an intense meeting concerning the future of the dialogue process between Armenia and Turkey. The conference, which was jointly, organized by the Heinrich Boell Foundation offices South Caucasus and Turkey as well as the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan, aimed at strengthening the component of the civil society in the negotiating process, which is until now mostly a question of high diplomacy. But as other dialogue processes, as for example the Petersburg Dialogue, have shown, civil society can play by establishing civil diplomacy. The concept of the Ani Dialogue is to bring together representatives from civil society organizations in order to establish new bands across the closed border. As the conference has shown, many Turkish participants visited Armenia for the first time. Not only the face to face contact during the whole meeting, but also the shared impressions and the knowledge gained on several field trips contributed to this. Especially impressive was a trip to the Turkish Armenian border, visiting the ruins of the medieval town Ani. These shared impressions gave a special energy to the whole process of establishing new contacts amongst each other.

But before that, the participants started by getting to know each other and their expectations towards future cooperation. Following welcome speeches by the directors of the three organizing institutions, the ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, Hans-Jochen Schmidt, Richard Giragosian from the Armenian Center of National and International Studies (ACNIS) and Migirdic Margos a prominent writer in Turkey, gave an introduction into the current state of Armenian Turkish relations. They all stressed the importance of bringing together people from the civil society in order to overcome obstacles and prejudices, which prevent a peaceful conflict resolution until nowadays.

Dilek Kurban (Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, TESEV) held a speech on the “Political transformation in Turkey and the democratization process”.  Furthermore Rainder Steenblock, a former member of the German Parliament and deputy chairperson of the German-South Caucasus Parliamentarian Group, gave a contribution on the importance and strength of compromises in regard of international relations. The round of speeches was completed by the director of the International Center for Human Development (ICHD) Tevan Poghosyan, who talked about the “Regional Integration and Armenian Turkish Relations”.

After this input, the participants worked in groups on the topics “Culture and Heritage”, “Journalism and Media”, “Research and Education”, “Environment” and “Human Rights”. The main challenges were to identify projects, in which cooperation between Armenian and Turkish civil society organizations already takes place, as well as develop new ideas for that kind of cooperation. The working groups turned out to be very fruitful and inspiring for all participants. Many ideas for further interaction were developed. The group on Environment worked out a plan of cooperation in the field of fighting water pollution of the Akhurian and Araks rivers, Journalists from both countries agreed on creating a joint webpage, which will help to promote Turkish Armenian cooperation projects as well as publish articles on everyday life in Armenia and Turkey. Furthermore, several proposals for research projects were designed, as for example a survey on comparing human rights issues related to military institutions, or a research on the similarities between Armenian and Turkish language. 

Ani Dialogue showed that the willingness and eagerness for cooperation exists on both sides of the closed boarder. All participants stated the will to stay in contact after this first initial meeting and work further on the ideas that have been developed. The enormous potential which lays in this cooperation of civil society representatives was astonishing and the organizers are more than ever convinced, that a continuation of the Ani Dialogue will and has to take place in 2011.