On 25 June 2016, the Hague Peace Projects organised in the Humanity House their first public dialogue between Kurds and Turks. The initiative stems from the working group on the Kurdish Turkish diaspora within the Hague Peace Projects, which aims for peaceful solutions to the Kurdish and Turkish tensions in the Netherlands. Recent events of the attacks on Kurds and Turks in Dordrecht show that violence is not an answer to tension, and that a peaceful relationship is necessary where people can freely talk and listen to each other.
‘Time to Talk, Kurds and Turks in Dialogue’ invited Professor Martin van Bruinessen to shed light on a few of the fundamental issues between the Kurds and Turks. He acknowledged that the Kurds and Turks in a way are unequal, since the Kurds have been repressed for many decades, in contrast to the Turks. He choose his words carefully and spoke about a Kurdish conflict in Turkey. Nevertheless, Professor Bruinessen also recognised similarities between the two, now that both groups are obsessed with enemies; both believe that everyone hates them; both don’t trust each other nor themselves and both have played a role in the killings of Armenians. In addition, Professor Bruinessen touched upon some of the historical facts and developments in the Turkish state over the past decades. Although being a Kurd or Turk these days is for many an important identity marker, Professor Bruinessen emphasised that their identity is much more fluid then people might think. He gave examples of people who find out that their grandmothers were Armenian. Check also this inspiring video clip.
After this insightful lecture, four representatives of the Kurdish and Turkish working group approached the tension between Kurds and Turks from their professional field and own experience. According to Suna Floret, Bedel Bayrak, Mirko Jouamer and Tayfun Balcik, older generations influence the youth of today, which makes the conflict continue. Nonetheless, whilst it is true that more traditional parents influence their children by choosing media and expressing their opinions, the same youth appears to be more flexible today. With this positive note, we invited the audience to gather in different groups where both Kurds and Turks are present.
In several groups of approximate six people, questions were raised such as: What does it mean for you to be a Kurd or Turk? How do you look at Kurdish and Turkish people? The objective in this stage is to get to know other participants and understand their relation towards the Kurdish and Turkish tensions. The groups nicely showed a mix of Kurds, Turks, younger people, older people, woman and man. And more important, while there were different opinions, there was mutual respect for each other, which strengthens the diaspora dialogue.
After the small-scale dialogue sessions, a plenary debate took place where the audience had a chance for reflection on the previous dialogue sessions, and at the same time could pose questions to the Kurdish and Turkish representatives and to Professor Bruinessen. Critical opinions were expressed by the participants, whether dialogue is useful if strong opinions are not involved. Mirko Jouamer and Tayfun Balcik explained that peaceful dialogues will mostly affect people with a moderate opinion at this point, but nevertheless have reasonable chance to influence the atmosphere between other Kurds and Turks on the long term. Some people in the audience complemented on this by saying that they might not have ‘moderate ideas’ but are always willing to talk an listen to each other.
With a common goal, and successful first session behind, the Kurdish Turkish diaspora working group of the Hague Peace Projects is motivated to continue its work and welcomes everybody to participate in future peaceful dialogue sessions.