The Beyond Borders project started when one of the initiators of the project (Milena Abrahamyan) traveled to Istanbul to meet with interested actors from Amargi organization in April 2012. Tuba Keles was an active member of Amargi at the time and Milena Abrahamyan was also active in the Women’s Resource Center of Armenia. The idea of the project was inspired by the desire to have a woman-led and women-oriented cross- border peace-building initiative, which would incorporate oral history, storytelling and performance art as a means to contribute to Turkish-Armenian dialogue. In November 2012 when 6,776 USD was fund-raised using online crowd-sourcing, which allowed anyone who was interested in the project’s actualization to contribute, and with additional help from Kvinna till Kvinna, the project was able to be actualized.
A team was created consisting of 6 past and present volunteers and/or staff of the Women’s Resource Center, and 4 former members of Amargi. In January of 2013 a meeting took place in Yerevan among the 4 participants from Turkey and 5 from Armenia who discussed in more depth the future steps to take to implement the project. This meeting was funded partly by the Women’s Resource Center and partly by Amargi in Istanbul, an organization that no longer exists, but which existed when the project was started and whose members are among the original participants and coordinators of this project.
This meeting was also an opportunity to agree on interview methodologies and a common strategy for editing the stories that would be collected. It was decided that the interviews would take place from within the group and move outward, so that each participant would interview another participant and also be interviewed, and then more interviews would be conducted outside of both the immediate Turkish and Armenian teams, with a focus on communities in Armenia and Turkey.
In April (2013) the group in Turkey and the group in Armenia held simultaneous storytelling/oral-history workshops, each in their own countries with their respective participants to better prepare for conducting interviews. Following the oral history workshops a methodology was agreed upon: each participant would interview another participant within the in-country group and then each participant would go on to interview one more woman in her own community. An initial cross-group interview was conducted with participants from both countries.
This interview was dealing primarily with how each side sees the other and the personal experiences of the Armenian participants with how they have been taught about and perceived Turkish women and vice versa was the topic of conversation. This interview is available on our BLOG. The individual interviews that followed all dealt with the broad topic of sexuality, entailing everything from marriage, relationships, sexual orientation, sexual violence, love relationships, masturbation and more.
On July, 6 participants from Armenia and 4 participants from Turkey met in Sirince, Turkey for ten days to discuss the interviews they had collected, to collaborate on a joint production of a performance based on those interviews and to hold workshops on conflict transformation and theater techniques together. Sirince was chosen as the place for this meeting because there is an art residency there and especially well-known is its Madrasa Theater where theater workshops happen throughout the summer.
The advantage of working in such a place was that the daily life and the artistic process integrated and allowed more room for creativity in working together as women divided by a closed border. In addition, to have a deeper understanding of Armenian and Turkish cultures and experiences and to build a more intense collaboration, working in an art residency served as a good possibility for an innovative approach to collaborative peace-building. The final performance was attended by approximately 60 audience members, most of them young people from a nearby village, but also older people participating in other workshops and residencies at the Madrasa Theater.