Crafting Peace: Armenian-Turkish Stonemasonry Cooperation Program (2012)
From September 23rd to October 3rd, 2012, HasNa and our Armenian and Turkish partners brought a group of stonemasons, architects, cultural tourism experts, NGO professionals, and private sector representatives to Washington, DC, for two weeks of training, site visits, and meetings in order to promote cross-border efforts to preserve their common cultural heritage through restoration, the opening of new markets, and tourism.
Political tensions between Turkey and Armenia have persisted for over a century despite decades of official attempts at reconciliation. The failure of the most recent protocols, signed by Ankara and Yerevan in 2009, is a sign that reconciliation must be built on a more stable foundation of cooperation at the individual and community level. HasNa aims to empower Turkish and Armenian stonemasons and the respective renovation sectors by providing a platform for them to share expertise and to contribute to the peace-building process by utilizing their common cultural heritage.
The Armenian and Turkish border communities of Gyumri and Kars share a common cultural heritage which unites both sides despite the various ongoing disputes. Some of the most influential leaders of this unifying heritage are the Turkish and Armenian stonemasons who work to preserve the physical representations of regional coexistence. Stonemasons, who are among the most historically respected leaders of their community, have the potential to provide the solid foundation upon which sustainable peace can be built.
While the border is seemingly open between Istanbul and Yerevan – there are indirect daily flights and unofficial trade amounting to about $250 million per year – the border is, in reality, closed between Kars and Gyumri. These communities are suffering as a result of this political conflict. They also face the highest rates of unemployment and poverty within their respective states.
Both border cities, constructed during the Russian period in the same unique Baltic-region architectural style, are well situated to attract domestic, international, and cross-border tourism. The quality of many of the remaining structures and of stonemasonry skills, however, have deteriorated significantly on the Turkish side of the border. While there is a wealth of knowledge on the Armenian side, stonemasons in Gyumri lack access to more advanced Turkish technology and participate in a limited market. By collaborating to preserve and improve the artistic quality of these unique structures, Armenian and Turkish stonemasons will be pursuing common goals and encouraging cultural tourism within and between their countries. The heightened interest in regional tourism would provide significant economic benefits for residents of both Kars and Gyumri while increasing knowledge and tolerance of their neighbors. Crafting Peace links stonemasons, architects, non-profit professionals, and influential businessmen and businesswomen in the restoration and tourism sectors from both sides of the border.
Crafting Peace was launched by HasNa with local organizations in Armenia and Turkey committed to cooperation and to the mission of the program. The City Research Center (CRC) in Armenia is a Gyumri-based NGO focused on the preservation of cultural heritage, economic empowerment, and community involvement. Kafkas Kultur, based in Kars, Turkey, is a non-profit organization working to promote of the unique architectural and cultural characteristics of the region.
- To increase the knowledge and skills of Turkish stonemasons in Kars and to introduce advanced technologies and new markets to Armenian stonemasons in Gyumri.
- To empower local Armenian and Turkish economies by 1) encouraging investment in new skilled human resources in the restoration industry; 2) connecting skilled stonemasons, key business representatives, and local government; and 3) promoting the growing cultural tourism sector.
- To raise awareness of the rich common cultural heritage in the region through the restoration of stonemasonry structures and historic buildings by Armenian and Turkish stonemasons.
- To provide an ongoing successful example of positive interaction between the Turkish and Armenian private sectors that can contribute to the peacebuilding and reconciliation process.
HasNa brought a core group of participating stonemasons, architects, non-profit professionals, and cultural tourism entrepreneurs to Washington, DC for a week and a half of site visits and meetings from September 23rd to October 3rd, 2012. The U.S. program highlighted similarities and differences with the American stonemasonry and restoration experience, focusing especially on the use of historic spaces for cultural activities. Participants met with experienced stonemasons and architects to see first-hand some of the most cutting-edge (and most traditional) technical skills used in the field, and met with tourism professionals and historians to discuss ways to promote cultural tourism in a divided region.
The group visited a multitude of sites and organizations in and around the nation’s capital. Beginning with a training by Kathy Owen from the Center for Dispute Settlement, participants gained collaboration and problem solving skills needed to work across sectors, across borders, and with a diverse array of individuals involved in an ambitious effort such as theirs. Participants were given a presentation about preservation efforts in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia by Richard L. Hayes from the American Institute of Architects, followed by a tour and description of historic sites in Old Town by Al Cox, historic preservation manager in the city’s Department of Planning & Zoning. At the Octagon House Museum, participants learned about the extensive history of the building and Sarah Bogart from AIA Legacy described the most recent restoration effort. The group visited the International Masonry Institute’s John J. Flynn International Training Center where they interacted with apprentices and experts at work, spoke with masonry students returning to their dormitories, and received a presentation about the Center by national safety coordinator Michael Kassman.
During the program, the group received a special tour of the Library of Congress including a visit to the Thomas Jefferson building and the Center for Architecture, Design, and Engineering where founding director Ford Peatross prepared some of the collections’ oldest photographs, schematics, and surveys. HasNa volunteer David Lyman, along with Anthony Linforth from the Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Philip Gaudette from Friends of Pierce Mill, gave participants a look at the historic Pierce Mill in operation and civil society efforts to preserve the structure and its history. Kristen Sheldon, volunteer manager at the National Building Museum, discussed with participants the unique role of the museum and led a tour of the building and its newest exhibits. The group was exposed to the old and new together at Woodlawn estate (originally park of George Washington’s Mount Vernon) and Frank Lloyd Wright’s modern Pope-Leighey House. Susan Hellman from the National Trust for Historic Preservation which oversees the site spoke about the history, ongoing restoration work, and contrasts apparent between the two structures. Participants even had a chance to interact with American families at a meeting of Boy Scouts troop 993 in Mount Vernon, Virginia. Boy Scout leaders organized a special event for the group and discussed scouting in Turkey and Armenia.
Participants were given special access to the Washington National Cathedral where they met with stonemason foreman Joseph Alonso to see the damage from the 2011 earthquake, restoration efforts at work, and the Cathedral’s masonry workshop. The group spoke with Richard Weinberg, director of communications, and Rev. Lyndon Shakespeare, director of program and ministry, about how the Cathedral is a home to various interfaith and intercultural programs and how participants can advance a similar spirit of cooperation at home. Meeting with Linda Harper, executive director of Cultural Tourism DC, the group heard about the ways that the organization promotes tourism to the diverse neighborhoods of the U.S. capital and advances its local history along with its increasingly international character.
Crafting Peace participants left Washington with greater insight into stonemasonry restoration and cultural tourism efforts in the U.S. as well as with the “tools” necessary for working together on joint efforts to advance regional cooperation. Upon their return home, the group will take part in a technical training and visit to Gyumri, Armenia as well as a conference in Kars, Turkey to promote the shared cultural heritage of the border area.
How You Can Help
HasNa and our local partners in Turkey and Armenia need your support to help our participants implement their joint vision for the future of the region. If you would like to support these Armenian-Turkish peacebuilding initiatives or get involved, please make a donation or contact us to get involved.