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A Case for Change in Turkey

Turkey

 

(This blog post is contributed by Harper Clark, a summer ’16 undergraduate intern with HasNa Inc. All views and opinions reflected in this article strictly belong to the author.)

With a number of complex social and economic issues abound, there seems to be no immediate solution for Turkey’s entrance into the EU, especially after Brexit. However, negotiations are still ongoing, which means progress can still be made. The EU wants to see Turkey tighten up its security and immigration laws in order to protect itself from terrorism, while Turkey wants to deal with these issues independently. Brexit means a huge economic loss for both England and Europe at large, but there is a possibility that Turkey might be exactly what the EU needs to bolster economic growth and prosperity. Ultimately, what it comes down to is bilateral cooperation and understanding between the Turkish and the rest of Europe, addressing concerns on both sides of the aisle.

What does all this mean for the average Turk living in such a tumultuous time in Turkey’s history? Without European visas this means that young Turks who are looking for a job cannot go to other European countries to seek work. This is quite limiting to the youth who are looking for meaningful careers and want to branch off from agriculture, textile manufacturing, and tourism, three staples of the Turkish economy. We could see rising unemployment and a greater disparity of wealth with socio-economic tensions. In Turkey, as in many other countries, the rich seem to be getting richer, and the poor seem to sliding deeper down the hole of poverty. Of course with this migration comes a lot of racism, xenophobia and just hatred in general for those that are different from them both ethnically and in terms of religion. What Turkish youth must do in order to stabilize their country for the coming decades is develop understanding between the new refugees, since an end to the war in Syria does not seem to be coming anytime soon. They must cultivate cultural understanding so that Syrians can integrate into Turkish culture effortlessly until it is safe to go back to their home. Turkish youth have more opportunities than ever to strengthen their economy and really make Turkey a model for economic resilience and strength.

Personally, I recommend opening up dialogue about the issues at hand and not keeping anything off the table. The problem seems to be that there are too many non-negotiable subjects to Erdogan; such as the way they handle security and anti-terrorism policies, which stifles progress. On the EU’s side there are definitely a lot of standards that they will have to hold Turkey too, some of which they have to be more flexible about like their economic and climate change policies. What seems to be the biggest problem in the way of Turkey’s accession into the EU is their long list of human rights abuses. The Copenhagen criteria were created to keep the European countries up to these high standards and that is exactly where Turkey falls disappointingly short. Turkey must rectify this problem immediately, not just for its accession into the EU but because it puts the people of Turkey in a negative light. As a country that wants to prosper as a member of the EU it is essential that the Turkish government allow the people to exercise their right to freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. These have all been problems in the past that simply cannot be ignored anymore. Once the Turkish government takes a step forward in their human rights record they will also take a step forward in their path of accession into the EU.

From an American youth’s perspective I sympathize with the plight of the Turkish youth. It is a very chaotic time to be a Turkish millennial and I fear that under Erdogan’s regime their voices will not be heard, which could have costly effects. I do live in hope that there are serious governmental reforms on the way, which will lead to more opportunities and possibilities in Turkey. We are on the brink of change in a country that has yet to prove its unwavering stability so I anticipate a major transformation in the way that Turkey operates between both Europe and the Middle East.

Turkey’s Kurdish Predicament

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On June 15th 2016, HasNa hosted two guest speakers, Omer Taspinar and Gonul Tol at George Washington University’s Marvin Center. Dr. Taspinar is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor at the National War College. Dr. Tol is the founder and director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies and an adjunct professor at George Washington University. Both of them addressed the complex issues that have arisen due to the Kurdish fight for independence in the Middle East and Turkey’s response. Overall, we had a good turn out of about 40 to 50 people at the Marvin Center, all actively engaged with the discussion about Turkey and the Kurds.

The Kurds would like to ideally branch off and make their own space, which they are trying to carve out in Syria. This is difficult when they are fighting against the Assad regime, ISIS, and the Turkish government. Dr. Tol pointed out that the Kurds need the Turks because their only connection to Europe and the Western world is through Turkey. The Kurds do receive help from the United States though, especially with their fight against ISIS, which is expanding northward past Raqqah and Markadeh into Kurdish territory. The problem is that the U.S. is also allies with Turkey so the U.S.-Kurdish relationship could potentially put the U.S.-Turkish relationship in jeopardy. The PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) were also originally backed by the Soviet Union so the West faces a conflict of interest whenever they back the PKK in order to fight ISIS. Our speakers reminded us that the PKK is fighting against ISIS first and fighting for Kurdish independence second.

