The Impact of Armenian-Turkish Bilateral Projects and Initiatives on Young People

1 Feb

The Impact of Armenian-Turkish Bilateral Projects and Initiatives on Young People (by Grigor Yeritsyan)

The role of civil society actors in Armenian-Turkish relations grew over the past years and that is obvious. But do these projects and initiatives reach their goals? Do they change opinions and break stereotypes of people, who live in societies full of prejudices and negative attitudes towards each other? Are they successful or there is no need to spend money on such kind of initiatives until there is a political will? This survey will try to give an answer and find out if CS programs and initiatives are really useful and if they break stereotypes of young Armenians and Turks about each other. The Web survey was conducted in Armenia and Turkey from December 15, 2011 to January 15, 2012. 
Online survey was spread via social networks. In each country a representative sample of the young people aged 18 and above (35) was asked to respond to 10 questions. In order to maximize comparability, the same survey was applied in each country in the same way and in the same language. To avoid translations and linguistic misunderstandings the survey has not been translated and was held in English. The online questionnaire included 10 questions on young people’s attitudes towards Armenian/Turkish peers, before participating in seminars, youth exchanges, conferences and other types of activities, where they had the opportunity of direct communication, and after their participation. Young respondents aged 18-35 from different cities of Armenia and Turkey responded to our questions. For the online survey we developed a questionnaire that records prejudices and stereotypes against Armenians/Turks in the society and whether direct communication breaks those stereotypes.
The final questionnaire contained items for measuring stereotypes against Armenians/Turks and their breaking. In the survey respondents were asked about their participation in any direct communications with Armenians/Turks, their attitudes and experiences before and after that communication, the change in their ideological convictions and general values. In all cases we also collected data on their age, gender, place of living as these factors can affect the final results of the survey.
Before conducting the main interviews Pre-Test was held, meaning the questionnaire was tested with a small number of interviewees. The Pre-test survey was held with the same kind of people that, afterwards, were included in the main study. The main purpose of the Pre-Test was to try the questionnaire and see if the interviewees understand the questions and give useful answers. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used and analyses were based on information from respondents. All data gathered from respondents. Responses from not eligible people, for example above than 35 or resident of another country have not been taken into consideration. Only valid responses were calculated on the basis of people who responded to the all questions. Questionnaires with responses like “N/A”, “don’t know” or “No comment” were excluded and not calculated.
At the beginning of the survey we discussed if the person ever participated in a conferences, trainings, exchanges or other events that involved direct communication with Armenians/Turks. Dichotomous response format (Yes or No) were offered and respondents who answered “Yes” became the target group of the survey.
We measured agreement or disagreement with each single indicator. Generally, respondents were asked to choose from four response categories (“strongly agree, agree, disagree and strongly disagree”).
100 respondents participated in a survey: 50 Armenians and 50 Turks.  All of them had a direct communication with Armenians/Turks by participating in different youth meetings, conferences and other programs. All respondents are aged 18-30 and live in Armenia or Turkey.
According to survey 31 Armenian youngsters out of 50, had many stereotypes and prejudices about Turks before their participation in that events and meetings directly with Turkish people. Only 19 of them think that they had no any stereotypes.
I had many stereotypes and prejudices about Armenians/Turks before my participation.
No one out of surveyed Armenian youngsters strongly agrees or strongly disagrees with the statement. In Turkey we can see a little bit different situation. Only 19 asked respondents had stereotypes before participation and exactly equal number of young people had no any stereotypes. At the same time we have here strong agreements and disagreements. 7 respondents strongly disagree with the statement and 5 strongly agree. See Picture 4.
To check once again the validity of the previous question, we asked a question about breaking stereotypes. And the next scale shows, that both in Armenia and Turkey, in reality the majority of respondents had stereotypes before their participation. When respondents were asked if they’ve broken their stereotypes after their participation, 65 respondents out of 100 answered “Yes”, in terms when only 55 agreed that they had stereotypes and 45 disagreed. See the scale N5.
I’ve broken many stereotypes and prejudices about Armenians/Turks after my participation. /for Armenia and Turkey – mixed/
In Armenia 31 respondents out of 50 agreed that they had stereotypes before their participation, but only 29 broke them. Picture N 6.
In the case of Turkey there is a contradiction. Only 24 respondents agreed about having stereotypes, but 31 thinks that broke them. That means that 7 respondents from Turkey believe that they had no any stereotypes, but in reality they had and broke them. See Picture 7.
Next question that was given to respondents was about usefulness of Armenia-Turkey bilateral projects or direct communication in general. The results are quit inspiring both in Armenia and Turkey. There is no need to separate responses from Armenia and Turkey as they are almost the same. Only 2 persons per each country, meaning 4 young people disagree that these activities and direct communication are useful. (Pic. 8) The rest of respondents, meaning 96 young people agree that they are useful. We can see it also in the “Comments” part of the Survey.
These kinds of activities that involve young people from Armenia/Turkey are useful.

