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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!

Report: ‘On the way to school’ – Festival Anatolië

Not everything can be said solely through verbal communication. This lesson has been learnt by the children starring the documentary ´On the way to school´. Özgür Dogan and Orhan Eskiköy captured the complexity of cultural identity in Turkey, where Kurds compose between 15-20% of the population. Entry-level Turkish teachers needing to gain experience are sent to regions (often remote) with a larger proportion of Kurdish population. Their mission is to ensure children are able to communicate in Turkish and memorize the national student oath praising the benefits of being part of the Turkish community.

In the small rural school located in the region of Anatolia portrayed in the movie, the young professor struggles to ensure kids do not communicate in Kurdish as it is the only language they are able to speak while it is completely unknown for him. School attendance is always at stake in this rural area as kids have a wider range of responsibilities that go beyond solely learning at school. All age ranges were represented in this single-classroom school, yet reading and writing were still major obstacles for the vast majority of kids.

With a permanent feeling of being out of place and lonely in this remote rural area, the energetic teacher managed to connect with the students despite not being able to properly communicate verbally. Little by little the children started to understand Turkish and were able to give simple answers to the desperate professor. However, when they spoke or wrote Kurdish, they were punished and had to stand on one leg in front of the classroom.

His presence also had an influence at the community level, as he had regular contact with the parents and tried to raise awareness about the importance of education for any child, regardless of his age or gender. After the academic year was over, all kids got their final grades and a personal assessment regarding their development. Minutes after saying goodbye to the professor at the school gate and wishing him a safe journey back to the big city, children ran to the nearest puddle and swam naked while laughing out of joy. A nice metaphor explaining that they were finally able to communicate and play again in Kurdish, getting rid of the imposed language and culture they learned from this unusual professor that came from a far land named Turkey.

After the movie was screened a passionate Q&A session was moderated by Tayfun Balcik and Bedel Baayrak (The Hague Peace Projects). The audience was extremely engaged in the discussion, expressing their points of view and challenging each other. Overall there was a consensus regarding the unacceptable situation of the Kurdish culture, which has been systematically jeopardized and downgraded by the Turkish political system. A more inclusive regional economic development and educational system should be a priority in Erdogan’s agenda, yet this might be unlikely to become effective. Kurdish identity could be reaffirmed if the population go through a self-determination process. Many challenges arise in terms of enabling Kurdish population residing in Turkey to have a say at a national level, yet international awareness regarding their culture and identity is picking up due to the recent independence referendum held by the Kurds residing in Iraq. A window of opportunity might open for the Kurds living in Turkey, which could steer the national political agenda in their own benefit.

Interested in our next event? Join our dialogue event In gesprek met “de vijand” op 24 november in Rotterdam.

Festival Anatolië – On the way to school

Op zaterdag 28 en zondag 29 oktober is de film On the way to school  te zien in het Filmhuis Den Haag, tijdens het Festival Anatolië. Op zaterdag wordt het nagesprek verzorgt door Tayfun Balcik en Bedel Bayrak van The Hague Peace Projects, op zondag door Tayfun Balcik en Zeynep Cesin (oprichtster van Stichting Children of the Sun).

De met prijzen overladen documentaire On the way to school gaat over de jonge Turkse onderwijzer Emre Aydin die in opdracht van de overheid een jaar les moet geven op een school in een afgelegen Koerdisch dorp in Zuidoost-Turkije.

Bij aankomst in het dorp en bij het schooltje staat onderwijzer Emre voor een aantal onplezierige verrassingen: er is geen stromend water en de leerlingen spreken geen Turks. Zonder commentaar krijgen we een inkijk in het leven van de gedreven leraar en zien we hoe moeilijk het is om kinderen Turks te leren terwijl ze thuis alleen Koerdisch spreken. Een gevoelig onderwerp dat onderdeel is van de gespannen relatie tussen Koerden en de Turkse staat. Maar langzamerhand wint Emre het vertrouwen van de kinderen en de dorpsbewoners.