There were a few questions from our attendees, most of which were wondering what was at the heart of the Kurdish and Turkish feud. One person asked why Kurdish integration has been so difficult, whereas multi-cultural integration in America has gone more smoothly. Dr. Tol and Taspinar both remarked that this ethnocentric conflict has been going on for hundreds of years and that the United States is relatively young. Turkey has not had the same history of inclusion that the U.S. has had and religious and ethnic differences can spark massive controversy in Turkey. Turkey must take steps to become much more culturally understanding and inclusive if they want to finally end the hostility around them in the Middle East.

This is just the first of an exciting series of events that HasNa is hosting over the coming months. We will have various guest speakers with diverse backgrounds discussing the importance of international conflict negotiation and the steps that we can take towards building peace and a better tomorrow. If you would like to be updated on our monthly events you can follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/hasnaDC/

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The Much-Needed Case for Profitable Peacebuilding

The Much-Needed Case for Profitable Peacebuilding

A major challenge in peacebuilding is its case for profitability. Unlike conflict, there is a resounding silence when justifying the economic benefits of peace. “The dominance of the securitized approaches may be attributed to much more consistent and powerful lobbying, by political and commercial interests in the defense sector. In contrast, the peacebuilding field has no strong and consistent governmental or private sector lobby in its support.” The economic dominance by defense sectors repeatedly overshadows peace at the table of policymakers. Peace is viewed as passive in its maintenance and its economic implications. This misconception fails to recognize the activity of peacebuilders who constantly practice conflict prevention and mediation to eliminate roots of conflict.

This ongoing activity, like most societal development, seeks to create behavioral change. However, project-based interventions fall short of the sustained efforts needed to foster change. Rather than the short-term provision of goods or services, peacebuilding efforts must remain continuous in stimulating dialogue and relationships.

The practice of HasNa Inc, a DC-based NGO focusing on conflict prevention, mitigation and resolution in Turkey, is an example of organic peacebuilding at work. HasNa facilitates communication between groups through sector-specific exchange programs that train participants in a particular skillset. This creation of a safe space during the exchange allows for the groups to interact and inadvertently disprove negative assumptions about each other. The continuous development of skills after the program’s end bridges groups together and allows dialogue to cultivate organic acceptance into social identities.

In order to help peace gain the traction it needs as a policy issue, HasNa and other peacebuilding actors must advocate for the sector-wide adoption of this ongoing organic practice. Equating peacebuilding to profitability begins with making the case for its sustained activity and how the cultivation of dialogue and relationships has direct economic implications, be it through the generation of income through these activities, the formation and fortification of new trade partners, or other avenues that prove to be successful in practice and lucrative in nature.

 

Richard Davis is HasNa’s graduate intern from George Washington University. As a second-year student in his final semester, he is currently studying International Education, specifically gender equality and community engagement, while also earning a Nonprofit Management certificate.

The Power of Storytelling


ComeToMyVoice

On May 21, 2015, HasNa screened Hüseyin Karabey’s 2014 Turkish film, “Come to My Voice,” at the Avalon Theater in Washington, DC. It is a simple enough premise, but powerful in its ability to bring to light the realities of a typical Kurdish village’s unfortunate interactions with police through a storyline that seems at once natural and mythical. The stories within stories, local music, and tranquil mountainous landscapes are woven into the sad realities facing the villagers. Many elements struck me and will continue to linger in my mind, from the grandmother who, through her actions, teaches her granddaughter strength, courage, discretion, and kindness, to the respect and compassion with which the men and women of the village treat each other. In sharp contrast is the way in which the protagonists are barely treated as citizens within their own homeland, subjected to checkpoints and humiliation. Beyond the typical suspicion and threatening aggression in such scenarios, the reality of cultural oppression is also manifested when the officers make condescending remarks about the villagers’ Kurdish dialect, insisting that they speak in Turkish.

Karabey – both the director and writer – subtly adds complexity to characters in an absurd situation. The villagers in poverty, accused of harboring weapons, are forced to find guns they had never before sought in order to free some of their men from jail. As in any case of human interaction during any given conflict, across all time and space, there will always be a variety of individual behaviors. Of the dominant group asserting its power, some will play along and simply follow orders, others will abuse the system and use it for personal gain, and still others will follow their conscience and show compassion toward the oppressed. Because we see examples of all three behaviors, the film manages to show the humanity in soldiers who find themselves pressured to participate in oppression through a depiction of the system as the root problem, not any one group.

Through personalizing and storytelling, films and media have the power to both raise awareness and change perspectives. The Harmony Institute, a research center that studies the impact of media on individuals and society, acknowledges that impact could take many forms and is often difficult to measure. Nevertheless, the Institute’s studies have shown that character attachment creates a strong emotional experience, and that can make a story an effective means to contributing to social change.

