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.

Meeting with UCI’s Olive Tree Initiative

Rukmini Banerjee in conversation with students from the University of California, Irvine

The Olive Tree Initiative is a university-based organization whose mission is to promote conflict analysis and resolution through rigorous academic preparation, experiential education and leadership development. OTI provides students, faculty and community participants with the education, training and experiences needed to better understand, negotiate, and resolve conflicts.

On Friday, August 17, 2018 HasNa hosted 10 students from the University of California, Irvine’s Olive Tree Initiative, along with Dr. Daniel Wehrenfennig, the Director of the program. On their way back to California from their study tour to Turkey and Armenia, the group of students stopped in New York, DC, and Boston, to meet with scholars, practitioners, and nonprofits engaged in peacebuilding, foreign policy, and conflict management in Turkey and Armenia.

Rukmini Banerjee, President of HasNa, gave the students an overview of HasNa’s model and past projects implemented in Turkey and Armenia, such as Crafting Peace (2012), Side by Side: Digital Stories (2013), and Volunteer Initiative in Turkey and Armenia (VITA: 2013-14). The students posed several questions regarding the challenges faced in the field, any push back received from families on either side of the border, and also the overall feedback on the projects. The students and Dr. Wehrenfennig also presented interesting insights into the challenges faced in their personal reasons for joining the Olive Tree Initiative. Rukmini also talked about HasNa’s experiences working with Turkish and Armenian diaspora in the US.

The conversation ended with an examination of the current political climate and US-Turkish relations, memory and memorialization, and a stronger resolve to continue working at the grassroots level to create positive, micro-level change.

From Liability to Asset: Realizing Turkey’s Potential

Dr. Aykan Erdemir (left), Dr. Pelin Eralp Wolak (center), Mr. Cenk Sidar (right). Photograph by Jessica Sidar.

On Thursday, May 11, 2017 HasNa Inc. hosted a panel discussion titled From Liability to Asset: Realizing Turkey’s Potential. This panel discussion sought to explore the ways in which Turkey could play a pivotal role in middle-eastern politics by expanding its political and economic horizons, and also through a smarter and stronger transatlantic engagement. Our guest speakers were Dr. Aykan Erdemir, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and former member of the Turkish parliament, and Mr. Cenk Sidar, a global risk executive with a vast experience in assisting top financial institutions, multinational corporations, risk management firms, and legal firms operating in high-risk regions. The panel was moderated by Dr. Pelin Eralp Wolak, Senior Program Manager at HasNa Inc.

The political and economic perspectives of the discussion were presented by Dr. Erdemir and Mr. Sidar respectively. Dr. Erdemir started the discussion by highlighting the main challenge for Turkey: how do we make the transition from this obsession with strong rulers to good governance and strong institutions? Law and order is often a result of inclusive and effective institutions, transparency and accountability. The most important lesson that we have learned from the current political situation in Turkey and indeed from many countries of the world, is that building strong institutions takes a lot of time, but destroying existing institutions does not take much effort or resources. Closing with the upcoming meeting between Presidents Erdogan and Trump on May 16, Dr. Erdemir emphasized the need for a principled engagement as opposed to appeasement between USA and Turkey.

Presenting the economic angle, Mr. Sidar started by describing Turkey’s position on the edge of a major economic crisis, with a high, unsustainable private sector debt that has been accruing for the last 5-6 years. If public debt is high, IMF can step in and inject some cash, thereby resolving the crisis temporarily. But the high private sector debt cannot be resolved by injecting cash. Inflation has reached 11% while economic growth is only 2% — a significantly low and dangerous growth rate for an emerging market with high increase in population. Sustainable, long-term growth is required to create economic stability. Historically, an economic crisis has always led to a change in government in Turkey. The younger people of the country voted in line with democratic principles, and 60% of the country’s population is below 35 years of age. According to Mr. Sidar, if Turkey’s economic condition is reversible, that reversal can be gradually accomplished by the youth of the country.

The session ended with a lively Q&A segment where the audience asked interesting questions about inclusivity and proposed action plans.

Please subscribe to HasNa’s Facebook page in order to view the video recording of the entire event.

Hamzah Jamjoom: The Ego

On January 9, Busboys and Poets (Takoma) hosted a conversation between the Saudi filmmaker Hamzah Jamjoom and John Hanshaw, Founder of the Washington Film Institute. Born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Hamzah Jamjoom is a writer, director, and actor currently based in Chicago. From a young age, Hamzah exposed himself to the art of storytelling and decided to study computer graphics animation. His first big break was the successful IMAX feature film titled Arabia 3D, where he was part of both the cast and the crew. As he began to acquire some recognition for his work through short films and music videos, he decided to use his position as a filmmaker and storyteller from the Arabic world, to subvert existing narratives surrounding the Middle East and the Islamic world and explore the various conflicts faced by the artist’s “ego”.

