PEACEBUILDERS IN ACTION, EXTREMISM AND ‘THE DAY AFTER’
TERRORISTS VS FREEDOM FIGHTERS
The next day, right after breakfast, we heard the story of Letlapa Mphahlele. A ‘former extremist or freedom fighter and nowadays a peacebuilder in action in South-Africa ’, as he was introduced by the moderator.
Mphahlele: ‘Growing up in South-Africa I always felt there was something abnormal in my country. I heard elders whispering. That something was not right. Africa, the land of our forefathers was taken by white people. I heard that the apartheid-regime said that communism was no good. “If they were saying that”, I thought to myself, “than communism must be a good thing!” The land belonged to the African people. And therefore it was time to be one of the terrorists.’
The moderator: “But as the leader of your group, you have also ordered attacks against civilians, what about that?”
Mphahlele: “It was a tit-for-tat action, the South-African regime killed children on a massive scale. It was legitimate violence for me that could not be criminalized. You cannot equate the oppressor with the oppressed, like you could not deal with Nazi Germany without armed confrontation. If I could return to that time, I would struggle even harder, minus the attacks against civilians. Because reflecting on the situation, I realized that I killed my comrades from the other side.’
Moderator: “Do you believe in God?”
Mphahlele: “No. Forgiveness is not a destination. Forgiveness is a life-long journey.”
Well, that was a quite interesting interview to start our day. Everybody wanted to know more about Mphahlele, but we had to go on. A panel discussion: ‘Causes and Consequences of Extremism and Violence: drivers and responses.’
The first panellist: Christian Picciolini, founder of ‘Life after Hate’ and former nazi skinhead with Italian roots. He wears a black t-shirt with ‘MAKE EMPATHY GREAT AGAIN’ imprint.
Picciolini: ‘Italians had to work hard in America to make it. I felt lonely and didn’t really fit in my own community. I had multiple identity crises. So in 1987, when I was smoking a joint in the mall, an old skinhead walked up to me and said, “don’t you know that’s what the communists and Jews do, to keep you docile.” For the first time in my life, I started to have a serious conversation with someone. We first talked about pride. That I should be proud of my Italian roots. After a while I gave up my family. And my life became less about pride, and much more about hate. Blaming others that they wanted to take our pride. The blacks and Jews. I took over the whole organization and made it bigger than ever. But after years I realized that I never had interaction with the people I hated so much. Once I got in touch with them, this pushed out the hate. We talked about unemployment, housing and other problems we have. This is when humanization starts. When you discover that we face the same problems.’
Well, that was another heavy-weight speaker in the morning. I felt for the next speaker, Carol Mottet. She directly said: ‘I have no personal story. Never experienced violence in my life,’ but added something which is maybe the crux of the problem when we are discussing violence in non-western countries: ‘My relation to violence is indirect. In offices we discuss about terrorism and counter-terrorism. This culture is not giving any workable solutions. We have to understand the root causes of violent conflict.’ Paul Turner form Creative Associates agreed with her: ‘Violent extremism is a manifestation of violence. Counter-terrorism is a short-term, symptom-based, solution. We should focus on the issues of exclusion.’
MORE DISCUSSION ABOUT EXTREMISM IN THE COMMUNITY-GROUP
The community group is a safe space. People can discuss freely about everything. Today we talked further on the issue of extremism. “What is extremism?”, the community-coordinator asked to ignite a dialogue. With participants from countries like Israel, Turkey, Ukraine, Palestine, America, it wasn’t so difficult to have a heated debate about the definition of extremism and whether states can be terrorists too? According to some ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’ is ‘a planned act with a political reason, states commit war crimes.’ Many reacted too that statement. ‘Terrorism is used by the dominant paradigm.’, said one, ‘States are the biggest terrorists. They define as powerhouses who is the terrorist or not’, said another. After almost everybody said its piece we switched over to the causes of extremism. In this one idea came above as main source to extremism:
- ‘The allocation of resources, or the imbalance of power, based on difference, which leads to exclusion.’