Jonathan Gottschall, Ph.D., explores a unique theoretical perspective of the purpose and impact of storytelling: being able to relate to fictional characters can influence a given attitude more than typical factors such as one’s background and beliefs1,2. This is due to forming judgments about the characters in the same way as we would real people, which then ends up impacting generalizations on those groups or issues. Hence, in the case of Karabey’s film, anyone can relate to the bond between the grandmother and granddaughter and their determination to bring back their missing family member. Gottschall argues that the proliferation of American TV shows and films with likeable characters seems to be a large factor in drastic shifts in American public opinion regarding various groups. Gottschall even believes that fictional characters may effect social change as strongly as direct political action, and certainly more so than nonfiction, when people keep their critical guards up against something clearly meant to persuade them.

As for the film, one turn of events, in particular, really moved me. When the granddaughter decides to take matters into her own hands in order to save another man in the family from danger, a powerful message of love and sacrifice arises. The message is all the more potent and tangible through the tacit understanding between the granddaughter and grandmother that they must take this risk. I can imagine that, whether one has heard nothing of Kurdish people, or only negative depictions, this part of the film would be moving and memorable.

In this ever more interconnected, globalized world, the power of storytelling can help us make sense of news, empathize with people from other cultures, and put a human face on issues to which we would otherwise have trouble relating. It can also make us re-evaluate issues that are familiar to us. Along the same lines, HasNa, through coordinating projects between conflicting communities in Turkey, Cyprus, and Armenia, puts a human face on neglected and misunderstood regions. HasNa’s focus on relatable human needs and desires – from agriculture and business to youth and female empowerment – is what leads to inspired members, progress, and peacebuilding. The impact of individual stories through collaboration is as noteworthy as the impact of the film’s stories, as evidenced by its People’s Choice Award at the Istanbul International Film Festival. There is hope that people everywhere are open to re-shaping their long-held views of socially and economically excluded populations.

HasNa is open to future screenings of this film. Please contact us if you would like to get involved in organizing an event.

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[1] Gottschall, J. (2012) The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

[2] Gottschall, J. (2012, Jun 20). The Power of Fake Gay (and Black) Friends [Web log post]. Retrieved May 29, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog

 

This blog post was contributed by Michelle “Zephyr” Williams, who is currently an intern at HasNa Inc.

Water: The Principal Resource for Humanity

water engineers

Water is essential for human life and the depletion of clean water resources is a serious global threat. According to the International Water Management Institute, one third of the global population does not have access to clean drinking water and another 1.5 billion people live in areas experiencing water scarcity. Some scientists argue that within two decades more than half of the world population will face water-based vulnerability. To avoid a global water crisis, we all need to act immediately and find ways to use water more efficiently.

In order to address the global water challenges, particularly in the developing world, the Global Environment and Technology Foundation along with its partners which include the US Department of State have formed the US Water Partnership (USWP) in 2011. As its name indicates, USWP is a US based public-private partnership that includes a wide array of public agencies and private institutions. The main functions of the USWP are to provide access to information on water issues and to give technical assistance to domestic and/or international organizations that aim to solve water challenges around the globe. As our past training programs for Turkish water engineers indicate, HasNa has been focusing on improving water management and irrigation methods in southeastern Turkey since 2000. Thus, it is only natural that we reached out to USWP to help us with our upcoming training program in 2015 for water union association chairmen coming from southeastern Turkey.

The Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), which is one of the most ambitious and expensive regional development projects in the world, has so far constructed 12 dams out of the 22 planned to be built in the basins of Tigris and Euphrates. By utilizing the waters of these two major rivers, this integrated regional development project seeks to improve not only agriculture and irrigation in the region but also aims to provide hydroelectric power and better infrastructure for economic development. Since this expensive project revolves around using water as the key resource, it is essential for the region’s population ranging from farmers, agricultural experts and local government officials to water engineers to understand how to use water efficiently not wastefully. Water Union Associations (WUAs) which are doing bulk of the work in terms of advising farmers on irrigation issues were the main targets of HasNa’s training programs between 2000 and 2005. After five consecutive years of working with the WUAs in southeastern Turkey, HasNa has established a respectable alumni network of engineers and water experts in the region. Continuing demands for additional training on irrigation and water management in the region have prompted us to bring a new group of WUA chairmen to the United States for training. We are planning to cooperate with the US Water Partnership and benefit from their expertise for this upcoming training. As the humanitarian crisis in the neighborhood surrounding southeastern Turkey worsens, it is becoming even more critical to use water carefully and efficiently. Depletion of water resources due to mismanagement will only make the socio-economic situation more daunting in the Middle East.

