Syrian and Turkish youth engage community leaders in conversations about the future
Amidst rising tensions between Syrian refugees and members of Turkish host communities, a Dialogue for Social Cohesion brought together Syrian and Turkish youth and community leaders to envision a shared, positive future.
Of the 3.6 million Syrians who have been granted protected status in Turkey since 2011, approximately 425,000 have settled in Gaziantep and 450,000 in Sanliurfa. Their arrival has transformed life in the two cities, spurring strong economic growth on the one hand, but putting significant pressure upon social services, the housing market and schools, on the other. Worryingly, there has been a significant intensification of negative stereotyping and mutual distancing between the host and refugee populations over the past two years, and the rate of violent incidents has risen sharply.
In order to counter these negative tendencies, the Education Programme for Syrian Refugees and Host Communities (BILSY) and the Sector Programme ‘Promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Rights’ supported a group of Syrian and Turkish youth leaders in Gaziantep and Sanliurfa to implement a Dialogue for Social Cohesion (see information sheet) between August 2018 and February 2019.
The Dialogue aimed to foster closer relations between Turkish and Syrian residents by promoting listening, appreciation and respect as the basis for imagining a shared, positive future. Through the Dialogue process, young and older Syrian and Turkish leaders jointly explored what they value about the ‘new’ Gaziantep and Sanliurfa; envisioned how the cities should evolve in the coming years to be peaceful, fulfilling places for all their inhabitants to live; and considered how they could personally contribute to this.
Conversations across generations and nationalities
Twenty-four Turkish and Syrian youth leaders from Gaziantep and Sanliurfa, who had previously been trained as volunteer ‘multipliers’ for social cohesion through the BILSY programme, came together in cross-national pairs to interview community leaders of both nationalities – including professors, artists, teachers, doctors and NGO workers – about what they value about life in the ‘new’ Gaziantep and Sanliurfa and the potentials they see for strengthening social cohesion.
After conducting the interviews, the youth leaders came together as a group to share and discuss the insights gleaned from the conversations with community leaders, to identify the common values and shared interests between the two communities which emerged from the interviews, to develop their own vision for Gaziantep and Sanliurfa, and to reflect on the kind of support they would need to move towards this.
These reflections were presented to and discussed with the community leaders at the Futures Forum in Gaziantep in February 2019, at which an exhibition featuring excerpts from the conversations was also launched (see accompanying booklet). To encourage sharing of the stories in social networks in and beyond Gaziantep and Sanliurfa, the testimonies and photographs were also made available on a website, People in Dialogue.
Growing together, as individuals and communities
At the core of the Dialogue was a desire to transform Gaziantep and Sanliurfa in the coming years into places where newer arrivals and long-term residents can stop living parallel lives and start growing together, both as individuals and as communities.
‘This Dialogue project showed me that there is a generation of Syrian and Turkish young people who are working for peace between our communities – and that it’s our job to support them,’ says Seba Hamsho, a teacher from Syria who currently lives in southern Turkey. Mrs Hamsho was one of two dozen Turkish and Syrian community leaders who were present at a Futures Forum in Gaziantep. ‘No one can deny that tensions are increasing, but initiatives like this give people who want to see the bright sides of us living together something to hold on to.’
‘I’ve been part of many projects over the years, but this one was very beautiful and meaningful. The cross-cultural aspect is so important, and it was especially fruitful to have young people and university students talking directly to community leaders. They are the bridge between the communities and the generations,’ says Ayşegül Çelebioğlu, a women’s activist from Gaziantep. ‘I think it’s really crucial that this project be repeated in other cities around Turkey.’
- ‘People in Dialogue’ – a website promoting social cohesion
- Information sheet about Dialogue for Social Cohesion
- Exhibition booklet: How can we grow together? (English)
- Exhibition booklet: How can we grow together? (Turkish/Arabic)