“Balat: Living Together” book presentation

A few days ago, the "Cultural and Social Narratives Laboratory" (CSN Lab) held the presentation of the "Balat: Living Together" book at the Hrant Dink Foundation's office in Istanbul, Turkey.

The "Balat: Living Together" project illuminates one of Istanbul's oldest neighbourhoods, where Armenians, Jews, Greeks, and Turks once lived peacefully side by side. It delves into the multi-layered memories of Balat and its residents, showcasing the unique nuances and colours of multi-ethnic and multicultural coexistence. 

The "Balat: Living Together" book features dozens of academic articles, analyses, stories, fiction texts, interviews with local people of Balat, as well as exclusive archival materials, documentary photographs, and unique illustrations. An extensive international research team of anthropologists, architects, urbanists, cultural practitioners, semioticians, and visual artists came together for this outstanding interdisciplinary research project. Through their collective efforts, they explored the layers of Balat's memory, architecture, multicultural and multi-ethnic coexistence, as well as its traumatic past and current challenges.

The event began with a welcoming speech by Talin Süzme, the coordinator of the Turkey-Armenia programme at the Hrant Dink Foundation. In her address, she emphasised the significance of preserving and promoting cultural heritage, while also reflecting on the importance of the "Balat: Living Together" project in the context of fostering cultural dialogue and peacebuilding. 

Thereafter, Mariam Yeghiazaryan and Arsen Abrahamyan, members of the CSN Lab, presented the main goals and vision of CSN Lab, its research projects on memory studies and the findings of the "Balat: Living Together" project. 

Within the framework of the event, a panel discussion was conducted, during which the editors and authors who are at the forefront of the project, shared their research experiences and provided expert observations on the diverse scope of topics reflected in the publication.

The editor-in-chief of the book, Tigran Amiryan, first contemplated the conception and execution of the project idea, outlining the challenging four-year journey. He discussed the obstacles encountered while collaborating with a large international research team comprising 18 academics, researchers, artists, and cultural practitioners, while also elucidating the intricacies of interdisciplinary teamwork. Drawing from his article featured in the book, Dr. Amiryan highlighted the role of the Balat neighbourhood, portraying it as a carrier of traces from a multilingual community and multi-layered culture. He depicted it as a caring and nourishing environment, while also reflecting on Balat's memory of peaceful coexistence.

Tigran Amiryan invited the audience's attention to the title of the book and its underlying concept. Mr Amiryan deliberated on the experience of living together (vivre ensemble) among ethnic groups with diverse cultures and identities living in Balat, as well as the multi-layered (palimpsest) forms of architectural, social, and cultural memory.

Gizem Kiygi, an urbanist and co-editor of the "Balat: Living Together" book, elaborated on the significance of Balat as a distinctive urban environment in Istanbul, discussing its structure, challenges, and historical transformations. Ms. Kiygi particularly highlighted the current threat of gentrification of Balat and emphasised the local community's resistance in this regard.

Given the international scope of the project and the fact many of the authors are based beyond Armenia and Turkey, the CSN Lab invited Emre Yalçin and Diana Yayloyan to contribute to the presentation via video messages. In their videos, Diana and Emre shared their thoughts on their experience participating in the "Balat: Living Together' project" as researchers, which they characterised as special and significant.

The book presentation was followed by an open-format discussion, during which guests had the opportunity to obtain their copies of "Balat: Living Together", as well as unique illustrated postcards and posters created and published specifically for this project.

The CSN Lab is dedicated to organising the presentation of the interdisciplinary "Balat: Living Together" book in Yerevan, Armenia in the near future.