If you want to learn more about water’s many uses and the global water challenges we are facing, you can access the H2infO on the US Water Partnership’s website: http://uswaterpartnership.org/h2info-2/

The Art of Building Peace

Bi-communal art Cyprus

In his meditative essay on ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (1936), Walter Benjamin spoke of the decay or withering of the aura of art that comes with mass reproduction through photography and printing. As the importance of art pour l’art or ‘art for art’s sake’ decreases with the advent of modernity, mechanical reproduction of art is used for propaganda, and political messaging. Thus, in reaction to the gradual aestheticization of politics, Benjamin called for politicization of the arts. Since then, art is often perceived as being greater than merely a reflection of society. It goes one step ahead; not only does it make a comment on society, but it chooses to take a stand. The personal becomes political.

In Cyprus, art has been a little more than just a creative or aesthetic product; it has frequently been used to communicate a message to the public. According to Daniella Gold, ‘artists have used their work to bring together two communities through sharing common cultural experiences, rehumanizing the other community, and engaging individuals in atypical ways. Bi-communal art activities have helped to foster interaction between the two communities and facilitate reconciliation. Though the visual arts are by no means the only creative method that should be used to aid peacebuilding, the arts have played a significant role in increasing understanding between warring groups and facilitating interaction’ (The Art of Building Peace: How the Visual Arts Aid Peace-building Initiatives in Cyprus, 2006).

Buffer Fringe held its first bi-communal performance art initiative in Cyprus on October 18-19 of this year, on the Buffer Zone. Fifteen fringe performances from across the island were presented outdoors during this two-day event. The UN buffer zone at Lefkoşa was transformed into an open air stage, where the performances were held to celebrate art, fresh ideas, and free thinking. From 6 PM each evening, the audience enjoyed live performances that encompassed theater, art, and dance. The performances were presented in English, Turkish, and Greek. Highlights of the festival included English stage adaptations of The Princess and the Pea and Miss Margarida’s Way, and also a Turkish and Greek play called Çanta / Τσάντα / Bag.

The idea of adopting “atypical” or unconventional ways of building peace resonates closely with HasNa’s mission. Our programs have often been guided by the urge to identify a problem, come up with a creative way to solve that problem, and then pull in our skills and resources to implement that solution; or at least empower others to implement solutions of their own. Our bi-communal activities in Cyprus span across a number of topics including the environment, journalism, radio shows, and exchange programs. So far, we have been able to use various forms of art – film, literature, mass media – to promote cross-cultural understanding in the island. But we’re still looking for more creative ways of building peace. How many can you think of?

4 Million Knots of Peace: One Thread at A Time

Ghazir Rug

A friend (and dedicated HasNa volunteer) recently shared a Twitter message with me about the display of the “Ghazir rug” at the White House. Sad to say, I was not familiar with it; but the Tweet referenced the rug’s “symbolism of the Armenian genocide” and I decided to do some investigation. The Near East Relief organization presented the rug to President Calvin Coolidge in December 1925 as a gift, woven by Armenian orphans living in Ghazir, Syria (now Lebanon). It was inscribed as a “Golden Rule token of appreciation to President Coolidge” for U.S. humanitarian assistance to displaced Armenian orphans. Dr. John Finley, who presented the rug, noted that the President’s “words as to the observance of Golden Rule Sunday [the previous year had] gone out into all the earth..and…been especially appreciated by the orphan children…”[1]

“Golden Rule Sunday” referred to an international campaign by the Congressionally-chartered humanitarian aid organization Near East Relief, declaring December 2, 1923 the first International Golden Rule Day. The organization asked citizens to practice “self denial” so that others would not starve, specifically that Americans forego the usual lavish Sunday dinner tradition and instead eat a meal similar to what Near East Relief orphans ate daily (recipes available upon request) and contribute the cost savings to relief work. President Coolidge was among those taking the Sunday Dinner pledge.[2]

The Isfahan-style rug took 10 months to complete, with four girls working the loom at a time. It contained 4,404,247 knots, representing flora and fauna, including 144 animals in its design (some would say depicting the Garden of Eden of Biblical reference). Dr. Finley, describing it as a labor of love, remarked, “They have tied into it the gratitude of tens of thousands of children to you and to America. And what they have tied into it will never be untied.”[3]

But the rug’s goodwill history belies its political symbolism today. Tension still exists between Turkey and Armenia over labeling the massacre beginning in 1915 as “genocide.” The current White House Administration came under fire in 2013 for not loaning the rug to The Smithsonian for the launch of a book on the rug’s history (Dr. Hagop Martin Deranian’s President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug). The White House stated at the time that it was inappropriate to display a rug from the White House collection at a book sale. Critics claimed the American government was afraid of inciting the ire of the Turkish government and Turkish organizations. But, as political winds shift, it was announced this month that the rug will be on display at the White House Visitors Center as part of an exhibit entitled “Thank You to the United States: Three Gifts to Presidents in Gratitude for American Generosity Abroad” from November 18-23, 2014. It’s actually only the third time the rug has been displayed publically since the Coolidge family gifted it back to the White House in 1982; the rug remained in storage until now. Is all well then in U.S. foreign relations related to the Turkish-Armenian controversy?