De documentaire On the way to school viel in 2009 verschillende keren in de prijzen: de film werd bekroond met de Black Pearl Award voor beste film tijdens het International Middle East Film Festival, de Golden Orange voor beste film tijdens het Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival en tenslotte met de Yılmaz Güney Grand Jury Prize en de SİYAD Best Film Award tijdens het Golden Boll Film Festival.

Wanneer: 28 (18:45) en 29 oktober (16:00)
Waar: Filmhuis Den Haag
Tickets: Filmhuis Den Haag

Report: Armenian-Kurdish-Turkish Dialogue part 1/3

INTRODUCTION
The Caux Forum of Initiatives of Change (IOC) is an international event in which peacemakers, human rights activists, civil servants, academics, journalists and students from all over the world gather to discuss about peaceful solutions for violent conflicts, economic inequality and human security.

Last year, in july 2016, The Hague Peace Projects (HPP) was represented by the project coordinators Bedel Bayrak, Tayfun Balcik and workgroup member Fatma Bulaz, they were involved in a lot of discussions that the forum provided for. This ranged from the relationship between white and black Americans in the United States, to Israeli-Arab dialogue, counter-terrorism and many other subjects that concern the global human security.

One of the pillars of the IOC Caux Forum is called ‘healing memory’. HPP has, with its own Armenian-Kurdish-Turkish workgroup, a special interest in the international dialogue taking place at Caux under this pillar. More specifically, the dialogue identifies the acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide, the Kurdish question, the democratization of Turkey and struggles in home countries as key issues to discuss. These problems (from 12 until 17 July 2016) gained extra momentum last year as a result of the attempted coup in Turkey on the night of 15July. A lot of participants from all over the world came to us with the question: ‘what is going on in Turkey?’ As a group we were in constant touch with relatives and friends in Turkey and updated each other and other participants until 5’o clock in the morning. The remaining days in Caux were no different.

Back in The Netherlands our activities to reduce tensions between several groups intensified. But the negative effects of the attempted coup and the following purges in The Netherlands proliferated: from violent incidents inside the communities itself, to diplomatic crises, racism and discrimination against ‘normal’ Turks and Muslims by mainstream institutions and society.

With the municipality of Rotterdam (the city in The Netherlands which bore the brunt of all the ‘Turkish tensions’ last year) HPP agreed to cooperate. We organized in November 2016 a dialogue-afternoon: ‘Time to Talk: Kurds and Turks in dialogue’. With dr. Michiel Leezenberg as key-note speaker, we talked mainly about Kurdish and Turkish literature, but also the repression in Turkey and xenophobia in Europe. After his speech the teacher Suna Floret, journalist Iffet Subasi, student Burak Yildiz, anthropologist Bedel Bayrak and historian Tayfun Balcik shared personal stories about growing up as Turks, Kurds and Armenians in The Netherlands. The day came to a conclusion with dialogue-tables for interaction with the public.

In January 2017 the municipality received our plan to organize a trip to the Caux Forum 2017 with a diverse group of people from Rotterdam. This report is meant to give you an insight about our activities with the Rotterdam delegation before, during and after the program in Caux. 

 

  1. MEET-UP WITH THE ‘ROTTERDAM-GROUP’, 3-7-2017

On Monday, a day before we flew to Switzerland, the participants from Rotterdam came together for the first time as a group.

Attendees: Tato Martirossian, Helin Dogan, Burakhan Çevik, Fusun Erdogan, Fatma Bulaz Zeynep Kus, Bedel Bayrak, Tayfun Balçik

After we introduced ourselves, we had a short dialogue-session.

Tato: ‘It is important to see the humanity of the other. Only after acknowledging each other as human beings, dialogue can be fruitful. Talking from a position of superiority have brought us nothing so far. It was a whole process for me to come to this disposition. Until I was 10 years old, I hadn’t seen a Turk in my life. My image of Turks changed enormously since then.’

