Report: ‘Armenian-Kurdish-Turkish dialogue’ at the Initiatives of Change event: ‘Addressing Europe’s Unfinished Business’ PART 1

23 – 27 July 2018, Caux (Switzerland)

From the 23rd until 27 july a group of 15 Armenians, Kurds and Turks from Lebanon, The Netherlands and Armenia participated in the Initiatives of Change (IoC) program ‘Addressing Europe’s Unfinished Business (AEUB) at Caux Palace (Switzerland). Amongst the 15 participants there were individuals who already knew each other from the dialogue in 2016 and 2017: the Just Governance for Human Security program of IoC. This year there were new participants who heard about the dialogue initiative from the previous years.

This year’s dialogue took place in the framework of ‘Addressing Europe’s Unfinished Business’. From the introduction paper:

‘Europe in 2018 continues to face a number of challenges: migration, the rise of populism, terrorism, Brexit and relations with the Russian Federation are foremost among them, placing pressure on communities and nations within and across Europe. As a result of some of these challenges, questions of identity, nationalism, citizenship, racism, xenophobia and the legacy of colonization have arisen. Ordinary people need to feel that they can shape their own futures and make a difference.’

‘Addressing Europe’s Unfinished Business’ 2018 will focus on equipping delegates with the skills needed for developing social cohesion, trust and dialogue during these tumultuous times. We have invited some inspiring thinkers and trainers from Europe and beyond who are keen to transmit their skills to those committed to developing and healing their communities.’ 

Day 1 – Introduction to Caux and all the participants



For the third year in a row the mixed Dutch group from The Hague Peace Projects joined an event of the Initiative of Change. When we took our place at the side of the main hall, the moderator Diana Damsa was asking participants ‘to say hello in their own language’. We counted 13 different hello’s. After the interaction with the participants (181 people from 32 different countries in total) the event could really kick-off.

Young Ambassadors Program & Learning to be a Peace-Maker
Several speakers from the Young Ambassadors Program (YAP) of Initiatives of Change, talked about an ‘European Peace Voyage’ (through France, Germany, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia) dealing with the repercussions of the Balkan war in the nineties of the previous century.

The next speaker, Marwan Bassiouni with Swiss, American, Italian, Egyptian and Dutch roots (!) introduced the program ‘Learning to be a Peace-Maker’ for young European Muslims. Bassiouni: ‘We as European Muslims face challenges with regards to the essence of our religion and the tensions that spread from it between us and non-muslims. Mediation and co-existence is something we should strive for.’ A musical intermezzo took us to the year 1948. A song written by French people in Caux, to welcome their former enemies: the German delegation.

Tatjana Peric, Lord Ashdown
Right after the music the floor was open for Tatjana Peric (Bosnia), advisor on Combating Racism and Xenophobia, and working for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). ‘The first time in Caux for me was in 1996, I came as a refugee from the Balkans and was really energized by the Caux spirit. I made plans to encourage the East-West dialogue.’ Later Peric joined the OSCE, collecting evidence for reports about hate crimes in Europe. ‘Last year there were 2154 racist and xenophobic incidents in Europe… And underreporting is still a problem. In Europe we can see a dangerous merger of anti-migrant feelings with racism.’ Furthermore, Peric emphasized the importance of platforms for young people to empower them, assist each other, build coalitions between organizations and to work internationally. ‘For the work we do, prevention is the best cure.’

Lord Ashdown, a politician from the UK, talked with force about the aggressiveness and vulgarity of president Trump. He worried whether Europe would stay together. ‘Ash and blood’ would be the alternative of a possible break up of Europe. The explanation he gave for the rise of populism in Europe: shifting powers from West to East, which is also a shift of capital. ‘We are facing the ending of 400 years of Western hegemony. A multipolar world is taking form, so it’s time to return to diplomacy. We live in a deeply interconnected world, where we share a destiny with our neighbor, even if they are our enemy.’ In this context, he also mentioned ‘second-generation immigrants’ and ‘terrorism’ in one sentence. In the q&a he would be questioned about this association. Lord Ashdown acknowledged immediately that we should also be more inclusive in our language. ‘I never talk about Western values, we have universal values.’

Dinner and introduction to how things work at Caux
So Caux started with a good discussion. After dinner we were introduced to the history of Caux and how things work here. After plenary meetings, there are community groups with different themes like empathy or courage, where people can hear each other’s story in a more smaller, personal and intimate setting.

Last year we had a meet-up between Armenians, Kurds and Turks on the first day. This year we agreed to do that on the first session on Tuesday at the allocated time and place.

DAY 2 – Inspirational speeches and Armenian-Kurdish-Turkish dialogue meeting

Syrian refugees in Turkey

Emel Topçu, Associate Professor at Hasan Kalyoncu university in Gaziantep, gave a presentation about Syrian refugees in Turkey. In Kilis, for instance, before the Syrian war broke out, the inhabitants’ number was about 80.000. Now it’s a city with more than 220.000 people. Consequently, the Syrian influx has had an huge impact on the receiving Turkish society. It also led to a Turkish xenophobic and nationalistic backlash with reactions like ‘Our children are dying in the war, why are Syrians lying on the beach?’, ‘They are partying at the sea’ or ‘They must respect the owners of the country.’

Topçu blamed some media, mainly linked to opposition parties, of speculating about a ‘potential conflict’ or ‘clash’ in Turkey, due to government policy on Syrian refugees. But Topcu was happy to say that ‘we didn’t have a clash with Syrians’. She gave two reasons for the prevention of such a conflict: ‘(1)The role of relatives and (2) civil society. 1.