What strikes me as tragic (though not as tragic as the millions of people who lost their lives between 1915 and the early 1920s) is the loss of the rug’s intended symbolism of “goodwill on Earth” to quote President Calvin Coolidge. Let’s not forget that the rug was a labor of love and gratitude, from children displaced by war and violence and death. As a novice weaver myself, I can’t help but think of the metaphor of weaving in our peacebuilding work. The art of weaving is in capturing the beauty through interlacing different colors and textures in the creation of patterns and shapes that have meaning to the artist and to the viewer. Throughout history, woven textile design has been steeped in cultural contexts, shaped by sociological and political influences. The product of weaving is borne out of an artist’s dream or vision, a culmination of focusing intently on the steps of warp and weft. In the end, the individual threads are interlaced, each important to the design; but it is the integration of those threads that brings the woven art to life, and gives the textile its strength.

This imagery applies to our work — integrating people with perceived differences through one lens on problem solving, weaving their perspectives into a common understanding. An understanding not only of the problem’s solution (be it farm extension or environmental conservation) but of the common humanity. Isn’t that the legacy of the Ghazir orphans through their rug? They wove into their rug their gratitude for humanitarian support of strangers helping strangers. The violence that catalyzed the conditions that led to the rug was not the ultimate source of its creation. Love and gratitude were.

 

 

[1] New York Times, “President Receives Rug Woven by Orphans of Near East and Praises Work of Relief” December 5, 1925.

[2] Urbana Daily Courier, “Golden Rule Day Gains Popularity”, 26 November 1923.

[3] New York Times, December 5, 1925

Youth Engagement in Armenia

Vita 1

A study conducted in every household in Armenia in 2010 looked at real employment rates for different groups of individuals on the basis of various parameters such as socio-economic status, gender, age, level of urbanization, etc.  One of its findings was that the employment rate is the lowest for the youth in Armenia (age group 16-24) at 23.2%.  Although a majority of these youths are engaged in academic activity at this age, upon completing their degrees there has been found to be many challenges for them to find employment. This in turn creates social tension at the community level as well as increased stress and depression at the individual level.

Engaging such youth in volunteering activities not only helps them acquire certain professional skills that are attractive to employers and increase employment rates, but also has positive externalities for peace building and community building. The UN Volunteers have also come up with the benefits of youth engagement:

  • Outcome 1: Increased recognition of the contribution of youth to global peace and sustainable human development through volunteerism, and inclusion of youth voices in the development discourse.
  • Outcome 2: Improved capacity of relevant stakeholders to support an enabling environment for regional, national and community youth volunteering for global peace and sustainable human development.
  • Outcome 3: Increased and diversified opportunities for young people to contribute to global peace and sustainable human development work

Thus given this scenario of the youth employment rates in Armenia, the individual and social benefits of volunteering work, HasNa’s projects such as VITA (Volunteering in Turkey and Armenia) is in sync with our mission statement of promoting peace building and development. The project entailed training activities for youth participants from both countries that can build their capacity to facilitate and promote more volunteerism in the area. Bringing the youth of Armenia and Turkey further allows for conversation and sharing of ideas and opportunities, which can lead to collaborative sustained growth in the region. In the follow up program to the VITA concrete results were seen. 66 young people participated in the follow up projects that were started by member of the initial VITA program by HasNa. Members shared and volunteered a range of their skill as well as sharing experiences from DC to implement in their homes. Be It in the area of IT/ Web design, social media skills, local dance or even healthier ways of cooking, these volunteers are coming together and building ideas and strategy to be resourceful and lay the seeds for future youth volunteers to make this a self-sustained model.

 

This post is written by Rohini Ray, who is currently working as a volunteer for HasNa. Rohini recently graduated from Smith College with a degree in Economics and Physics. She is interested in the middle-east with her independent research looking at the oil and exchange rates in the area.

Education: A Promising Journey

Istanbul

As the only city to reside on two continents, Europe and Asia; Istanbul is unique in the world. Everyday millions of people living in Istanbul commute from one continent to the other for work, school and fun. I was one of those commuters when I lived in Istanbul. My parents lived on the Asian side of the city, which we Istanbullus call the Anatolian side, and my school was on the European side. Sometimes I drove with my friends and crossed the Bosphorus bridge. Other times I took the ferry to get to the European side. For anyone who hasn’t seen Istanbul, the Bosphorus strait offers a stunning view like no other in the world. The blue Marmara sea, the white clouds watching the European and Anatolian coastline, beautiful buildings from different eras – Byzantines, Ottomans, Turks, and of course the noisy seagulls which fly right in front of you if you are taking the ferry… No wonder why Istanbul is one of the top ten cities to visit in the world. Just crossing the Bosphorus strait is enough to make your trip unforgettable. Yet, it is easy to forget how unique Istanbul is due to its location if you are crossing the Bosphorus bridge every day for years. We Istanbullus start to take the beauty of the city for granted after years of commuting from one continent to the other. Now that I live in the United States, I appreciate that view and what Istanbul symbolizes for many different civilizations more. I carefully breath in that sea smell when I ride the ferry every time I go back to Istanbul to visit my parents. In fact, I take the ferry back to back several times so I can only concentrate on the view and remind myself how unique this city is and how lucky I was to live in Istanbul for 24 years…

