Turkish students fraternize with minority pals

Turkish students fraternize with minority pals

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish students fraternize with minority pals

This photo shows Turkish and Armenian students together after their visit to Getronagan Armenian High School in Istanbul’s Karaköy district. DAILY NEWS photo

Students from a high school in Istanbul have launched a project to establish contact and fraternize with their peers from Turkey’s minority communities, including Armenians, Rum (Anatolian Greek) and Syriacs, through a special permission they obtained from the Education Ministry.

“We chat over daily matters with our peers. We sip on our tea and meet outside. For instance, I wear a headscarf. Perhaps they were never going to make contact with a person wearing a headscarf in their lives, and I was not going to make contact with an Armenian, Rum or Syriac. We are trying to share a glass of tea away from the shadows of [past tragedies,]” Sena Şahbaz, one of the 10th grade students who initiated the project, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Six students have already met with their peers from the historical Getronagan Armenian High School in Istanbul’s Karaköy district as part of the project entitled “Peoples of Anatolia on the Path Paved by Culture and Sociology.” The students are also set to meet with their Rum and Syriac peers as well.
“During my earlier years, I used to take pride in the fact that I was born Turkish. I used to belittle Armenians because they did not have the chance to be born as Turks, whereas now my opinions have changed,” Hanne Bolluk, another one of the project’s creators, told the Daily News.

Sena Şahbaz also added they had no intention to abandon the project despite some unfavorable reactions they received from some of their relatives and friends.

“We need to make contact, touch and percieve and share our time together. What we are doing is mixed familiarization, or the ‘touch and share’ project in other words,” said Şahbaz said.

Fethiye Çetin, the lawyer who represented assasinated Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink’s family in court, had also paid a visit to their school, Şahbaz explained, adding that Çetin had virtually lit up their heads.

“She told us her own family history. She was both a lawyer in the Dink case and a defender of minority rights. I came to understand how minority communities in Turkey have been relegated into the background after her speech,” said Şahbaz who has begun to learn Armenian and has also expressed her interest in learning Greek, too. She also added that their greatest dream was to establish a library that contains books about all ethnic peoples in Turkey and that they were planning to realize their goal within a decade.

“We dream of a country that is not afraid of differences and which lives together with them. It ought not be forgotten that geography is what creates identity,” Şahbaz said.