858) AVRASYA takes bold steps in fostering dialogue

Under the leadership of Chairwoman Sule Kilicarslan, the Eurasia Cultural and Social Development Association (AVRASYA) has taken some bold steps. Among the sea of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have appeared on the Turkish social and political scene in the past few years, AVRASYA has picked up momentum and has some ambitious plans.

Although only established in June 2002, AVRASYA has made an impact in pursuing its mission, defined on the organization's Web site (www.avrasyatr.org) as: to develop intercultural communication, especially with Central Asian countries, and promote Turkish culture by initiating activities that focus on social development -- projects involving culture, health, arts, tourism and the protection of historic monuments. . . .

Truly independent NGOs have to constantly scramble for funding and support from a limited pool of sources and sponsors; thus, NGO work is under the microscope and often has to be justified.

Unique background of sociology and business:

Kilicarslan is Istanbul born and raised. She has a bachelor's degree in sociology from Istanbul University and two MBAs from Yeditepe University. She says her unique background in sociology and business gives her a different perspective in addressing issues: "I am a sociologist. ... I do public relations as well as political consulting.” Kilicarslan leads AVRASYA on a voluntary basis in her spare time; her primary role is president of the FORM Strategic Consulting Advertising and Public Relations Agency based in Levent, Istanbul.

Kilicarslan spoke with the Turkish Daily News recently to discuss the NGO's work and share her personal views on current events. Above all, she stresses that AVRASYA wants to develop communication among communities and contribute to Turkey's relations with other countries.

‘First magazine in history created by joint efforts of the two countries' women':

“The goal of the association is to develop cultural dialogue between our country and primarily Central Asian countries -- in a world that has undergone globalization in the 21st century, to introduce others to Turkish culture, to learn about a region's cultural characteristics and provide an opportunity for cultures to mesh,” says Kilicarslan.

One bold -- and controversial -- project by AVRASYA is the publication of a Turkish-Armenian women's magazine, appropriately called “WM - Turkish & Armenian Women's Magazine,” written simultaneously in Turkish, Armenian and English and with a print run of 15,000 copies each issue. The multi-cultural quarterly is distributed in Turkey, the United States, Germany, France, England and Armenia. “The magazine started in August 2004 to play a leading role in building Turkish-Armenian relations and, by presenting a distinct point of view, contribute to mutual understanding. By pointing out common characteristics of Turkish and Armenian women, it has the distinction of being ‘the first magazine in history created by joint efforts of the two countries' women'.” She proudly adds that the fourth issue is on the way.

Publications are one way of getting a message out, as AVRASYA also publishes their monthly “Strategic Analyses,” but their efforts don't stop there. “We established the ‘Parliamentarians & NGOs Communication Platform',” says Kilicarslan. This project entails bringing together, through various panel discussions, members of Parliament from both the ruling and opposition parties; civil society organizations; and businesspeople from diverse sectors. “It aims to enhance dialogue between members of the Turkish Parliament and civil society representatives. In this manner, mutual collaboration and an exchange of ideas can develop.” She says AVRASYA is a pioneer and model for similar such work in Turkey.

Panel discussions on hot topics:

A common activity for NGOs is to organize panel discussions, which can be very effective in fostering dialogue. “Our panels take on current topics that intimately concern Turkey and the world, presenting a discussion from diverse points of view.” AVRASYA has thus far organized six major panel discussions, with the participation of some influential figures. The topics have covered timely issues such as Iraq, Turkish-American relations, Turkey-European Union relations, women in politics vis-à-vis the EU harmonization process, freedom of expression in the EU harmonization process, and the present and future of Turkish-Israeli relations. Kilicarslan says more such panel discussions are being planned.

Considering the nature of the above panel discussions, it was only natural for Kilicarslan to bring up sensitive political issues, like what she had to say about the current flare-up in the Middle East. She believes the crisis was deliberately provoked by certain power circles to radicalize Islamic countries, including Turkish public opinion, against Israel and the United States, emphasizing that the conflict must end. “The critical question is whether the current fighting spreads region-wide. Now is the moment when the international community must step in, mediate, formulate a compromise, and save all sides from further destruction.” “In Israel, the government and administration immediately retaliate against those who kill its soldiers and threaten its people. … When in Lebanon over 200 human beings, both Muslim and Christian, lose their lives, we are all saddened. [But] when suicide bombers explode themselves in buses and restaurants, killing many people, then what?” says the AVRASYA chairwoman.

Kilicarslan thinks the Palestinians need to acknowledge the state of Israel and recognize it with the 1967 borders. “Palestinians should reach an agreement with Israel, then jumpstart a development initiative to raise the quality of its citizens' lives. By focusing on politics of religious fanaticism and complaints about Israel, they will not achieve anything.”

‘Turkey shouldn't be afraid of Jews, US, EU, Islamists or anyone else':

Kilicarslan mentioned that the Greek Cypriots leveled the same accusations against Turkey that Israel now faces when Turkish soldiers first entered Cyprus. “Turkey should not look at the matter through ‘Middle East' glasses. Turkey should assess things from the viewpoint of its interests. Simply approaching the matter with a ‘jihad' attitude could work against Turkey's national interests. Turkey should not be afraid of Jews, the United States, the EU, Islamists or anyone else; it should have faith in its own strength. It should shed its inferiority complex. … My country has such great potential,” she says.

With local media abuzz about talk of possible Turkish military action in northern Iraq, Kilicarslan offered her thoughts: “If the Iraqi government can't stop the PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party], then we should go and stop them ourselves. … What could be more natural? Turkey is a powerful nation. It determines its policies in accordance with the principle of, ‘Peace at home, peace in the world.' When necessary, Turkey should enter any location to defend itself and its citizens. … No other country should be upset if we are defending our interests,” she said with confidence, repeating for effect, “No country in the world should remain silent and abandon its citizens when it's struck without provocation.”

Sunday, July 23, 2006

ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News


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