University of Iowa program to help bridge Turkey-Armenia relations

For the past seven summers, the University of Iowa’s Between the Lines programs has been bringing high school-age writers from Russia and Arabic-speaking nations to Iowa City for a two-week, summertime residency.

This year’s program — which is hosted by the International Writing Program — will be offering a special summer session that will include about two dozen 17-to-20-year-old writers from two nations that have had been at odds for for generations: Turkey and Armenia. The international writers will be joined by a smaller cohort of similarly aged writers from the U.S, Press-Citizen reports.

Program organizers say the U.S. embassies in both Armenia and Turkey reached out to the IWP to request the special session as a way to positively affect the otherwise strained relations between the two countries.

“By focusing on youth (ages 17-20) and creative writing, the goal is that all participants — whether Armenian, Turkish or American — will leave the two-week program not only as stronger writers and readers, but also having developed friendships and networks that traverse boundaries, dismantle stereotypes and work towards eradicating long-standing tensions,” said Lisa Daily, who coordinates the program.

The application period is now open for would-be American participants. The organizers say they are looking for applications from U.S. high school students who love writing and want to take part in an enriching and international experience. By the the end of the two-week experience, the organizers said, the goal is to have all the students become better writers and better readers of each other’s work.

“That’s the power and beauty of writing — its highest aim is communication,” said poet Mary Hickman, who will be the American instructor during the sessions. “Writers write to connect with others and to share and begin to understand what it is to be human, to exist. So cultural interchange and creative writing are already very compatible endeavors.”

Hickman, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, traveled last year to Yerevan, Armenia, and Istanbul as a part of IWP’s Reading Abroad series. Well aware of the many historically and politically sensitive topics that could come up between the Turkish and Armenian participants, she said she “won’t avoid tough topics” but will “make sure that I am facilitating productive and respectful conversations.”

Hickman will be joined for the Turkey-Armenia writers’ camp (July 18-Aug. 1) by Nazmi Agil, a poet and translator who teaches at Koc University in Istanbul, and a writer and activist who goes by the name Armen of Armenia.

Between the Lines also is accepting applications for its Russia and Arabic Work writers’ camp, which will take place June 21-July 5.

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