The main topic of last evening’s conversation was the artist’s ego, and the tendency of the artist to always want to present the best version of himself. Jamjoom explores the human ego through his more recent and upcoming artistic endeavors, particularly a sci-fi series on religion and the ego titled ‘Balance’ that he recently completed. He tackled a variety on questions from the audience towards the end of the conversation. These questions ranged from his own religious views to his experience working with Maher Zain, one of the most popular contemporary musicians of the Islamic world, who has previously worked with American pop artists such as Britney Spears and Lady Gaga.  At a time when most of society is deeply polarized along religious and political lines, artists such as Hamzah Jamjoom are making a huge contribution towards achieving some sort of understanding and stability by portraying various religious and cultural backgrounds through alternative discourses that challenge negative stereotypes.

In order to cultivate empathy and cross-cultural understanding, it is of vital importance to continue engaging in dialogue with people holding religious and political views that are very different from our own.

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.

A Case for Change in 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



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

Interested in a scholarship for a Master’s degree in Business Administration at BAU International University in Washington, DC?

BAU International University (BAUI) is offering scholarships to three students referred by HasNa. If you are finishing your undergraduate studies or have recently graduated from college, you might be eligible to apply for a scholarship at BAU International University in Washington, D.C. HasNa can recommend three students per academic year for BAUI’s EMBA program, which has concentrations in Entrepreneurship, Global Affairs, and International Law and Economics. All you need to do is contact HasNa, and we will tell you the requirements for receiving a recommendation letter from HasNa.


You may contact us via phone or email.

Phone: 202-223-1777


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.

Responding to the Ozgecan Aslan Tragedy: HasNa’s story on the fight against Gender-based Violence


Image Source: Burhan Ozbilici/Associated Press

Does peace-building happen only between nations or cultures, or is the concept more all-encompassing than that? Can peace-building happen between genders?

Last week Ozgecan Aslan, a Turkish student, was murdered for resisting rape while taking public transportation. This devastating story is not unique to Turkey. It is reminiscent of the 2012 brutal rape and murder of Jyoti in New Delhi, or the Isla Vista killings in California that sparked the #yesallwomen conversation. Now, in Turkey, protesters are calling for their leaders to do more to protect women from gender-based violence (GBV). The Financial Times quoted Deniz Bayram, a lawyer who works with the feminist organization, Mor Cati, as saying, “Every woman thinks that it could have been her in the minibus instead of Ozgecan.” And this certainly rings true for many of us.

Reading about Ozgecan reminded me of a scary encounter I had while taking public transportation in Istanbul. A man followed me incessantly as I disembarked from the tram, until I ran into a pharmacy and asked for the employee to call the police. Sharing this story at work, I discovered that others had similar stories of being targeted by men in transit systems—from DC’s Metro to Nairobi’s busses. I could have been Ozgecan. You could have been Ozgecan. Violence against women permeates not only Turkish culture, but global culture, and it is going to take both genders working together to stop it.

As an intern at HasNa, a non-profit that builds peace through development activities in Turkey, Armenia and Cyprus, I’ve learned about the laws that are in place to protect women in Turkey. Like many nation’s laws and even global compacts, these attempts don’t always translate into action. The past decade has seen a dramatic rise in the cases of violence against women. In fact, a 2009 Human Rights Watch study that found that 42% of Turkish woman are subject to domestic violence at some point in their lifetime, and only 8% seek legal help against it. While communities with a population larger than 50,000 are required by law to have a women’s shelter, NGOs lack the resources to serve victims of GBV.

For this reason, HasNa initiated Project SHINE (Self Help through New Exchanges) to empower NGOs working to end GBV and enhance their capacity to serve Turkey’s women. What is more interesting is that the participants of Project SHINE are both male and female leaders.  Engaging men in the fight against GBV is extremely important. Increasingly, international organizations are calling for men to step up and speak out: HeforShe, Men Can Stop Rape, and The White Ribbon Campaign, to name a few. If we want to build peace between the genders, we cannot only engage a single gender in the dialogue!

The tragic death of Ozgecan has reminded us of how important this project is for the region and the world. Women in Turkey need our solidarity, and we hope that you will partner with us through supporting Project SHINE to fight GBV in Turkey and help ensure the rights of women. You can find out more information on this project and our other work in the region on our website. You can also support Project SHINE directly through our Trevolta campaign. Together, we can stop violence against women.


