2015 Thematic Workshop: Truth Telling and Encounters

15.01.2015 - 16.01.2015

Istanbul, Turkey

Truth Telling and Encounters: Dynamics in Sites of Dialogue

This first thematic workshop of the Regional Network for Historical Dialogue and Dealing with the Past (RNHDP) in Istanbul focused on three interrelated themes regarding the work and activities of civil societies working in the areas of peace-building, conflict resolution, transitional justice and reconciliation: truth telling and constructing the truth, encounters and the new media-scape. With encounters we envision numerous instances where activists, institutions, organizations, political movements, lawyers, journalists, victims, perpetrators involved in various conflicts face each other directly or through different mediums. These mediums could be archives, legal documents, books, dialogue meetings, truth commissions and court cases, etc… The aim of the workshop was to provide a platform for participating civil society representatives to discuss, with specific examples from their work, the ways that truth telling, encounters and the new media-scape contribute to peace building and conflict resolution efforts. The workshop also offered opportunities to identify where and how organizations fall short of their goals in these areas; and explored ways to develop areas for knowledge sharing and joint work that address these shortcomings and, by means of collaboration, strengthen the work and resources of all the organizations involved.

Introduction &
Day 1, Session 1: Truth Telling and Constructing the Truth

The workshop commences with opening remarks by Murat Çelikkan (Hafiza Merkezi, Turkey), Prof. Elazar Barkan (Columbia University, USA) and Rana Zincir Celal (Columbia Global Centers Turkey) before starting off with the First Panel: Truth Telling/ Constructing Truth, that is accompanied by Assist. Prof. Berber Bevernage (Ghent University, Belgium). Armine Sadıkyan (Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly-Vanadzor (HCA Vanadzor), Armenia), introduces “On Missing Persons” and Lynn Maalouf (Act for the Disappeared, Lebanon) talks about “Missing People in Lebanon”.


The workshop kicked off with brief opening remarks by Murat Çelikkan from Hafıza Merkezi, Prof. Elazar Barkan from Columbia University and Rana Zincir Celal from the Columbia Global Centers Turkey. Çelikkan, talked about the previous activities of the Regional Network for Historical Dialogue and Dealing with the Past and emphasized the importance of the network and the workshop in particular in stimulating synergetic cooperation in the wider region and generating joint learning.

Dr. Barkan emphasized that since the focus areas of the workshop are broad and interdisciplinary, they include professional focuses, disciplines, and the value of the workshop is bringing these into an interactive setting. Zincir, emphasized that hopefully  the workshop will be the beginning for a broader process, one for making the generated knowledge more widely available and accessible, through research, teaching, similar workshops and other activities.

Session 1: Truth Telling and Constructing Truth

The first panel, entitled Truth “Telling / Constructing Truth” was to open a discussion about efforts related to documenting state crimes, legal struggles for ‘right to truth’, transitional justice instruments like ‘Truth Commissions’ and numerous struggles for the recognition of mass human rights violations. Moderated by  Assist. Prof. Berber Bevernage of Ghent University, this panel brought together participants from Armenia, Lebanon and Israel who have extensive experience of working in the abovementioned areas.

The first speaker Armine Sadıkyan presented a long-term project as part of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (Armenia). In her presentation, Armine highlighted available statistical data regarding the number of missing persons in Armenia and the main documented reasons for their disappearance (approximately 800 civilians and 213 from among military members). She also provided background information regarding the legal environment concerning issues of missing persons and their families. She touched upon some of the biggest challenges, particularly the complications caused by the absence of a separate legal status for missing persons Armenia. She also outlined the work of the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly in advocating for the adoption of a comprehensive legislation regarding missing persons, which is still pending in the Parliament of Armenia.

The next speaker, Lynn Maalouf (“Act for the Disappeared” – Lebanon) talked about the patterns and challenges of advocacy for missing/disappeared persons in Lebanon particularly, and in non-transitional contexts in general. She highlighted that an estimated 17000 missing persons by the end of the war. Lynn also touched upon the legislative framework currently in place in Lebanon. In 1995 the Law of Absences was adopted which however did very little to requiring the families of missing persons to declare their death. The Lebanese authorities created in 2000 a commission mandated with uncovering the fate of the missing and disappeared. Whereas the commission was supposed to «resolve» the issue of the disappeared, they only produced a two-page summary of the final report of the commission. She also highlighted the work of her NGO – “Act for the Disappeared” and other initiatives in Lebanon such as SOLIDE (Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile) in trying to advance legislation and policy.

Day 1, Session 1: Truth Telling and Constructing the Truth (cont’d)

The First Panel: Truth Telling/ Constructing Truth with Assist. Prof. Berber Bevernage (Ghent University, Belgium) as the discussant continues with Debby Farber’s (Zochrot, Israel) thoughts on “Zochrot’s Truth Commission on the Responsibility of Israeli Society for the events of 1948-1960 in the South”.

The last presentation within the thematic framework of Truth telling was by Debby Farber of “Zochrot” (Israel), who spoke about the work and impact of the Public Truth Commission on the Responsibility of Israeli Society for the Events of 1948-1960 in the South, which sought to collect testimonies from witnesses to the Palestinian Nakba. Debby highlighted the context in which the Truth Commission operates, particularly the state policy of making efforts towards the neglect and forgetting of the events of 1948. In this regard, there’s also a great urgency to the work of the Commission when it comes to the collection and preservation of testimonies, since the number of both jewish and arab witnesses is reducing due to old age. Zochrot’s Truth Commission was modeled based on the examples of other truth commissions around the world, but the key difference is that such commissions are usually formed after the end of the conflict, as a transitional institution, while in case of Zochrot, the conflict still ongoing.

