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Armenian Language and Literature Students Welcome Guest Speaker from Istanbul

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YEREVAN, Armenia – On December 3, 2014, the English-language section of the ‘Armenian Language and Literature’ course at the American University of Armenia (AUA) welcomed Meltem Naz Kaşo, a guest speaker from Istanbul, for a discussion on Turkish identity. The class revolves around the theme of identity in general and the formation of the Armenian identity in particular.

Meltem Naz Kaşo is in Yerevan for four months as part of the Turkey-Armenia Fellowship Scheme coordinated by the Hrant Dink Foundation, an organization that promotes open dialogue and peaceful talks between Turks and Armenians, among other things. Her research at Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK) NGO focuses on LGBT issues.

Kaşo spoke of the complexities of the Turkish national identity developing after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire under the influence of Kemalism on the one hand, Islam on the other, caught between modernity and tradition. She shared personal stories from her own family as well as general trends in public perceptions, including shifts in the social landscape in recent years.

Kaşo discussed the sensitivities surrounding the issue of the Armenian Genocide, a topic that the students did not avoid raising. While admitting the inhuman suffering that took place during the First World War, she underscored that placing such emphasis on the genocide as formative of Turkish identity was difficult for modern-day Turks to bear. The discussion did not lead to any one, single attitude being present in Turkish society today, as the diversity of opinions in that country range from denialism as a form of extreme nationalism, to those who readily accept the genocide, condemn it and are willing to make amends for it, to those who acknowledge the suffering but are uncertain how to address it meaningfully.

The students asked about Kaşo’s personal perceptions, her experiences and prospects for the future. One student, who admitted it was her first time ever interacting with a Turk, said, “I think this conversation is a really positive thing. We should start building a bridge between the people of Armenia and the people of Turkey. We shouldn’t look to other people to solve this issue – it’s up to the civil society to take the initiative.”

Other topics that came up included gender identity, religion, the Armenians of Turkey, and the diversity of culture and attitudes of Armenians of Armenia and the Diaspora.

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia and affiliated with the University of California. AUA provides a global education in Armenia and the region, offering high-quality, graduate and undergraduate studies, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting public service and democratic values.

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Meltem Naz Kaşo, a guest speaker from Istanbul, discusses Turkish identity

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Meltem Naz Kaşo

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