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Turkish Art Project Seeks to Bridge Ethnic Divide


Photographer Murat Kartal documented images of people on holiday in "The Resort of the East: Hazar," during the BAK project - an art project designed to bring cultures together.

Photographer Murat Kartal documented images of people on holiday in "The Resort of the East: Hazar," during the BAK project - an art project designed to bring cultures together.


An art project in Turkey is bringing together people divided along ethnic and religious lines.

Twenty-four Kurdish and Turkish young adults have worked together to create documentaries and photographs about life in Turkish cities.

The results are now on display in the southern Turkish city of Diyarbakir. The art project is called BAK.

Latife Ulucinar is the coordinator.

"People, especially young people, living in different parts of Turkey don't know each other," she said. "Face-to-face [meeting] is important. We want to give some possibilities to these young people to experience the city.”

One photo project focused on a Roma family. (Photo courtesy of the BAK project)

One photo project focused on a Roma family. (Photo courtesy of the BAK project)

The project members chose the following issues: The 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey; Roma people; and the tattoo culture.

Many works also featured the Kurds’ years-long battle for minority rights.

“Zilan,” a video documentary, recalls a massacre of thousands of Kurds and the exile of many more by the Turkish state in the 1930s.

“I found out that many killed were relatives of mine. The affected villages were very familiar,” said co-director Derya Gumus.

“I met people who survived. [They were] the last witnesses. Even though I live there, I learned it very late as well, so I wanted to tell this.”

Gumus admits that working with a partner from a different background was not always easy. Her partner was originally from the Black Sea region, but now studies in the western city of Izmir, which is one of the main hubs for refugees seeking to enter Europe.

That experience, Gumus says, helped to provide common ground.

Overcoming ethnic divides between partners became harder when fighting between the PKK Kurdish rebel group and the Turkish government resumed last July.

One photo project focused on the traditional and modern tattoo culture in Turkey. (Photo courtesy of the BAK project)

One photo project focused on the traditional and modern tattoo culture in Turkey. (Photo courtesy of the BAK project)

Diyarbakir, one of the BAK host cities, witnessed some of the worst fighting. The conflict affected some projects.

For example, "The Resort of the East: Hazar" aimed to show an aspect of Kurdish life rarely seen: normality. Photographer Murat Kartal said he and his partner wanted to show the holiday habits of the region. But, he said, the growing violence caused problems.

“I saw that our efforts could be in vain,” he said. “The clashes started and I questioned this, ‘What am I doing here?’ When we finish this project and exhibit these photographs, we see the preciousness of peace.”

Many observers warn that the deepening ethnic conflict, especially among the young, presents Turkey with one of its greatest challenges.

But those who participated in BAK say they took a small step in bridging that ethnic divide.

I’m John Russell.

Dorian Jones wrote this story for VOANews.com. Jim Dresbach adapted his report for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

exhibitn. an object or a collection of objects that have been put out in a public space for people to look at

tattoon. a picture or word that is drawn on a person's skin by using a needle and ink

massacren. the violent killing of many people

hubsn. the central and most active parts or places

common groundn. something that people agree about even if they disagree about other things

resortn. a place where people go for vacations

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