Publication date: 
Oct 2012

Mihran carves chess pieces in the small Armenian town of Goris. Djan works in an office in Istanbul. Elmira is an actress in Baku, and Olivier from Marseilles is on a voyage of self-discovery in Nagorny Karabakh.

Four very different people, from different places whose family stories make them all bit players in a history of violence and conflict that has been ebbing and flowing between Turks, Armenians and Azerbaijanis for over a century.

Their stories are told in a ground-breaking new film Memories Without Borders, which is being launched in Turkey and the South Caucasus this October.

Looking back, moving forward

The film is the result of a two-year collaboration between a group of Turkish, Armenian and Azerbaijani film-makers, with support from Conciliation Resources.

Memories Without Borders takes as its starting point the failed reconciliation initiative between Turkey and Armenia in 2009 which sought to end almost a century of recriminations between Armenians and Turks.

It explores the secrets, lies, and hidden histories which have shaped identities and divided people across the region – from the mass murder of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, to the Nagorny Karabakh conflict which tore Azerbaijan and Armenia apart during the collapse of the Soviet Union the 1990s.

In Turkey, where the story begins, Turkish activist Cigdem Mater remembers the Turkish-Armenian diplomatic “opening” of 2008.

We were so hopeful in those days, but it turned out it’s not so easy until Armenians and Azeris solve the problem of Nagorny Karabakh.

Cigdem Mater, featured in Memories Without Borders

The violence of 1915 and the war over Karabakh are the twin threads linking the stories in the film.

Djan from Istanbul was brought up a Turkish Muslim but has found out he has Armenian roots. For him and his family the discovery of a truth hidden for generations is a traumatic experience.

French-born Olivier, is also rediscovering his Armenian heritage. The grandson of exiled Turkish Armenians, he has changed his name to Armen, left his old life behind him and moved to Karabakh, itself formerly home to a community of Azeris exiled in 1992.

Azerbaijani actress Elmira, born and bred in Yerevan in Armenia and now living in unhappy exile in Baku, recreating and reliving the tragedies of the past on stage with her refugee theatre company. 

Armenian carpenter Mihran lived on the Armenian side of the frontline during the war, and makes wry jokes about Grad missiles as he carves his chess pieces depicting Turkish and Armenian heroes and anti-heroes of the last century.

Divided by physical borders as well as by limits of their own often one-sided perceptions of the past, all the characters in Memories Without Borders are captives of seemingly intractable conflict. 

But what divides them is also paradoxically what unites them, offering a small flicker of hope for the future.

Whether its war or chess or politics, it’s all the same – you have to live next door to each other, so you need to make peace.

Mihran, featured in Memories Without Borders

***

Memories Without Borders was made by Cam Films, Istanbul; Internews Media Support, Armenia; Internews Azerbaijan, and the Stepanakert Press Club, with assistance from Conciliation Resources.