Burak: ‘I had that with Kurds. So this is very important for me. My family is very conservative.’

Fusun: ‘I’m a journalist and came here after I was released from prison in Turkey. About the Armenian genocide, I can say that my grandmother was Armenian. They called her ‘Mavis’. That is not a Turkish or Kurdish name. I also had an uncle. They called him “Ermeni Hasan/Armenian Hasan”. But he never talked about his roots. I think he was afraid to do that.’

Fatma: ‘My parents come from Igdir, in Eastern Turkey at the border of Armenia. There was an Armenian church there. It was destroyed in 1960. I have Azeri roots, probably tracing back to Yerevan in Armenia. Igdir is very diverse. Azeri’s, Kurds, islamized yazidi’s make up the city’s population. About Caux 2017, I’m really interested in the follow-up, what will come out of it? I hope we can set up big seminars in Europe and show the real and diverse history of this region to everybody who is interested.’

Tato: ‘I think that we as diaspora communities have the privilege to play a keyrole in promoting dialogue and peace, because we have more access to information from several sides.’

PHOTO 1: IOC, HPP and the Rotterdam delegation just before entering the plane at Schiphol Airpart to Swtizerland.

Interview with Varduhi Balyan

This interview was made after the panel discussion “Freedom of Expression in Turkey. Challenges for dialogue & peace” during the Freedom Book Fair 2017.

Varduhi Balyan is a writer for Agos bilingual weekly newspaper based in Istanbul. She is also a MA candidate at the Instanbul Bilgi University in the department of Civil Society Studies. She writes about many topics including human rights, freedom of speech, democracy, civil society, Armenian-Turkish reconciliation and conflict regions. (Speaker description of the program booklet of the Freedom Book Fair 2017)

Could you tell us a little more about your background and your family?

I was born in Armenia and grew up there. At the end of 2013 I moved to Turkey. My family is from Muş, that is a part of Turkey today. They had to leave the region before the Armenian Genocide because of the political pressure and went to Shamkhor, which is part of Azerbaijan today. In the end of 1980’s they had to migrate to nowadays Armenia because of the tensions. Therefore, my family has a kind of migration history. This might be the historical background of how I am connected to Turkey and the reason I am involved in the dialogue process between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Is it the reason to work for the Armenian newspaper “Agos”?

No and to be honest it is not even about the newspaper being an Armenian newspaper. But I like the line it is following and the work it does. It is not a traditional newspaper. I like its views and I share them mostly.

Actually, do you study and write a Master thesis?

Yes, that is right. I am doing my masters, currently working on my thesis on the civil society involvement in Turkey-Armenia reconciliation process.

How did you get involved in the Freedom Book Fair?

I met Tayfun and Bedel in Switzerland on a conference about peace and justice. Then they invited me to be part of this project and share my experiences for which I am very happy. 

What does the event Freedom Book Fair and the panel discussion mean to you?

You do not have a lot of opportunities to speak about peace so every time there is a space with people who work on peace and a space where you can share your thoughts and ideas, you should be happy to be part of it. As, unfortunately, in our days there are not many platforms to speak about peace. That is why it is really important for me to be here.

During the panel discussion, you have mentioned that it is important to create space of dialogue and peace. Which kind of methods would you use to achieve this?

First of all, we should change the language we use. We need to clean up the language of hate speech. The role of media in this is big. It can create peace atmosphere by simply using dialogue language, changing the language of hate. We need to bring people together and they need to have more personal contacts. That is the thing that really works. It is not the fastest way to resolve a conflict but it does work. I believe person to person contact is really important for peace building.

What are your future perspectives?

I never set up clear plans and just go with the flow mostly and then I decide what I want to do. I hope to continue working on these topics either in academia or journalism, or both.

What gives hope to you?

All events like this one by the Hague peace project and the idea that there are others who struggle for the same values, for peace.

What is your message for the world?

Even if we do not agree in the political views, we should leave space for others to speak out and to build a space for dialogue.

Interview: Miriam Reinhardt