DemoSapiens: Freedom Under Threat

This past Thursday, HasNa hosted the third gathering in our DemoSapiens discussion series, co-hosted with MetaCulture. DemoSapiens comes from the Greek demos, meaning “people” and sapiens, meaning “wise,” because the series is designed to allow us to learn from one another’s wisdom. This third episode really leaned into that intention; there was no presentation and the entirety of the evening was spent in passionate discussion.

We were lucky enough to have participants from a wide range of backgrounds and at significantly different points in their professional careers. The diversity of viewpoints present meant that the conversation was always lively.

The central question of the evening was what does it mean to have freedom and where does it come from. Ultimately, a useful distinction was developed between conceptual freedom and freedom in practice. The US Constitution was discussed as a useful example of a document whose original definition of freedom has been continually reinterpreted over the generations in order to be more inclusive. 

Another highly topical subject that generated many different opinions was free speech. The conversation centered on how to determine what kinds of speech should be regulated by the government. How do we decide what kind of speech is sufficiently harmful to deserve banning? Obviously, cultural context is one of the most important factors in this discussion. It was suggested that different groups within a society should try to come through a consensus through dialogue as to what they want the government to regulate. Essentially, freedom of speech must be exercised in order to decide the limits of that very same freedom. However, the problem there is how those sorts of dialogues should be facilitated. There was also some skepticism expressed of how effective dialogue can be in the long run.

The disagreement around the value of dialogue as a way to determine governmental actions was tied to a larger debate over whether democracy is or ought to be developed and run from the top down or from the bottom up. The founding of many democratic nations — such as the US and India, to give two vastly different examples — was led by elites who crafted and imposed their version of a good government on the majority. However, democracy at its core is about rule by the people, for the people. There is a clear unresolved tension there.

The evening closed with a discussion of whether the meaning of freedom changes in different cultural contexts. Although it is of course an oversimplification to divide the world’s countries into two camps, there can be a broad and imperfect distinction made between collectivist and individualistic cultures. In collectivist cultures, freedom may not be valued as highly. Should it be? Who has the right to make that call? This moral puzzle is further complicated by the privilege, economic and otherwise, that makes it possible to even debate questions about freedom. Who gets to talk about these things? Why do they have the space to consider these the most urgent problems?

It was a fascinating conversation that brought up many complicated ethical questions. Thank you to all the participants for their expertise and their passion. If you missed it, you can see the video here. We are so excited to continue exploring more complex issues through DemoSapiens, and we hope to see you there!

This article was contributed by Zeena Mubarak, intern at HasNa, Inc.

Why is Collaboration Crucial for Democracy to Function?

Below is a message from HasNa’s President, Nevzer Stacey, on the necessity of collaboration:

In order for us to respect the voices of people in a society, we cannot only hear them; we must listen to them. We hear a lot of things, some intentionally, some unintentionally. But when we listen it signifies that we are actively engaged. We make a decision to listen and learn. Whether we agree or disagree is immaterial. What is important is that we are engaged in the topic being discussed. Although we may all be listening to the same message, we may hear different things. One person never has all the answers and even the people we disagree with have thoughts and ideas that may help us to understand better.

It is always to one’s advantage to find commonalities that we can share with others. We may be spending a lot of time to convince our opponents that we have the right answer. What we should be doing instead is searching for common elements.

— Nevzer Stacey, President of HasNa Inc.

The Power of Storytelling


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.


[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


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:

Building Bridges, One Word At A Time

In the Classroom

In many ways, intercultural exchange serves as a cushion or catalyst for peace. When two ethnic groups are in a state of conflict, there is a breakdown of communication between them. In such situations, inter-cultural activities provide them with a common space to meet, communicate, and interact. Communication includes both listening and expressing oneself so that the other can hear. Understanding is the first step towards developing empathy, and to be able to empathize with the other is a large step towards reconciliation.

Language is often considered to be one of the most tangible manifestations of culture. By speaking and understanding the language of the other, different ethnic groups are able to expose themselves to each other’s songs, theater, cinema, literature, folklore, and other cultural indicators. They are able to exchange ideas, and express their own feelings with greater ease.

Recognizing this unifying power of language, the NGO Support Center – one of HasNa’s local partners in Nicosia – will offer Turkish language lessons to Greek Cypriots starting from September 3rd, 2014 until May, 2015. Classes will take place every Wednesday from 4:30 to 6:30 PM for Greek-speaking students, and every Thursday, from 5 to 7 PM for English-speaking students. These language classes aim to prepare students for the European Language Framework examinations.

Is the goal of reconciliation merely to repair a relationship that has been damaged or broken, or should it also seek to ensure that there is no further escalation or outbreak of conflict in the future? How else can language skills help towards the mitigation of conflict? It’s an interesting thought, especially in the context of Nelson Mandela’s famous words:

‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’

2010 Program Management Training a Great Success!

All over Turkey, non-profit organizations work vigorously to meet the needs of individuals and communities in a diverse set of areas. Organizations are promoting human rights, improving access to education and healthcare, addressing environmental damage, promoting gender and ethnic equality, fostering economic and social development… The list goes on. Good intentions are always admirable, but the endurance and effectiveness of an organization depends on successful management.

Managing the day-to-day activities of an organization and implementing projects are complex and challenging. Successful management is crucial to sustaining an organization and implementing projects effectively and efficiently.

happy new year images hd

HasNa invited eleven passionate leaders for the Program Management Training 2010 held in Washington, D.C. between April 2nd and 24th. During the two-week program the participants developed their skills in strategic planning, collaborative communication, leadership, and conflict resolution. Program Management Training stresses the importance of managing day-to-day activities—recruiting volunteers, hiring employees, fundraising, running payroll, recordkeeping—as well as long-term strategic management to remain effective and flexible in an ever-changing environment.

During the program participants visited a number of non-profits in the D.C. metro area to learn best practices in running successful organizations, including the Latin American Youth Center, D.C. Central Kitchen, and N Street Village. In addition, they spent two days with Edna Povich from the Center for Dispute Settlement, learning about the differences between collaboration and competition and taking part in realistic simulation scenarios to develop their collaboration skills. Participants also spent a day at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to learn more about the day-to-day responsibilities of management.

Participants were continually encouraged to think about how they could apply the tools and knowledge they acquired to their current and future work. During the last day of the program, participants presented program action plans that they will implement in Turkey. Topics ranged from organic beekeeping techniques to helping farmers diversify their income to establishing a women’s development center. The presentations reflected not only participants’ passion and commitment to their work but also the valuable skills they developed over the course of the training.

The program participants overwhelmingly expressed how beneficial the Program Management Training was for their skill development. They also expressed that the training had made an immediate impact on how they view their leadership roles in their respective organizations. HasNa’s Program Management Training is unique and challenging, collaborative and inspiring. The participants continuing work will be a testament to the effectiveness and endurance of HasNa’s Program Management Training.

Visit Our Website!

by Ryan Olivett