Topçu: ‘The first reason is that we have a shared history. 100 years ago we belonged to the same country, The Ottoman Empire, before the Sykes-picot agreement divided us. And families got split across the borders. The second factor is the role of Women volunteers who engaged in trust building activities between Turks and Syrians.’

Independent media under pressure in Ukraine
Not everybody in the room agreed with Topçu’s story, but the next speaker, Oleksiy Matsuka from the Ukraine, was already underway delivering his talk about the conflict in East-Ukraine, which started in 2014. ‘The Eastern part is occupied, and the Crimea is annexed by Russia. We don’t recognize them, and call them separatists.’ Matsuka want attention for independent media who are under pressure. ‘A lot are closed down. There are no journalists who’s life has not changed in the Donbass region. This is why we decided to come to Caux. To talk about the very polarized situation in Ukraine.’

Matsuka: ‘As a journalist, I ask questions. I changed the tone form affirmative journalism to interrogative journalism. The reactions of the speakers changed. Uncomfortable moments are many. To doubt everything is important for a journalist.’

Being a neo-nazi in Sweden
The last speaker of the morning plenary was Peter Sundin, a former neo-nazi in Sweden. His personal story was listened closely by the audience. He told the public about his single mother, with five children and her work as a cleaner. ‘We were a poor Swedish family and blamed our economic situation on foreigners, saying they took our jobs.’

He saw his older brother as a ‘role model’. A skinhead who listened to white power music. ‘We said that the holocaust was a fraud, a made-up story to sneer on national-socialism.’ He wasn’t much at school and joined the ‘national youth’, a violent movement. When they were at school, they were confrontative, ‘we felt backed up by this group.’

Not much later, he was involved in a situation which led to the worst decision in his life. They beat up a guy and Peter punched a guy in his face. He was unconscious. ‘When he gained his consciousness, I ran back and jumped full power on his back and landed on his shoulder blade. My friends tapped me on the shoulder.’

‘The next morning I got a phone call. We were on the news. That was the moment I realized it was enough. That was the starting point of a five year long journey for deradicalization. I completely transformed my lifestyle. I had to cut ties with my family. Drop the nazi belief system, and was looking for new world perspectives. I started to watch other channels, things that I called jew-news before..’

‘I spend six months in prison for assault. Now I’m helping youngsters, so they won’t commit the same mistakes I did. Behind every opinion is a human being. So don’t only see the opinion, see also the human. Lets shift the focus on the individual. To change a opinion is an individual process.’

Everybody left the main hall with all these stories in their mind. The community group for reflection was much needed.

Lunch and first Armenian-Kurdish-Turkish (AKT) dialogue meeting

After lunch, this year’s Armenian-Kurdish-Turkish dialogue started with an introduction round in which some just told their names and where they came from, and others who elaborated on, for instance, their expectations.

One participant put the emphasis on ‘young people’ and wondered ‘whether Turks and Armenians can be friends’. Another uttered strong wishes of ‘a follow up right after Caux’, and whether the discussion can ‘move beyond the blaming game and try to have a grip on the whole picture’. Furthermore, it was been said that ‘dialogue within communities’ is also important, and in addition to that, ‘that it is necessary to reach out to groups who never come together in circles like these’. Another participant complained about the problematic sides of ‘living locally’, while the world is moving on, ‘new approaches should therefore be worldwide’. The role of ‘privileged diaspora’ to put up grassroots dialogue initiatives like these was underlined and another participant ‘discovered’ that these dialogue-sessions can have a ‘healing’ effect. An ‘action-plan’ should come off the ground this year, ‘but sometimes it feels like impossible in Lebanon’. The last participant in the circle mentioned the links of Armenian and Kurdish communities in her family.

Film by Lebanese group
After the introduction round, we watched a short film made by the Armenian-Lebanese participants of 2017 of which some were partly present again this year. The film, in which all participants agreed that a genocide had taken place, triggered a question to the group ‘whether everybody in the room was on the same page about the Armenian genocide?’

An intense debate about the term genocide followed and whether ‘Armenian Muslims’, ‘who were targeted by Armenians during the genocide (according to one of the participants), were also included as victims?’
This counter-question led to another discussion whether there were actually ‘Armenian Muslims’ before the genocide, or that they were a result of the Armenian genocide, in which Armenians were forced to become Muslims and live in Muslim-households.

Since the question of recognition is one of the most sensitive issues in Turkish-Armenian dialogue, we accepted that we heard the question and that in the following days everybody can individually decide whether he or she wants to give an answer or not.

Then one of the participants said about Armenians that ‘they were stuck in 1915’ and asked ‘How is that possible?’ One answer was that the Armenian identity was almost totally based on what happened during the war. ‘As an Armenian you cannot escape it’. The need of closure is there. And that can not begin, without justice and admittance.

Besides, or linked with ‘being stuck’, is the issue of ‘global citizenship’. A lot of peoples are afraid of the outside world. Identity and national citizenship are strong and people want to keep that alive, as a defense system for the unknown outside world.

The closing statements of this first session was that the border is closed between Turkey and Armenia.

Again, we had an interesting first encounter. But in the evening, we had an informal meeting at Caux station, in which dance-styles of several regions were performed. ‘Before I went to Caux, I never thought I would dance with Turks’, was said by an Armenian participant.

Continue reading part 2 of the report!

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