Working with the ‘enemy’ and battling your prejudices

I was re-living unexpected horror stories with messages of fear and hope, humor and sadness

Elda Khanamirian Awad

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Being a freelancer, you just never know what your next project is going to be and the phone call or email you may or may not get.

About a year ago I got a call from a good friend asking me to consult for work to be done in Istanbul. What? Me in Istanbul? I’m originally Armenian and grew up with the prejudice of Armenians versus Turkey. I really felt the heavy hand of destiny on my shoulders because I was in the middle of writing a blog based on my grandfather Daniel Wosgian’s hand-written diary on his escape as a seven-year-old from the Armenian genocide.

I was re-living unexpected horror stories with messages of fear and hope, humor and sadness. I wish could say that racism and prejudice are distant memories but this phone call ignited a multitude of emotions some of which I have not looked at or questioned in a long time. I think no matter the situation, the fear and pain and helplessness in the face of war is the same in my grandfather’s town of Zeitoun at the turn of the 20th century or in today’s war in Syria, Baghdad or Yemen. Forced violent change scars and transforms you and the following generations forever. I suddenly realized that it was now my turn to make another change.

I was given less than a day to take it or leave it. I love diving into the unknown, I took the project and in less than a week organized meal plans for the kids, pre-cooked food to last, pleaded with a couple of moms for activities, pick-ups and drop offs and got on that plane.

Destination: Istanbul. Job: Review a Turkish company and their work.

As I sat on that plane, I began to feel nervous. How does one work with the so-called “enemy?” Where do I part with my subjectivity and how do I strengthen objectivity in times like these? I thought about politicians and what they have to do when they sit opposite counterparts with whom there is a history of enmity. I know people say that in business, emotions have no part to play but I guess those are just words. How could I suppress years of ingrained emotions? How could I transform my negative perception into a positive experience for me, my friend and for the Turkish company I was reviewing.

My late wonderful grandfather came to my rescue. His diary was full of the ways in which he, a boy who had lost everything and everyone in the genocide, is full of love. He never, not once, mentioned hate or enmity. His tale, that of an Armenian Huckleberry Finn surrounded by a cast of characters who seem to have walked off the pages of a Dickens novel, is one of hope and forgiveness in the harshest circumstances. That day almost a year ago, I made myself a promise to honor my grandfather’s survival and to tell his tale and I’m happy I achieved this promise.

I walked out into the Istanbul sunshine to be met not by enemies but people, good people, hardworking people who like me were trying to make the best of their lives. And this is when I realized that fighting the enemy within was more difficult.

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