Day 1, Session 2: New Media Scape

Discussant, Prof. İrem İnceoğlu (Kadir Has University, Turkey); Eitan Bronstein (Human Rights Activist, Israel), “Can A Mobile Phone Create A New Talk? Use Of Easy-To-Make Videos As Form Of Activism And Archiving” and Daphne Lappa (Association for Historical Dialogue and Research, Cyprus)“Nicosia in the 20th Century: The Story of a Shared and Contested City”.

The second panel started with Eitan Bronstein‘s presentation on the mobile phone videos. He pointed out the new possibilities opened by these technologies. Eitan argued that the mobile phone is not only a handy and easy audio visual recording technology, people are also much more comfortable with talking in front of a mobile phone than a regular camera. Eitan showed a video he shot from a solidarity visit to the community of the displaced Palestinians from a village named Bir’im. The editing was done by a basic and free program, rather than by professional ones. He mentioned that in October 2014 the Israeli Land Authority destroyed the temporary facilities built by the returnees and evacuated the village. So the video has an important archival value as well. Bronstein also pointed out that the successes of such short and easy-to-make videos is also to the result of the expertise of the one making it. The activist on a certain issue is capable of creating more than a “live report” because he knows to ask the right questions based on his/her own commitment, knowledge and experience.

Daphne Lappa presented AHDR’s The “Nicosia: The Story of a Shared and Contested City” project. It’s a project that will create a series of  user-friendly on-line interactive maps, which will visually narrate Nicosia’s transformation during the late 19th-20th-century. It’s a project of digital mapping. In these maps, the city’s urban growth are identified, as well as the residential allocation and gradual displacement of its communities. Additionally, through stories of both co-existence and conflict, the diverse ways in which historical events were experienced among the city’s inhabitants are highlighted, and these multi-perspectives will be visually brought together. An important goal of the project is to move beyond bipolar dominant approaches that stress exclusively either the harmonious co-existence of the city’s religious and ethnic communities or their incompatibility, and develop a shared narrative. Capitalizing on the recent revival in the interest in cities, local history and local identities, the project utilizes the tools of digital mapping so as to (a) map the changes that the city’s population underwent in the 20th century; (b) avoid a standard narrative structure, and use instead a landmarks-based approach though which it brings together the different lived experiences of the city; (c) address the issue of a visually fragmented landscape and its correlated perception by presenting the city as a whole; (d) take advantage of the potentially wide dissemination that an on-line tools offer.

 Day 2, Session 1: Encounters

The second day of the workshop begins with the Third Panel: Encounters with Prof. Elazar Barkan (Columbia University, USA) as the discussant. Edgar Khachatryan (Peace Dialogue, Armenia) contributes “Let’s See… Let’s Choose… Let’s Change…”.

The second day of the workshop was dedicated to the theme of Encounters, in its broad definition – encounters between different parties affected by conflicts as well as the process, the dynamics and the results of such encounters.

The first presentation within the theme of Encounters was by Sona Dilanyan from the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation (Armenia). Sona talked about her work with the Imagine Center, particularly with Armenian-Azerbaijani dialogue programs for students and youth. She reflected on how the dichotomized national identities come at play during dialogue, particularly during discussions of history and war. and how they become a barrier to acknowledgement and validation of each other’s pain and suffering.

The second speaker of the panel was Edgar Khachatryan from Peace Dialogue (Armenia) who presented one of the recent projects implemented by the Peace Dialogue entitled “Let’s See… Let’s Choose… Let’s Change…” which had the aim of building capacity among Armenian youth for critical thinking, nonviolence and active participation in conflict resolution processes.

Day 2, Session 2: Encounters (cont’d)

The Third Panel: Encounters – Prof. Elazar Barkan (Columbia University, USA) is the discussant – covers the topic “Encounter of East and West: Narratives on City and Memory by Young People” by Övgü Gökçe (Diyarbakır Arts Center (DAC) / Anadolu Kültür, Turkey).

In her presentation titled “Encounter of East and West: Narratives on City and Memory by Young People”, Övgü Gökçe (Diyarbakır Arts Center (DSM) / Anadolu Kültür, Turkey) focused on the young participants’ choice of topic. In this project they wanted to bring young amateur artists from western and eastern Turkey together to collaborate. Whereas youth from the west have been interested in telling stories from eastern Turkey, participants from eastern Turkey were enthusiastic to tell stories from their cities. Övgü Gökçe noted how the encounter of the participants from the west with the eastern cities and participants created an imbalance regarding the preference of topics. She started a discussion on whether this imbalance is something they should intervene in as the project coordinators or not.

Day 2, Session 3: Encounters (cont’d)

The Third Panel: Encounters ends with “Cypriot Encounters in/as the Border” by Mete Hatay (PRIO Cyprus Center (PCC), Cyprus) and Rebecca Bryant (LSE); Prof. Elazar Barkan (Columbia University, USA) functions as the discussant.

The last topic in the framework of Encounters was the joint presentation on “Cypriot Encounters in/as the Border” by Mete Hatay from PRIO Cyprus Center (Cyprus) and Rebecca Bryant form the London School of Economics (UK). Mete and Rebecca outlined some background information on the peace and negotiation process, vernacular reconciliation, reconciliation in non-facilitated settings. They talked about the case of Yorgo Kasap restaurant in the Cypriot Maronite village of Kormacit as an illustration of negotiating values given in spatial encounters. They also presented the web pages and database for enforced displacement in Cyprus. Mete and Rebecca pointed out that this might not be a unique case, but there could be other examples of these vernacular efforts. And as civil society organizations these cases may offer eye opening insight on how effective reconciliation processes work out.