Could you tell us a little about the work your organisation does in the field?
As the DEMOS Research Centre, we work in the area of peace studies. However, we consider peace in a considerably broad way. We consider the struggle for peace or peace building as a broad framework that can lead to living together, including combating all kinds of violence (for example, violence against refugees and LGBT individuals. In parallel to this, we focus especially on the issues of public memory, transitional justice, gender and peace. To date, we have carried out a lot of research projects; for example, we have studied the most recent case of the Colombian experience. In these studies, we especially observe the participation of civil society organisations and individuals in these processes. We produce reports and disseminate them in different provinces. In our current activities, we focus on three pillars: rehabilitation (legal, moral), memory (we will focus more on cases), perceptions of groups with different backgrounds living together. In addition to field research, we carry out book studies on various topics for the production of alternative information, in the scope of our objective of targeting diversity.
What does the concept of “multiculturalism” mean to you?
The coexistence of people from different social, political and cultural backgrounds. When we discuss about a multicultural location or organisation, it means that people coming from different religions, genders and ethnicities can live together and the conditions are prepared accordingly. The culture aspect is incredibly comprehensive, it could encompass any kind of difference.
What does the expression “living together” mean for you?
It would differ according to different societies and cultures, but for me, it means an environment where people/groups respect each other at a minimum level. It doesn’t necessarily have to be intertwined or empathetic – sometimes groups may not have any exchange at all, but at least they can aim to stand together.
What are the barriers preventing different identities living together? What are the main problems? Is it possible to categorise these barriers? (politically based, expression based, etc.)
Culture and tradition conflicts can sometimes be a barrier. Although it does not always involve physical violence, which has its examples, discrimination may occur. In the context of Turkey, presumptions, politics and nationalism, in the context of Europe, different factors such as migrant hostility and in addition to these, class factors may have an impact. These are all major barriers. They are not very easily overcome; it is necessary to understand the dynamics of the groups. It is not any good to go into some activities and actions by looking hierarchically. It is said that forgiveness and empathy are said to be a prerequisite for coexistence – I think this is also a stereotypic perception. Maybe we could start first with not forgiveness, but by standing side by side. It may be enough for very few people, especially in the beginning, to stand side by side. Often, one group is expected to stand side by side with another group immediately. I think the context is important; cultural differences and the dynamics of the groups should be analysed well. This is why sometimes I do not understand multiculturalism; it has a very broad definition – two groups in conflict may refuse to come together traditionally, for example, in marriage, or may not want to live in the same place. But at least an atmosphere with minimal respect can be established. This is also a means of living together. I think the initial expectation should not be integration immediately. The context and historical and political conditions are also very important.
What are some of the cultures and identity groups in the field/city in which you are active?
Kurds, Turks, Assyrians, minority groups, LGBTI, women, Alawis… We also studied groups in direct conflict and also the groups in society directly affected by conflict in the country cases of Colombia, Kosovo and Serbia.
Which civil society organisations are active in the area of culture and identity in the field or city in which you work?
The Kara Kutu Association, the Hrant Dink Foundation, Demir Leblebi (Ankara), the Hafıza Merkezi, Peace Foundation…
What are the conflicts and discrimination aspects which are specific to identities? Could you categorise these? (Politically based, expression-based, etc.)
In the context of Turkey, I can say that there is a conflict about cultural rights and collective rights. Discrimination basically arises from these; for example, the issue of mother tongue. Another example is the high level discrimination of refugees. There is discrimination at both collective and individual levels. Both planes are important. We can talk about inequality in access to rights, the right to compensation, the right to truth, etc. in the field of peace.
Regarding the discrimination which identities and culture groups are subject to, are there any areas open to cooperation with the aim of transformation and acting efficiently? What would be your suggestions?
Kurdish nationalism and militarism in areas where the problem is most intense in Turkey in regard to the Kurdish Issue and refugees in relation to Syria. The main reason for this is State-induced violence. However, I think there are still significant advantages to combat discrimination based on the structural problem. Especially the accumulation of Kurds in the area of civil society, it can be said that the history of human rights struggle provides an important sphere. The fight for peace and justice carried out by victims and activists at the base level are a major factor in the transformation related to discrimination. In general terms, there are still important studies in civil society for peace and coexistence. Continuing these studies can also play a role in bringing forward recommendations for solutions.
What should be the objectives of civil society organisations for the steps to be taken?
To identify various cases may be important for the case of Turkey. We hear the voice of the Kurds, yes, but we hear the same institutions, the same people – if we consider the conflict to be multidimensional, we should assume that a diverse range of people are affected. But we do not hear all of these stories, we cannot access them. I think this is important. From here maybe the establishment of ties, relationships can be sought. As being Turkish, Kurdish, Alawi in Turkey are identities determined by higher level politics, we do not know how it works at the social level and we take it on certain face value assumptions. I think it is important to look at the identity groups again, considering that the identities are established from the outside.