From the Picture 8, we can see the general view in two countries. 96 % of respondents agree with the statement, that these activities, involving direct communication between young people from Armenia and Turkey are useful.
The last part of the survey was done in a qualitative method. Respondents were asked to bring an example of an idea/stereotype that they held, which was changed after the participation. So, we distinguished more common stereotypes in two countries and grouped them.
From these stereotypes we can obviously see that most of them are common in both countries. Before their direct communication, young people from 2 countries mostly were thinking that they cannot build a friendship, cannot trust each other and work together. At the same time one of the most spread stereotypes is the opinion, that two nations are completely different, they have different lifestyles, ways of thinking, customs and traditions. Even though each of these nations is unique, after people to people contact most of the young people see also similarities and try to build communication on their similarities.
On the Armenian side, the most spread stereotype is that it’s impossible to trust the Turks; they are good diplomats and can easily manipulate. On the other hand, most of the young people believed that it’s impossible to make friendship with Turks as well as they’ll always try to deceive and hurt Armenians.
From Turkish perspective, Armenians have very different way of thinking; they try to hide behind the history and Armenian Diaspora hate Turks. Also, before their participation they were thinking that all Armenians perceive them as enemies and the issue of genocide is the first thing in their mind. And last very spread stereotype that Turkish young people had was the opinion, that Armenians always position themselves as victims and enjoy that “victim” status.
As we have already mentioned, the comments box was used as a final part of the questionnaire in order to give a space to respondents to express their feelings and share the things that were not shared in the other parts of the questionnaire. And surprisingly, we got comments almost from all respondents. Here are the most spread and common comments:
·         These types of activities, conferences, exchanges and youth meeting between young people of 2 countries must be as much as it is possible.
·         There are good and bad people in all nations.
·         I would like to meet more Armenians.
·         Direct communication is important to know each other.
·         The absence of communication is the worst thing in Armenia Turkey relations.
·         I feel very comfortable when I talk to Armenians, because I want to learn more than state history teaches us.
·         It is never too late to make a difference.
·         Hopefully, everyone who takes part in this kind of activities will change his/her prejudices.
·         People should avoid generalizations.
·         Judging a whole nation by knowing only few representatives is wrong.
·         We have to do everything to sustain peace in the region.
·         Hope there will be more projects with the participation of Armenian and Turkish youngsters.
·         I didn’t have any stereotype or prejudice about Armenian people.
·         History cannot change our opinions and thoughts.
Besides, these comments there were also comments from both countries, like “Turks will stay the same, they cannot be changed”, “Turkish people haven’t done any genocide, Armenians are liars”, etc…The survey was promoted in different Armenian and Turkish groups as well, both nationalist and tolerant groups to keep the maximum validity of research outcomes.
The representative sample of respondents though does not show the whole picture, but at least it gives an idea about impact of direct communication and CS initiatives on young Armenians and Turks. It’s obvious, that people who participated in this Survey are educated, they know English and they are active Internet users. There was no possibility to include also people which don’t use an Internet and don’t speak English, because of the lack of accessibility. Anyway, survey presents the general view in two countries and can be useful for people which are interested in civic component of Armenian-Turkish Relations and implement bilateral projects.
Very often civil society attempts of communication are being prevented by the state officials, nationalist parties as well as ordinary people, and sometimes it seems that there is no need of these attempts anymore. To find out if there is a need and if there is a positive effect of CS engagement in Armenia-Turkey relations, Web survey was conducted in Armenia and Turkey, which was spread via social networks. In each country a representative sample of the young people from 18 to 35 was asked to respond to 10 questions. 100 respondents participated in a survey: 50 Armenians and 50 Turks.  All of them had a direct communication with Armenians/Turks by participating in different youth meetings, conferences and other programs.
The results of the survey are discouraging and encouraging at the same time. First of all, the survey shows how many stereotypes young people have in both societies, how image of the enemy is being promoted and prejudices about each other remain stable. It shows that there is still mistrust towards each other, lack of information and absence of communication. On the other hand, we can assume that it’s possible to change the situation, because young people are flexible for new ideas and opening their minds. They are ready to communicate and learn from each other. Survey shows, that almost all respondents from 2 countries think that the direct communication is very essential for creating peace and tolerance between two countries. All bilateral projects, initiatives and attempts of CS representatives aimed at supporting Armenian-Turkish rapprochement are not in vain. They have their big impact, they are changing and opening minds of people: victims of stereotypes and prejudices, created through mass media, state officials, official and oral histories.
Grigor Yeritsyan

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