AGBU GORIZ Holds 5th Annual Leadership Seminar

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Istanbul Conference Focuses on Armenian Communities in Turkey

The 5th annual AGBU GORIZ seminar has concluded, helping another group of young professionals from across Armenia and Europe develop their leadership skills. This year’s seminar, hosted in Istanbul and co-organized by the Hrant Dink Foundation, focused on the challenges that Armenians in Turkey face today.

Throughout the four-day seminar, the 22 GORIZ participants explored ways that the Armenian heritage is being preserved in Istanbul, particularly through education and the media. From October 31 to November 1, 2013, the group attended back-to-back meetings with leaders in each field. They included Silva Kuyumciyan, head of Istanbul’s Getronagan Armenian High School; Pakrat Estukian and Rober Koptas, editors of AGOS; and Le Monde journalists Laure Marchand and Guillaume Perrier, authors of “Turkey and the Armenian Ghost.”

The seminars equipped participants with new knowledge that will strengthen their work in their home countries of Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. There, the GORIZ participants are pillars of their Armenian communities: their many accomplishments include publishing award-winning papers; producing films and radio shows on Armenian issues; founding NGOs that build schools in rural Armenia; and graduating with honors from top-ranking universities. With their GORIZ training, they are able to further advance their activism and civic engagement, giving voice to Armenians internationally.

For Levon Isakhanyan, GORIZ presentations such as “Armenian Religious Foundations in Istanbul and Their Property Ownership Problems,” were especially valuable. Isakhanyan, the head of the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Church Legal Department, commented, “Through GORIZ, I learned about the ongoing transformations in Turkish society, specifically among minority communities. I met key individuals who are working on the restitution of confiscated property in Turkey, and I hope to build on those meetings to promote similar claims in Georgia’s Armenian community.”

The Hrant Dink Foundation’s “Conference on Islamized Armenians,” the first of its kind to ever take place in Turkey, was a testament to those transformations and to the country’s changing political climate. The two-day event addressed the growing body of research on Armenians who assumed Muslim identities in the years before, during and after the genocide. Through panels, roundtables, workshops and film screenings, the GORIZ group discovered stories of Armenian Genocide survivors that had long been silenced. As those narratives now unfold, they are raising new questions about identity and justice—questions the GORIZ participants sought to answer.

The conference was just one of the Hrant Dink Foundation programs that inspired the GORIZ leaders. Mariam Nersesian, who is a council member of the Armenian Student Association of Belgium (Hayasa), hopes to initiate a project modelled after the Foundation’s “Media Watch on Hate Speech” in Brussels. Nersesian participated in the 2012 GORIZ seminar in Yerevan and has since trained with the Euro-Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy and written for the Ararat News Press.

Nersesian reflected on her GORIZ experience, stating, “I am honored to be a part of this leadership program, to share my ideas with my Armenian peers from around the world and to help empower our diaspora. It is my personal goal to act as the link between older and younger Armenians in Belgium, while encouraging the next generation to be active and carry on our legacy. With my GORIZ training, I’m confident I’ll succeed.”