How might cultural exchange support the Turkish-Armenian normalization process?

How might cultural exchange support the Turkish-Armenian normalization process?

A summary of Seda Shekoyan’s article “Spaces For Talking About Peace: Reflections On The Potential Of Cultural Exchange In The Armenian-Turkish Normalization Process”.

The information and views expressed in this blog are those of the original article author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Corridors or our project partners. 

Normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey has been an ongoing and difficult journey, but in her article in Corridors Proceedings Vol. II (“Spaces for Talking About Peace: Reflections on the Potential of Cultural Exchange in the Armenian-Turkish Normalization Process”, pages 93-98) Seda Shekoyan describes how art and culture might support higher level political processes. A scholar with experience as a museum practitioner and art curator, Shekoyan spent some time working at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art in exactly this cross-border field, leading her to believe that art platforms and cultural spaces, including museums, can become spaces for areas of protracted conflict, especially Armenia and Turkey, to talk about, negotiate, and construct “durable peace in the region” (94).

Art And Cultural Spaces As Potential Fields For Protracted Conflict Transformation


Considering museums as platforms for diplomacy and negotiations between two countries is not an entirely revolutionary idea, which Shekoyan acknowledges. She writes that “In addition to being considered as a space of art history and as a classifying cabinet of artworks and practices of the past, museums are often perceived as agents of statecraft and models of governance, self-governance and autonomy” (94). Space for art and culture, such as museums, “archives, galleries, art spaces, libraries, art journals, and related periodicals”, do not directly shorten a protracted conflict, but can cultivate “preconditions for their settlement and resolution in the long-term perspective” (95).


Currently, artistic and cultural platforms are typically wielded as tools to start peace processes, but Seda sees a deeper regional need to use these platforms as “spaces for talking about normalization of relations as a possibility in the long run,” using new technological developments and access to visualization (95).

Reflections On The Armenia-Turkey Normalization Process Through Cultural Exchange


In recent years, there have been significant efforts by the art and cultural communities to aid in the Armenia-Turkey normalization process through workshops, meetings, and fellowships. Since 2014, both Armenia and Turkey have also stepped into the fields of “media, journalism, law, art, and cultures” (among others) to further public diplomacy (96). One product of this shift was a project at the Istanbul Museum of Modern art that Seda helped facilitate, the “Support to the Armenia-Turkey Normalization Process” program. The program was designed to “enable cross-border learning opportunities” in important spheres of work such as academia, arts, civil society, and so on (96). The project also sought to create a space where long-term solutions to peace could be discussed and negotiated. Seda asserts that the more collaboration two parties have in artistic and cultural spaces, the more likely they will be able to transform conflict without violence, as this kind of cooperation "creates preconditions for... resolution in the long-term" (95). 


On Seda’s guided tour of the program’s collection, which held works from both countries, she emphasized “critical topics such as the role of a permanent collection as a discursive apparatus and the artistic and cultural issues shared by two neighboring countries through videos produced by artists of different generations from Turkey and Armenia” (97). Seda hoped to introduce the collection as a tool and space for dialogue, rather than just a collection of shared artworks.


Seda reflects on advocating for longer-term cultural projects in the conflict space, particularly Turkey and Armenia (98), while also asking the reader to consider the following questions: What is the role of museums in statebuilding, a modern and continuously digitalizing society, and how should museums shift from archival and art research work into spaces for international cooperation, civic engagement, and community-based activities (95)? Share your thoughts with Seda and the Corridors team below, or through engaging with us on social media, and be sure to read Seda’s full contribution to Corridors Proceedings Vol. II for a more detailed look at this case study of peacebuilding through cultural exchange.