‘THE DAY AFTER’
Exactly 24 hours after the Armenian-Kurdish-Turkish ‘confrontation’ we were in the same room. The second dialogue session starts with short personal presentations.
GZAMSINE HASAN KABOGLU AND THE LAZ IN TURKEY
The teacher Gzamsine Hasan Kaboglu about the Laz-minority in Turkey. There are about 200.000 Laz’ who speak a variety of the Laz-languages. Mainly in the cities of the Black-Sea coast: Xopa, Batumi, Artvin. The border between Georgia and Turkey divided the Christian Laz and Muslim Laz since Ottoman times. The Hemshin Laz have a special place among the Laz’. They speak the Armenian language, but are Muslim. They have been Islamized.
Hasan tells about the Hemshin in Xopa. ‘They were always beaten up and otherized by ‘normal’ Laz people. But in the last 10 to 15 year there is more contact between Hemshin and Laz people. They are a very entertaining and enjoying people.’
BEGÜM ÖZCAN, YESTERDAY AND THE SITUATION IN TURKEY
Begüm Özcan, coordinator at Bogazici University, first has to say that she felt really bad about the discussion yesterday. ‘It was really a shock to me. I’m from Izmir/Smyrna. We were never told about this page of history. But the troubles didn’t stop in that period. In the eighties and nineties a lot of Kurds came to Izmir, as refugees. Turks complained about the Kurds, that they took our jobs. There is also a lot of hate-speech against Greeks. That they burned the city in 1922 and raped our woman. Hrant Drink was murdered in January 2007, in front of his office Agos. President Erdogan, our troublemaker, even apologized for the fact that someone called him an Armenian. The freedom of expression is under enormous threat.’
VARDOUHI BALYAN, ARMENIA AND TURKEY
Vardouhi: ‘In Armenia I was student of Turkish studies. People are always amazed when they hear that you can actually study Turkish in Armenia. But it is possible. For a long time now. Growing up in Armenia, I remember that I refused to listen to Turkish songs. In conversation with a professor of Genocide studies, Ugur Umit Ungor, out of the Armenian context, I realized that it was a nationalistic thing to do that. I first denied that it was nationalism. Begum already mentioned Hrant Dink. He was an important thinker and wanted to open the Armenian community to all the peoples of Turkey. Through AGOS, the left-wing oriented weekly paper. This was something which was unheard of. New things developed around him. I just want people to be aware of Turkish people in Turkey, struggling academicians, journalists, students, etc. They are under a lot of pressure. It’s more important than shouting Armenian Genocide in Lebanon or The Netherlands.’
Then, like yesterday, the room was open for discussion. A lot of people calmly said things with respect to each other. As if we had to make things up. We even had Paul Turner with us, of the panel discussion in the morning. But it was the talk of Arshalouys Tenbelian that mesmerized all: ‘In Lebanon there is really nothing for fourth generation survivors. You must understand Lebanese Armenians. We are on survival-mode. Its not the la-la land. We are daily oppressed in an Arab country. They ask us: “Are you Lebanese or Armenian?” When I say Armenian, they ask, “Where is your country or why don’t go back to Armenia?” This goes on, on a daily basis. I went to Armenia. But it didn’t felt as my home. My home is in Cilicia. And last 24th of April, the commemoration of the genocide, some Arabs at the university said “enough is enough, get over it”. It felt as if all our inner wounds opened up again. This is the first time in my life I see Turks. We need closure. We need to find ways for therapy. Maybe yelling some time is also therapy for our trauma. Therefore, I’m really willing to make an action-plan at the end of this dialogue.’
A native Australian, a descendent of Aboriginals said that they were also colonized and had the same feelings against white people. “It’s really the same, but I never heard of the Armenian genocide.”
So we ended the dialogue today more peacefully.
Photo 3: Panel discussion: ‘Causes and Consequences of Extremism and Violence: drivers and responses.’