In many ways, Istanbul is a microcosm of Turkey. First, like Istanbul, Turkey lies between Europe and Asia and it has been the crossroads for many different civilizations for more than 2000 years. So many cultures have flourished there and so many other foreign cultures have influenced the way people have lived in Anatolia because it has been the crossroads between two continents. Similar to Istanbul, the beauty and strength of Turkey lies in its multi-cultural past and present. Second, approximately one out of four Turkish citizens resides in Istanbul. When you walk around Istanbul, you come across people from all parts of Turkey. With its almost 20 million population, Istanbul is a microcosm of Turkey where you can interact with people from the east, west, north and south of the country. Finally, the history of Istanbul is very old and multifaceted like the rest of Turkey. You come across archeological ruins and architecture from many different civilizations both in Istanbul and in the rest of Turkey. Sightseeing in Istanbul and the rest of Turkey is similar to being a time traveler. You can travel from the time of Hittites to the time of the ancient Greeks, the Lydians, the early Christians, the Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Seljuks, the Ottomans and the list goes on and on… It’s fascinating to travel in Turkey like it’s in Istanbul.

These are the important parallels between Istanbul and the rest of Turkey. Now here’s how the rest of the country differs from Istanbul. The rest of Turkey is not as economically developed as Istanbul. In my opinion, the saddest thing in life is wasted potential. Every time I visit Istanbul and chat with people from all over the country who now live in Istanbul, they tell me that they migrated to Istanbul because they couldn’t realize their potential back in their own cities, towns or villages. There were simply not enough opportunities for education and jobs. According to OECD’s 2012 report, Turkey ranks third highest on a scale of income inequality among its 34 member countries. This situation is not unique to Turkey though. Like many other developing countries in the world, there is a big social and economic disparity between the major cities and the rest of the country. So neither Istanbul nor Turkey is unique in this sense. What’s relatively more unique is that given its geographic location, incredible history and multicultural strength, there might be much more untapped resources in Turkey and hence more wasted potential compared to other developing countries…

The good news is a lot has been going on in the past several decades to develop the rest of Turkey. Social and economic programs targeting different parts of Turkey have been designed and implemented by administration after administration for decades. Some administrations have been more successful than others of course but still the awareness that gives rise to such efforts is there. Ok, here is the bad news. These efforts need to be accelerated and not only the governments but the private sector and the non-profit sector have a responsibility to act towards this end. The rate of migration to Istanbul and other major cities is still outpacing the rate of social and economic development in the underdeveloped parts of Turkey. Furthermore, the political problems in the Middle East are sending more and more refugees to southeastern Turkey and creating a dire situation that needs to be addressed more urgently than ever!

As important as it is to provide food, shelter and other basic necessities to people who are in need, it is more meaningful to equip them with the tools that can help them realize their potential in the long run. That’s why the Nobel prize went to an extraordinary individual who committed her life to improving access to universal education. During her speech at the United Nations, Malala Yousafzai said that just one student, one teacher and one book is enough to make a change. Surely, change that comes through education is slower but let’s not forget that it’s the most promising way to fix social and economic disparity in the world. The more people have access to education, the more they can improve their socio-economic situation. The underdeveloped regions of Turkey which are also experiencing the flow of refugees from the Middle East are in need of education centers that can equip them with the tools to improve their well-being. Strategic educational programs such as training centers that give technical training can be effective for eradicating poverty, improving socio-economic levels and eventually giving rise to more stable political climate in the region as well. There is a strong link between economic well-being, democracy and security. It might be a tough journey but it’s a promising one. HasNa wants to contribute to this journey by helping young adults who want to gain new technical skills. We are currently in the process of collaborating with business owners, companies as well as regional NGOs to determine the skills that are mostly desired and marketable in the region. We invite everyone to join us in increasing access to education and jobs in whichever part of the developing world you are passionate about. Let’s all contribute to improving education and job training in the developing world even if it is one girl, one teenager, one refugee, one adult at a time…

Sustained Dialogue

Avi dialogue

Sustained Dialogue – we often hear this term when talking about peace, but what does it really mean? This informative piece on Sustained Dialogue details five stages of Sustained Dialogue: Deciding to Engage, Mapping Relationships and Naming Problems, Probing Problems and Relationships, Scenario Building, and Acting Together.