This blog post was contributed by Nichole Saad, who is currently an intern at HasNa Inc.

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


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.

HasNa at the DC Turkish Festival 2014

HasNa booth

For the first time this year, HasNa participated in the Turkish Festival organized annually by the DC chapter of the American Turkish Association. We are extremely grateful to Turkish Airlines for providing us with this opportunity, which turned out to be a very pleasant change from our everyday program-related activities! We had free Turkish Delight (known as lokum) at our booth, along with freshly printed postcards with photographs from our programs. But the biggest attraction was the HasNa peace tree, to which numerous people added their personal messages of peace to send out into the world. Amidst all the conflict and mistrust that plagues the world today, watching these people from diverse backgrounds come together and collectively express their wishes for a better, more harmonious world reaffirmed our faith in our mission. We hope to be able to return next year!

Peace Tree


Reflections for the International Day of Peace September 21, 2014


In recent news coverage of the U.S. government’s response to ISIS, a news pundit asserted, “There has always been war. There will always be war.” This cynical assertion may seem the obvious response in combating the ruthless tactics of militant groups using violence to achieve their ideological conquests. It’s almost an “easy out” to accept this reality of war as ever present in our world. It alludes to apathy and willful acceptance of violence to fight violence. But war is never an “easy out”; just ask a veteran or a soldier’s family members, or civilians who have experienced “collateral damage.” We can’t ask the dead. Our challenge for humanity is to resist this acceptance of war’s steady state in our lives. Peace building is far more complex and difficult to embrace as unequivocally. What if I had argued this: “There has always been peace building; there will always be peace”? Many might disagree because peace does not prevail in war-torn places and does not capture our attention in the media.

Perhaps peace does not exist in vulnerable areas touched by violence daily—be it the Gaza Strip or inner-city Chicago. If we believe peace building will persevere, however small-scale the effort, we can retain hope that war does not always have to be. When we give in to war as a given reality, we desensitize ourselves to its brutality. Hold on to peace. Work for peace. That is why the vision and efforts of HasNa participants, partners, and supporters are critical. A small group of farmers working collaboratively keeps people fed. A small band of youth storytellers casts new light on an old subject. A small team of journalists unites an island with fresh perspectives. Albeit small scale, collectively these groups build communication across divides, and keep conflict at bay. As Albert Einstein said, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” Grassroots work helps facilitate understanding that slowly spreads from neighbor to neighbor, village to village, country to country. Let’s not lose sight of a new paradigm in which peace is the predominant lens through which we view the world.

The Robber’s Cave Experiment


Muzafer Sherif was a Turkish-American social psychologist who helped develop the realistic conflict or ‘group conflict’ theory in 1961. To validate his theory, which states that inner group conflicts, negative prejudices, and stereotypes are a result of competition between groups for limited resources, Sherif carried out one of his most famous experiments known as the ‘Robber’s Cave Experiment’.

This field experiment comprised two groups of 12-year-old boys, and was conducted in Robert’s Cave State Park, Oklahoma, USA. The twenty-two boys participating in the study were strangers to one another, and came from white, middle-class backgrounds. The boys were randomly assigned to one of the two groups, although neither was aware of the other’s existence. At the camp the groups were kept separate from each other, and encouraged to bond as two individual groups through the pursuit of common goals that required teamwork and cooperative discussion. The boys grew attached to their respective groups over the first phase, and each group developed its own cultures and group norms.

The second phase of the experiment, known as the ‘competition stage’, intended to bring the two groups into competition with each other in conditions that would create frustration or ‘conflict’ between them. A series of competitive games (such as baseball, tug-of-war, etc.) were organized, with a trophy being awarded to the winning team at the end of each activity. No consolation prizes were offered to the ‘losers’. This created serious divisions between the groups, especially since situations were devised wherein one group gained at the expense of the other. Initially, the conflict began with verbal expressions of prejudice, but before long transformed into more direct expressions of hostility such as burning the rival group’s flag, or ransacking the competitors’ private property within the campsite.

The researchers then gave all the boys a two day cooling-off period, and asked them to list characteristics of the two groups. Each group had higher evaluations for their own group, and characterized the other group in extremely unfavorable terms. In order to effectively ease the prejudice and tension between the two groups, Sherif then provided them with common or ‘superordinate’ goals that encouraged the two rival groups to work together in order to accomplish something that was beneficial for both. For instance, when the water supply to the camp failed, the camp staff blamed it on ‘vandals’. Upon investigating the water lines extensively, both the groups found that the tanks were full. This turned their attention to an outlet faucet which appeared to have a sack stuffed into it. Almost all the boys gathered around the faucet to try to clear it. When the water finally came through, there was collective rejoicing. One group did not mind letting the other group get a drink of water before them. The two groups faced similar goals that helped them forget their differences and come together as a team.