SHALISA HAYES AND LAST DAY OF DIALOGUE
GUN VIOLENCE IN AMERICA
Shalisa Hayes lost her son to gun-violence in America. Driving down the street Hayes with her son she mentioned that her son asked her: “How do you open a community centre?” Not long afterwards he was shot. ‘I found out that my son was dead through Facebook’. We were shocked. But Hayes continued. ‘My son wanted a community centre. So 15 kids organized a car wash. After a lot of help from the community, we have a community centre in Washington now. Instead of being in the street kids now work in the community centre, feeding, for instance, the hungry.’
Hayes organizes meetings with other mothers who lost relatives to gun violence. For six years now. ‘We almost have 30 million dollars now and I found out as a black woman it’s difficult to find support groups for people who lost someone. We must make sure that our babies stay remembered. At least we have an obligation to try.’
ARMENIAN-KURDISH-TURKISH DIALOGUE: FÜSUN ERDOGAN’S STORY AND THE KURDISH QUESTION
The prisoners outside
Fusun Erdogan is a journalist who lives in exile in The Netherlands. She was 7 years in prison for charges of attending a meeting of the Marxist-Leninst Communist Party. She fled Turkey in 2014. We watched a documentary about her family. She works now as a journalist the radio channel ‘Özgür Radyo/Free Radio’ in Brussels. In the documentary somewhere she talks with her son on phone while she was in prison and says: “The actual prisoners are the ones outside’.
Kurds oppressed in Turkey
How are we going to break free? Maybe her presentation about the Kurdish question can give us some answers.
‘There was a peace process from 2013 in which the Kurdish side took steps. There was even an actual agreement with the Turkish state known as the ‘the Dolmabahce-declaration’ of February 2015. But the president of Turkey distanced himself soon after the declaration and even said “there is no Kurdish question anymore in Turkey.”’
In June 2015 the AKP-government lost a parliamentary majority of seats for the first time since it came to power in 2002, due to the Kurdish party HDP won seats in the parliament crossing the 10% threshold. ‘Erdogan didn’t accept the results of the election of June 2015 and opted for another election in November. But now starting a new war against the Kurds in between.’
From the summer of 2015 on, Kurdish cities in the south-east region have faced horrific times.
‘More than 1000 people died. 150 people were burned to dead in a basement in Cizre. In this fire also a friend of mine was killed.’
The situation worsened after the coup in July 2016. More than 70.000 people are fired. 10.000 people of the Kurdish HDP are arrested. ‘Nobody knows what the next day will happen in Turkey. Thousands of media-outlets are closed down. There is only AKP-media now in Turkey. During the referendum 2,5 million votes were stolen.’
What to do?
‘For people gathered here, we touch each other with our personal stories. Our work is hard, because we face a fascist dictator in front of us. But if we can solve the Kurdish question in Turkey, this will be also be of help for other people’s strives. It will lead to a general democratization. We just have to want this and move towards that goal.’
Armenians and Turks
After Füsun Erdogan’s presentation the floor was for Tato Martirossian: ‘When I came as a 10-years old to The Netherlands from Armenia, I had never met a Turk in my life. One of my best friends now, Zeynep, who is from Turkish origin, said that she never heard of the Armenian genocide. That was a big shock. How could something that is so prominent in Armenian life’s, be non-existent in the lives of Turks? Then I read about the Turkish propaganda-machine and learned about their unknowing situation. When Turks and Armenians come together there is always a wall of distrust, with awkward pauses. Sometimes Turks say “I have a lot of Armenian friends”, as if they are filling up holes in their memories. But there are also a lot of Turks who put their lives in danger. Different of the Turks we see in media, shouting “Türkiye, Türkiye!”. I think Armenians should also know about these Turks.’
The Australian sorry-campaign
The concluding words were for John Bond who gave a presentation about the sorry-campaign for the Aboriginals in Australia. A good example of how civil society can move the government into an official position. Bond: ‘We did what the government refused to do. We said sorry.’
This presentation was the last statement of the Armenian-Kurdish-Turkish dialogue of Caux 2017. For the future we agreed to, if possible, a follow-up in The Netherlands, Lebanon or Georgia, before Caux 2018.