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Diyarbakır: far away but very close...

Last month I went to Diyarbakır for the first time. The “Youth Council” of the Community Volunteers Foundation (TOG for Toplum Gönüllüleri Vakfı in Turkish) was held in Diyarbakır this year with the participation of its more than 400 young members, and we were there as the more senior members that support the young on the occasion of the “Board/Youth get-together” in the weekend program.

This impressive setting where young people shared their experience in social responsibility work for social peace and change was a “first” to me just like my visit to Diyarbakır.

I had been meaning to see Diyarbakır for a long time. It was a unique opportunity for me to observe the local reality up close, and to do so in a setting where these young people shared their positive energy and honest opinions.

When I stepped out of the plane on Friday night, I was slightly confused and cautious as if I had come to a foreign country for the first time. Adnan, who is one of the TOG youth and our board member, was kind enough to meet me there. First, we went to the city hall where the young were resting after the council meeting, and then we went to a historical stone building in the city center, and had a long, pleasant conversation over tea.


Learning about the living conditions of the Kurdish people of our country through Adnan’s personal accounts has been a major insight, even epiphany to me… Which one of us, as an individual, could possibly accept, or find “appropriate” the fact that a person listens to his favorite songs in his mother tongue secretly, and hides the tapes he has wrapped in a plastic bag in the W.C. (!) for fear of them being confiscated in case the house is raided?

Until that evening, Adnan was a team friend that I hardly knew – “a little far from me”. Now, after a frank talk, he is “very close”…

How can we achieve social peace in an issue of interest to the whole society, and polarized as such due to deep wounds? I tried to be and to think positive and without prejudice, and two things became crystal clear to me that night:

- It is a prerequisite, but by no means sufficient, for a solution to listen with reason and without judgment to particularly those issues that are laden with emotions/“sharpened opinions” from those people “that have personally experienced them”;

- We have to “own” every issue that has an impact on our environment, being aware that it has a direct or indirect impact on each of us… In other words, we need to “put our heart and soul” into the solution, and take initiative.


TOG's vision is “contributing to social peace”; and they are aiming to achieve this through the active participation of the youth and under the guidance of adults. Against that backdrop, the Diyarbakır Council was very impressive: Imagine, 400 young attendants from all over Turkey… As panelists, Osman Baydemir, Hidayet Tuksal, İbrahim Betil, Takuhi Tovmasyan and Deniz Rojda Solmaz, in other words leaders “that have different perspectives on social discrimination, but fight for a common goal, i.e. social peace”… The topics of discussion are no easy feat such as “the Kurdish issue, Islam and women’s rights, and LGBTs”! But there is no single argument, nor a raised voice! Those 400 TOG youth have no consensus on these issues – there are even some that are disturbed by the different views they hear for the first time. Nevertheless, at the end of the day there is one common discourse, and that is “RESPECT FOR DIFFERENCES”… Seeing them so young, but still mature enough to listen and actively participate in discussions is, believe me, very promising for social peace – in fact, even the biggest guarantee for our country’s future. This, precisely, is TOG’s and its youth’s contribution to our country – I think it is very striking. (For more information please http://tog.org.tr/)

To summarize, the Diyarbakır I once regarded as far away grew close to my heart. There I understood that to heal this deep wound in our country, we all need to put our minds, our hearts, our efforts into it. I believe the awareness and involvement of our youth is the biggest potential power, the catalyst of this process...

Come one, let's start anew, as individuals, all of us, for social peace: Let's "stop" the alienation in our country, and support the "rapprochement" process. Let's shed our prejudice, and put our "heart and soul" into listening, understanding others, and supporting peace.

Final word: No one loses in peace, and no one wins in war.

Kind regards,

Mehmet N. Pekarun