Muzafer Sherif’s theory has often been criticized on ethical grounds such as deception of the participants, and lack of protection from physical or psychological harm. In many ways, the realistic conflict theory also comes across as being rather limiting, since it discounts additional factors such as racial, ethnic, or economic differences, and ignores the question of identity, which even in the case of this experiment is inextricably entwined with the ‘competition for limited resources’ (the reward). The negative prejudices between the two groups developed not only because of the desire on either part to win the trophy, but also because of the inherent tendency to consider one’s own social group to be unique and superior, regarding the ‘other’ as a threat to that status and viewing them with suspicion arising from unfamiliarity.

Despite the socio-cultural homogeneity of the two groups, what seemed to be an effective technique for bringing them together was the creation of a superordinate goal. By identifying a problem lying outside the realm of collective identity or competition for resources, such as environmental problems or – in the case of the Robber’s Cave Experiment – the breakdown of food delivery trucks and water supply, conflicting groups are able to come together and solve a problem that affects everyone. Many of HasNa’s programs are guided by this notion of a superordinate goal, whether it is eco-journalism, agricultural training, or helping women in businesses. We attempt to bring together individuals from different ethnic communities and give them a tangible skill, based on the assumption that in the long run, these skills will empower them to collectively combat an issue that has an impact on everybody’s lives. Over the years we’ve identified many such superordinate goals, but there are still many that can be addressed. We would love to hear your suggestions on what other superordinate goals HasNa can address through its programs!

When Youth Programs Work, Peace Happens!


There was an article in the Washington Post newspaper about the New Story Leadership Program that brings young men and women together from Israel and Palestine to the US with the hope that they will build lasting friendships. Although the article began with photos of a pair who seem to get along greatly, the main message of the article was that, in spite of this friendship, the two communities were still at war.

Yes, it is correct that war still exists, but why don’t we acknowledge another program where the same method is working? We at HasNa, have been running the Cyprus Friendship Program (CFP) for 5 years and the mood of the Island has improved as evidenced by the growing cooperation and interaction among the youth in Cyprus. CFP was modeled after the Children’s Friendship Project for Northern Ireland (CFPNI) and today, the communities are addressing needs for cooperation.

What propels us to seek peace is finding hope that arises from successful efforts of ordinary people. Let us look with determination and when we find any grain of success, let us share it with everyone, just as much as we share our failures. In the comments, let us know other examples where this method of building peace is working?

Former Peace Corps Volunteers return to Turkey

Kathy Scruggs and Pat Lowther were Peace Corps volunteers in Turkey during the 1960s. After more than 4 decades, they are returning in May to lead a 3 week HasNa English language program. Kathy and Pat will travel to Diyarbakir, Turkey to train 16 NGO professionals, including board members and volunteers.

English Language Trainers, Kathy Scruggs and Pat Lowther, in front of the White House

English language training is one of HasNa’s priority program areas for 2011. It is at the top of the list of HasNa alumni requests for new skills and knowledge. “If I am able to improve my English, it will bring various opportunities for both me and my co-workers,” one graduate from HasNa’s Program Management Training 2010 said when asked what skills would be most beneficial to him in the future.

According to a needs analysis conducted by one of HasNa’s local NGO partners, lack of adequate English language skills is hindering communication between local NGOs and international organizations. Local NGOs feel that this prevents adequate cooperation and the exchange of expertise and knowledge.

Kathy and Pat are now retired after careers as English language teachers. Kathy says that, “This will be a good way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps and to get to know Diyarbakir too.” Kathy and Pat have been supporters of HasNa and are excited about the opportunity to teach in Turkey again.

By Duygu Soyer

Traveling to Turkey

HasNa has been working in Turkey since 1998, applying its unique model to promote peace through understanding. Our projects are the result of dedication to our mission and also hard work and commitment from local partners and project participants. Successful projects require input from local organizations and individuals. They also require passionate participants who take what they learn in training and apply it to their professional work and personal relationships.

Nevzer Stacey, HasNa’s Founder and President, is currently traveling in Turkey to accomplish two main goals: to strengthen partnerships with local organizations and to follow up with alumni from previous HasNa projects.

Nevzer Stacey Meeting with Alumni in Turkey in March 2011

HasNa is searching for more local organizations that it can partner with to implement new projects. Input from knowledgeable local partners that have established trust within their communities is a vital component to HasNa’s model. HasNa is also meeting with organizations it has worked with in the past to explore future opportunities to work constructively together. Among other things, HasNa is exploring partnerships for programs that will bring people together from Turkey and Armenia.

