According to Today’s Zaman, a moderate newspaper from Turkey:

Renowned pianist and composer Fazıl Say will compose a ballet piece for the romantic and tragic love story referenced in legends of Akhtamar Island in the eastern Anatolian province of Van. Say, with this piece, intends to create an international project in which 100 Turkish and 100 Armenian dancers will take to the stage together in the performance of the work.

With an intent to bring Armenians and Turks closer to reconciliation, the project at its face needs to be applauded. 

 Moreover, the fact that Today’s Zaman now consistently uses the historically correct name for the Armenian island – Akhtamar – as opposed to the distorted Turkish “Akdamar” is a sign of progress.  

But what makes me uncomfortable is the following:

The Akhtamar legend, which is considered the origin of the name of the island, is about Tamara, the beautiful daughter of the clergyman residing on the island. According to the legend, Tamara fell in love with a Muslim shepherd from a nearby village. Every night, the shepherd would swim to the island in order to meet Tamara. To show her location to him, Tamara would light a candle at night. Having learned of his daughter’s love affair, the clergyman lit a candle on a stormy night and went down to the coast, but he frequently changed his location to exhaust the shepherd. Finally, the young boy drowned, but he shouted in his last breath, “Oh Tamara.” The girl heard his last shout, and she, too, committed suicide, throwing herself in the lake. The island’s name is said to come from the boy’s last words, “Oh Tamara.”

I am not uncomfortable about a Muslim and Christian getting married, but the tradition about the name “Akhtamar” doesn’t scientifically explain the epitology of the term which many scholars rightly argue should be written as Aghtamar. 

Whatever the case, the island of Akhtamar was mentioned in Armenian history in the 4th century A.D., centuries before Islam was established.  So this romantic legend about Armenian-Turkish marriage and its name for the island, although poetic, is historically unjust.  I am not sure whether historic distortion is the price for peace.  

The ballet project overall sounds a good one – IF the place of Akhtamar in Armenian history is presented without deliberate distortions for a romantic reconcilliation.