Projects for Peace: The Vision of Kathryn W. Davis

"My challenge to you is to bring about a mind-set of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war."

United Harmonies

Project #
Bennington College
  • Melodi Var Ongel

United Harmonies

Turkey and Armenia are neighbors but a century of hard feelings divides them, dating to the mass killing of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915. Melodi Var Ongel, a Turkish musician and songwriter, created a musical exchange that brought together eight young musicians, four Armenian and four Turkish, for performances in both nations. “The concerts’ purposes were to show the local people that there can be a lot of ways to respect each other’s culture,” she writes, “and these two cultures in conflict can come together and produce something unique and beautiful.”

It wasn’t easy. Although she had additional support for travel costs from the Hrant Dink Foundation, named for assassinated Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, Melodi coped with a number of challenges, including the July 15 attempted military coup in Turkey. Five days earlier, she and the four Turkish musicians traveled to Yerevan, Armenia for an eight-day stay in which the participants learned each others’ songs, shared instruments and did a small concert in a local tavern. But the strife in Turkey forced Melodi to postpone the second part of the project until August, as she scrambled for housing and rescheduled the final concert in Istanbul.

That well-attended show featured songs from both cultures, plus one Melodi had composed with Turkish and Armenian lyrics. Media in both languages covered the event, which was also shared on social media. The challenges were real, but genuine friendships were forged on both sides.