Growing up in the Turkish capital, Ankara, 33-year-old Okan Doğan heard the word “Armenian” used as a an insult, just like his peers in Armenia heard the word “Turk” uttered with contempt.
The long shadow of Ottoman Turkey’s World-War-I-era slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million ethnic Armenians lies at the base of this discord. Turkey strongly denies that the killings were genocide, as claimed by Armenia and 30 other countries. Ankara’s 1991 decision to side with Azerbajan during Baku’s war with Armenia over the region of Nagorno Karabakh and close the Turkish-Armenian border added to this psychological divide.
The differences, though, intrigued Doğan. While an undergraduate, he decided to study the massacres and Armenia’s territorial claims within modern-day Turkey, but his research hit a wall. Both Internet and academic resources were scarce, as is knowledge.
“In Turkey, the lack of information and unawareness [about Armenia] is very severe,” he says. “My friends are mainly academics and most of them know little about the Armenian genocide and, generally, about Armenians.”
“There are people who deny [the genocide] just because the Turkish government rebuffs it,” he continues. “Millions have simply never heard of it, and just don’t have any idea about it. In that sense, I feel, that I have a lot to do in my homeland.”
As a political-science doctoral student at Ankara’s Bilkent University researching how Turkish intellectuals campaign for recognition of the Armenian genocide, he decided he needed to go beyond the official line. And, so, in 2017, he moved to Armenia.
As part of an eight-month Armenian-Turkish exchange program funded by the Istanbul-based Hrant Dink Foundation, Doğan examined how Armenian intellectuals, in turn, consume and disseminate information from Turkey about the two countries’ relations.