HasNa’s program model incorporates the five stages of Sustained Dialogue in a unique way aiming for alternative routes to building sustainable relationships. While many dialogue groups engage individuals around topics specific to conflict, HasNa does not plan programming specifically around the topics of tension within the communities we serve. Instead, HasNa participants choose to engage for the purpose of bettering themselves in some capacity, by way of professional or skill development or building relationships with foreseeable personal impact.

The second stage of mapping relationships and naming problems is specific to each program. For example, farmers have a need to work with agricultural experts in increasing their productivity and understanding the necessity and nature of those relationships as well as the problems that are addressed by them are crucial in this stage. In another example from our Crafting Peace program, we saw Armenian stonemasons with intimate knowledge of historical buildings that was beneficial to Turkish stonemasons engaging in the restoration of historical buildings. Some of this needs-exchange process happens prior to when our programming takes place, but is more crucial during program implementation, when participants discover ways in which they can engage in mutually beneficial positive relationships.

Throughout the program, the participants probe problems and build scenarios together in which they begin to visualize the actuality of potential from their relationships. Upon program completion, our participants then go on to stage five, in which they act together implementing their ideas and further building their relationships. In this way, HasNa’s program model works to create a foundation for sustained dialogue through sustainable relationships. For more information on Sustained Dialogue, check out this link.

Once a Volunteer, Always a Volunteer

Pat Lowther and Kathy Scruggs

Pat Lowther and Kathy Scruggs were seniors in college when they were moved by President Kennedy’s call to service with the Peace Corps. They applied, took the exam, and reported to Peace Corps training at Georgetown University. At Georgetown, they studied with about 100 other volunteers to become English teachers in Turkey.

It was terribly hot and humid that summer in 1963. There was no air conditioning in the dorms. They studied Turkish every day for 3 hours, took classes on American studies, ESL teaching, and rigorous physical education. There were inoculation clinics and most of the trainees had their wisdom teeth pulled as a precaution.

Pat and Kathy became friends soon after they met. After a week in Ankara they traveled to their sites: Pat to Bursa and Kathy to Bandirma. Their second year Pat taught in Adapazari and Kathy in Ankara. It was difficult to be new teachers without family and old friends but the volunteers relied on each other and new Turkish friends at their schools. Adjusting to a new culture and language and dealing with homesickness was a challenge, but the kindness and hospitality of the people in Turkey made the two years a remarkable experience.

Since then, Turkey has held a special place in their hearts which is true for all the rest of their Peace Corps group, known as “Turkey II.” It was their home away from home.  In 2009 there was a reunion for the group in Washington, DC and they immediately bonded with folks they had not seen for 45 years because of their shared experiences in Turkey. They traded stories of the various recent volunteer projects they had been involved with in their communities across the US.

Pat Lowther and Kathy Scruggs with students in English Training for NGOs 2011

Pat and Kathy have known Nevzer Stacey for over 40 years and admire her for founding HasNa. They have been glad to volunteer in the past, helping with museum and shopping tours for program participants.  Since they are both retired ESOL teachers, it was natural to volunteer to teach English.

This project–teaching English to people working in non-governmental organizations–particularly resonated with them. They are a little apprehensive, especially since their once-fluent Turkish is almost non-existent, but excited as well. They set about writing lesson plans and dialogs.  When they learned that HasNa’s budget could only fund the purchase of one set of textbooks, Kathy reached out to the Turkey II members for donations.  In a short time, dozens of new textbooks were donated as well as over $500 to purchase additional books.

Pat and Kathy will keep journals while they are in Diyarbakir in May so they can regale their Peace Corps colleagues at the Peace Corps 50th celebration in September 2011.

By Pat Lowther and Kathy Scruggs

CFP Alumni featured in The Elders’ Documentary

Missing persons in Cyprus has been a painful subject for both Greek and Turkish Cypriots for many years. During the inter-communal conflict in the 1960s, many were killed whose remains were never recovered. As of 2006, “Some 1,500 Greek Cypriots and 500 Turkish Cypriots are officially registered as missing on Cyprus.”*

CFP alumni, Idil, Tayfun, Thalia, and Michael, with Desmond Tutu, Lakhdar Brahimi, and Jimmy Carter

The Cyprus Friendship Program (CFP) alumni are continuing to build on their experience with CFP to spread the message of building trust and understanding through interaction.

On Tuesday, February 8th, the official launching of The Elders** documentary, Cyprus: Digging the Past in Search of the Future was held at Chateau Status in Nicosia, Cyprus. The documentary features four of our CFP alumni, Idil, Tayfun, Thalia, and Michael, as they accompany three of the Elders, Desmond Tutu, Lakhdar Brahimi, and Jimmy Carter, on a journey to learn about the search for the remains of missing persons in Cyprus.

