Turkish Kurdish dialogue

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On Friday 23 October 2015, a group of twenty people gathered in The Hague to discuss ways to bring across a message of peace towards the Turkish and Kurdish communities living in The Netherlands. People from very diverse backgrounds met and shared their experiences and vision on how to move forward, away from the current segregation.

The current escalation of the conflict between the Turkish State and the Kurdish PKK has strong repercussions on the Turkish and Kurdish minorities who live in Europe and elsewhere. Tensions between the two groups become more and more visible, also in The Netherlands. To counter these developments, a citizens initiative was recently started to bring moderate people form diverse ethnic and political backgrounds together in order to start a dialogue.

On Friday, several personal stories were shared. A teacher told how she was shocked to hear her pupils talk with approval about the Ankara bombing when more than one hundred people died during a peace demonstration. Someone else told how she cannot be in one room with her family when they talk about the elections because they refuse to accept that she has a more moderate opinion towards people whom they generally regard as ‘terrorists’. But also positive stories were told: someone explained how he used to hate Turkish people because the army had destroyed their home town, but he had changed his opinion because he understood that he should judge people as individuals, not as representatives of a group. Now some of his best friends are Turkish. Another person explained that she used to hate Kurds for being so violent, but since both of her daughters married Kurdish husbands she also had to change her mind. All of her grandchildren are now part of both histories: Turkish and Kurdish.

The participants decided that coming together to openly discuss each other’s points of view is very useful. It serves as a way of building trust between communities in conflict. This mutual trust is essential to eventually push for positive change. Together the participants decided that first a common vision should be developed to give this initiative a strong and independent foundation. The next step will be to organize activities to promote a real dialogue. Some suggestions were: organizing discussions at schools and in neighbourhoods, making informative video’s, organizing soccer matches, sharing information via facebook and collecting personal stories of Turkish and Kurdish people who desire peace. These people could serve as a role model and their stories can show a larger public that it is not necessary to support an extremist position, but it is possible to choose for peace instead.

October 23, Turkish-Kurdish initiative

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Sadet Karabulut, Dutch MP of the Socialist Party and Tayfun Balcik during an interview on Radio 1 (Dutch national news radio) about the current violence in Turkey.

On the 23rd of October The Hague Peace Projects will facilitate a meeting of Turkish and Kurdish citizens of The Netherlands. Together they will talk about the current escalation of the conflict between the Turkish State and the Kurdish PKK.

Since the elections of June this year an estimated 2000 Kurdish and 150 Turkish people have been killed as a result of the violence between the two sides. A bombing of a peace demonstration in Ankara on October 10 killed at least 106 people, mostly Kurds and left-wing Turks.

The current situation of violence leads also to tensions among the Turkish/Kurdish diaspora living in Europe. In an attempt to de-escalate these tensions, Tayfun Balcik (historian, specialized in the modern history of Turkey) recently started with a group of engaged people an initiative to bring moderate Kurdish and Turkish people in the Netherlands together. By writing for blogs and newspapers, organizing meetings and engaging politicians they want to generate an open dialogue and mobilize the larger Turkish/Kurdish diaspora to support peaceful solutions.

On the 23rd of October at 19:30h a second meeting of this kind will take place at The Hague Peace Projects. First three speakers will share their view on the conflict and afterwards there will be a public discussion. Speakers are Esra Dede (medical student, storyteller, blogger) en Suna Floret (columnist of Algemeen Dagblad) en Mirko Jaoumer (political scientist). Jakob de Jonge of The Hague Peace Projects will moderate the meeting.

Place: Paviljoensgracht 20, The Hague
Date/time: Friday October 23rd, 19:30h

Entry is free, registration is required. For more info and registration, send an email to: info@thehaguepeace.org

International Day of Peace 2015

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In the night of September 21st 2015, thirty-five people gathered at artspace GEMAK in The Hague to listen to two inspiring speakers: The artist Pierfrancisco Gava form Italy and Sylvestre Bwira, a human rights defender from the eastern part of DR Congo. Theme of this night was the relationship between art and activism. Both artists and activists are concerned by what is going on in this world and are often unhappy with the status quo. They want change. But how to change something?

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First Sylvestre told about the context where he came from: Eastern Congo. A country destroyed by decades of war, poverty, armed groups and weak leadership. Very often people ask him why he started to work on peace and human rights and why he continues to do so, although he has taken refuge in another country? He explained that it is hard to understand if you live in Europe. Europe is a paradise of human rights and democracy if you compare it to the situation in eastern Congo. Do people understand what it means to encounter day by day women of all ages who have been violently raped? Do we even recognize the smell of human blood? Sylveste says that it was a very common smell in the territory he came from, as he was passing by corpses of people who had been killed. In a situation like that there is almost no other reasonable option than to fight against injustice. Either by taking up arms, or, as he did, by peaceful means: organizing yourselves, creating spaces of dialogue and understanding, negotiating with the fighting parties, campaigning against violence committed by the ruling elite.

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Pierfrancesco showed in his film ‘A Glorious Society’ (2015) a glimpse of how global elites manage to mobilize the public in order to reaffirm their own power. Gava stated that public acclaim is necessary for ruling elites to keep their position. By deconstructing public appearances of president Obama and the Pope he posed the question: what would these people be without the cheering and applauding masses that receive them? Thus Gava is trying to make people aware of their own role in the game of keeping the power balance as it is: by applauding and glorifying rulers in staged power-rituals, they legitimize them as rightfully powerful.

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This raised the question in the audience about the role of the media in our Western societies and how people could be better empowered to counter the strong forces in favour of the status quo. There are hopeful signs of democratization of the media through the use of the internet. Art could claim its own role in the empowerment of people to understand and to reflect on the world that we live in. It could help us even to understand why there is war and what we as ordinary citizens could do about it. A recent example of the power of an image is the picture of the drowned refugee boy, three year old Aylan Kurdi. Him laying in the sand of a Turkey beach, being picked up by a rescue worker has touched directly the hearts of millions across the globe. As a result of this image thousands decided to contribute time, money and energy for the cause of the Syrian refugees. Above all, it changed the attitude of many who didn’t care about war or refugees before.

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Artists and peace-activists face the same world: at times beautiful and other times horrific. In a world flooded with images, many of them showing reality as our rulers like to present it. Art has the power to break through this fairy-tale facade and show something different, something important, true and empowering. Artists and activists could inspire each other to find and show alternatives to the current, violent state of the world.