HasNa is also working to strengthen its relationship with alumni from previous projects.  We recently surveyed our alumni to assess the impact that we have made in the last decade. HasNa is following up this effort by meeting face to face with many of them in Turkey. We hope to be a catalyst in strengthening the connections between the different alumni groups. We also hope to continue the dialogue that began with the alumni survey to help us improve our projects and generate ideas for the future.

By Ryan Olivett

HasNa’s Plans for 2011

Our two main goals this year are to expand into new areas in Cyprus and to build sustained dialogues with local communities in Turkey.

We are developing a citizen journalist program in Cyprus to provide training for youth that want to facilitate dialogue and cross-cultural interaction between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. Individual citizens have the potential to use digital media to reach others and broadcast their message to a wide audience. The program will take place the end of May in Cyprus and encourage individuals to promote peaceful relations between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots.

We are exploring potential environmental programs in Cyprus as well. There are many environmental NGOs in Cyprus trying to preserve the island’s natural ecosystem and promote sustainability. We are organizing a program to bring NGO workers from Cyprus to visit U.S. environmental organizations to learn best practices and to learn how to manage conflict arising from environmental problems.

We are also looking at ways in which we can build stronger bridges with local communities and potential partner organizations in Turkey. Our experiences thus far have convinced us that sustained dialogue is very important to prioritize the types of programs that we implement. Local needs shift and we discover new needs when we continue to listen to our partners and graduates from previous programs.

There are two areas that we would like to expand: one, training local organizations to evaluate their programs and measure outcomes more effectively, and two, training local organizations on how to implement the frameworks and processes needed to improve transparency and prevent corruption.

English language training is always a priority for us because graduates consistently express the desire to learn English. We are planning an English language training program for the spring in Diyarbakir, Turkey.

HasNa has some very exciting plans for 2011 so make sure to check in with us to see how these programs unfold and what new program opportunities arise.

Building for the Future

During spring and summer we were busy running projects. This fall and winter we are busy building for the future.

We are diligently working to establish partnerships with in-country organizations, surveying previous HasNa graduates, and upgrading technology in order to build a foundation for achieving our future goals.

HasNa’s programs depend on strong coordination with capable NGO partners. Indeed, partnerships are critical for our unique model to succeed. Two of our interns, Duygu Soyer and Ruken Isik, have extensive networks in Turkey’s NGO sector. They are both working to establish partnerships with NGOs in Turkey that share HasNa’s values. We have a number of important programs in development: Turkey-Armenia Building Bridges, Beekeepers Union Strategic Plan Development, and a follow-up project to our Eco-tourism training project. HasNa is also developing new women’s projects in Turkey. Ruken is enrolled in a graduate program focused on women’s issues and is helping to design the programs. We will keep you informed as these programs continue to develop.

Sustaining long-term relationships with program graduates is also an integral part of our model. We are in the midst of surveying our graduates to maintain these relationships, assess the impacts of our work, and look for future project opportunities. It’s a big task but we hope for an even bigger payoff. Many of our projects originate from the ideas of graduates. They have unique knowledge and experience that helps us identify different opportunities and make connections with new people. More importantly, gauging the impact of our previous work helps us improve as we move forward.

Technology is a critical component of any modern organization and we are implementing big changes in our internal network. In the last six months we have upgraded our computer software, network hardware, and we are currently installing a virtual private network. Improved technology gives us the ability to collaborate more effectively and create higher quality documents. We have identified adding more staff members to the HasNa team as an important part of achieving our long term goals; a larger staff of qualified individuals will expand the skill-set of our organization. Improved technology allows us more flexibility in our work environment to deal with a larger staff and higher workload.

Visit our website!

By Ryan Olivett

New at HasNa

Hello, I am Duygu Soyer from Ankara, Turkey. I have worked in the non-profit sector voluntarily and professionally for ten years.

I first met HasNa in April as a participant of Program Manager Training 2010. It was a well-designed, comprehensive training program aimed at helping to develop NGOs and managers. The program taught us about the defining characteristics of successful and institutionalized NGOs and effective leadership. One of my inferences from the training was that Turkey needs more motivated, open-minded, and experienced young leaders in Turkey to strengthen the non-profit sector.

I am very excited and happy that I will be working with HasNa. HasNa has a strong interest in helping to strengthen NGOs in Turkey and I plan to do my best to contribute to the effort. I believe that this experience will be a milestone both in my life and my career.

Duygu is participating in the Atlas Corps Fellowship and will be serving at HasNa for one year.