Grandpa’s School

“My ancestral village was in Cilicia*. They were a family of priests. During the massacres of Adana, the elders of the family were murdered, only the children survived. And they grew up speaking Turkish, so my grandfather’s parents were native speakers of Turkish. After 1923, they arrived in Lebanon where they settled down for good. Grandpa used to share memories of his first school with us: they had no seats, so they sat on the ground, and the beach sand served them a blackboard. The children learned the Armenian alphabet by painting the letters on the sand with a stick. And his parents forbade them to speak in Turkish at home. They didn’t know Armenian themselves, but demanded that their children speak only Armenian at home. And it amazed my grandpa how Turkish-speaking parents could raise an Armenian-speaking child and plant the seeds of patriotism in him.”

*Cilicia was the south coastal region of Anatolia. It existed as a political entity from Hittite times into the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and Byzantine Empire. Cilicia extends inland from the southeastern coast of modern Turkey, due north and northeast of the island of Cyprus. Cilicia corresponds to the modern region of Çukurova in Turkey. [Source: Wikipedia]

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I am Armenian

“In 1992, I have visited Turkey together with one Australian. My grandparents were Armenians from Turkey, but I was living in Greece, and it was a dilemma for me – to travel to Turkey, or not. It was very difficult for me, especially when we arrived in the port and I saw the flags. Anyways, I was traveling around, but without mentioning that I’m Armenian. Eventually I ended up in the city of Van. I wanted to visit the Aghtamar island in Lake Van. I took the bus to the lake in the morning, but the boat trip ticker was 50$, which I wasn’t able to pay at that time. One guy said I can wait for other tourists to share to price. But nobody came. I’ve waited until evening. There were no buses, so I walked along the road for two hours until a bus stopped and I returned to Van. I was walking in the streets looking for a place to eat when a stranger approached me and offered me chestnuts.
“Tourist, tourist. Eat. Eat.”
I wanted him to leave me alone, but something changed within me, I accepted his offer, ate the chestnuts, thanked him and walked away. But he followed me, saying:
“Restaurant. Restaurant. You want eat. Eat. Eat. Come with me.”

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I was a very religious person

“I was a very religious person since childhood. My family was religious, they liked me to go to mosque, to pray and fast. But I was following their way of life. After going to university, and speaking with many students at college, I understood that some aspects of my life are not seen in the religion. So my mind changed. My religion wasn’t corresponding to my needs, so I stopped praying, and fasting. I tried to not become attached to any religion. But as time went by, I tried to synchronize myself with the society, because as an atheist I wasn’t accepted. So I tried to pray sometimes. Then I visited Saudi Arabia where I saw people following their religion strictly. I liked it and followed it for one or two years. I went to mosque and prayed. And then once, a friend of mine came to me and asked: “What’s the benefit for you from praying all the time. What did you gain?” Then, in two weeks or so, I quit it again. And now I only follow the things that are moral. And I think that this is better for human beings. I don’t think about other universe. I think about this one. My parents were opposing me and they had very strict reaction, but eventually they left me alone.

The story was recorded in the city of Isfahan, Iran.

Ghost of the Attic

“Back in the days when I was in the elementary school, I was quite a trouble maker. I was selfish, a devil. I was 8 or 9 years old. And we had this attic in our school that no one was allowed to go. It was like a storage room. Nobody went there, and nobody dared to go there. So, me and one of my friends thought that we should start a rumor about a ghost in the attic. During the first two weeks, nobody believed us, nobody thought it was real. But we made it happen, we made everyone believe that there was a ghost. We took younger kids there and said, “Look! There’s a ghost! Just passed you!” Still to this day, there’s a rumor about the ghost of the attic in that school. And nobody knew who started the ghost story, no one found it out that it was us.”

The story was recorded in the city of Isfahan, Iran.

Looking for a change

“I had my first Couchsurfing experience in Qazvin [a city in Iran]. Before I always stayed in hotels and hostels. I was traveling for two and a half months, and I was very depressed and lonely. I really needed some changes. I was traveling to make videos, and I got too much into it and I stopped caring about traveling. I sort of became a workaholic. And it didn’t feel good. And when I realized it, actually I was in Tatev [a village and a medieval monastery in Armenia], I decided I’m not going to do this anymore, I need more friends, I need to connect with people to really learn the culture. So I came to Qazvin. And it was a nice coincidence. I met a perfect host, he was a first-timer and he was very excited about it. And there was another traveler from Poland and he was traveling for 5 months and his budget was 1 euro per day. He only hitchhiked, and kind of depended on people who invite him and offered him food and place to stay. And I felt kind of sorry that I traveled by buses and stayed in hotels, and I got jealous of his adventures and style of traveling. We traveled together for some time, then we split. But he was a big inspiration for me to change the way I traveled.”

The story was recorded in the city of Isfahan, Iran.

Painting with pain

“When I started learning more about the Armenian genocide, I was deeply shaken by the fact that pregnant women and children were being massacred. And I started painting pregnant women. I worked for one year on a series dedicated to those innocent victims, feeling the pain. Eventually, I was able to organize an exhibition at the Gyumri Art Academy. But on the other hand, I remember my grandmother told us that back then there were Turks who said to them, “Run away, escape, we will help you”. But many did not believe, and decided to stay. There were Turks who even hid Armenians in their homes.”

The story was recorded in the city of Yerevan, Armenia, during the Armenian-Turkish reconciliation project “Acting Together”.