The documentary will air on television in Cyprus later this year.  We hope that this film will help Cypriots to realize their shared experiences and to open a dialogue that will foster mutual understanding. We are very proud to see CFP alumni making a positive impact on the future of the island.

Michael, one of the CFP alumni featured in the film, is blogging on The Elders website.  To read his article, Crossing borders with friendship, click here. To view a trailer for Cyprus: Digging the Past in Search of the Future on The Elders website, click here.

By Ciara Masterson


*http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6166560.stm

**The Elders are a group of eminent global leaders working to support peace building, to help address major causes of human suffering, and to promote the shared interests of humanity

HasNa in Turkey

Everywhere you look, on TV, in print, online… Turkey’s resurgence as a regional and economic power is making headlines. Last October’s edition of The Economist included a special report on Turkey, detailing the successful strides the country has made in the last decade and also the unresolved issues that still need to be addressed.

One of these issues is the economic and social underdevelopment in the southeastern part of the country. Income per person is less than half that found in some western areas.* Agriculture is the main industry in the southeast, so income is primarily derived from farming. The southeast also lacks the same levels of educational opportunity of other regions. In 2007 there was 1 teacher for every 30.1 school students in southeastern Turkey, compared to 19.2 in the western, Aegean coasts region.** This also leads to higher levels of illiteracy which is problematic throughout the entire country, especially for women. Women make up 84 percent of those who are older than 15 years of age and who do not know how to read or write.*** Disproportionate levels of development for women prevent them from having the same opportunities that many men have.

HasNa decided a decade ago—upon the advice of experts from Turkey—that one of the best ways we could help in the country was to bring people together from diverse backgrounds and train them in areas that help them acquire important skills.

HasNa has implemented 18 programs in the last decade focused on teaching farmers agricultural skills to help them increase their productivity and overall income. HasNa has also implemented 5 microbusiness programs for women to empower them to become productive members of society. All of our programs have also focused heavily on teaching communication skills to help individuals develop positive relationships within their communities.

The Economist proposes some important political measures to address the unresolved issues in Turkey. But what HasNa has found with experience, is that it is most important to transform peoples’ perceptions, allowing them to work peacefully with others, and to help people acquire skills, creating better opportunities for them to provide for themselves and their families. Indeed, these are long term goals and change does not occur overnight. We know that with continued effort, substantial progress can be made.

To read more about HasNa’s past agricultural programs click here

To read more about HasNa’s past microbusiness programs for women click here

By Ryan Olivett


Improve quality of life by volunteering

Volunteering, in any capacity, has beneficial effects on one’s physical and emotional wellbeing. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development, “volunteering leads to better health” and…”[t]hose who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who don’t volunteer”.

HasNa volunteer, Pat Talmon, giving a tour of the National Air and Space Museum to Program Managers from Turkey.

HasNa relies on its dedicated group of volunteers to make every program a success.  Our volunteers make a positive change in people’s lives and communities and they have fun and improve their own lives while they’re doing it! They work with us on every program to make the experience unique and meaningful for our training participants.  They guide our trainees through Washington, DC and surrounding areas for training sessions and cultural outings.  They also translate training documents and sessions for the participants and even volunteer to host dinner parties for the trainees. Our training participants from Turkey and our Cyprus Friendship Program (CFP) members value getting to know the people they meet and experiencing the warmth of the spirit of volunteerism in the U.S.

Volunteer CFP Host Dad, Joe Drozd, with CFP teens at airport upon arrival in U.S.

We had an incredible group of volunteers for this year’s CFP. In addition to our host families, the CFP volunteers planned the farewell dinner, pool parties, museum tours, and assisted during the Bikes for the World community service activity. Their motivation and belief in the program helped to move CFP forward. At the CFP farewell dinner each pair of teens and their host families spoke about their experience with the program.  The teens’ respect and gratitude for everyone that helped during the program was evident during their heartwarming and inspiring presentations. Each host family expressed how they were forever moved by the teens and the experience of CFP, as one host parents said, “I want you to know that every one of you has touched every one of us…Thank you for coming over and opening your hearts and your souls to us.”

Volunteer CFP Host Mom, Christina DiMicelli, with CFP teens touring parts of the East Coast.

The experience of meeting volunteers in the U.S. is always a meaningful one for HasNa trainees and volunteers.  It is really no surprise that volunteering has positive effects on one’s health.  Our CFP volunteers finished the program feeling the love and excitement of the teens and thankful that they had participated in the program. We hope that if you are interested in adding to their experience and contributing to peace in our world, you will contact HasNa to get involved!  We’d be happy to have you!

To volunteer with HasNa: http://hasna.org/Volunteer.htm

by Ciara Masterson

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