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Part 3 - The Peace Bag Partners, Projects, and Peacebuilders

Turkey

Toplum Gönüllüleri Vakfı (TOG - Community Volunteers Foundation) one of the Turkey's widespread youth non-governmental organization with over 20000 project volunteers every year, works to motivate young people between 17 and 25 years of age to implement their own projects under the umbrella of youth organizations founded by young people mostly in the universities of Turkey as student clubs.

Founded in December 2002, TOG's vision is the realisation of social peace, solidarity and change through the participation and leadership of young people. Its mission is to transform the energy of young people toward social benefit by encouraging them to develop various projects of their own and contribute to the formation of youth with social awareness and self-esteem. It also aims to enhance democratic participation of young people. TOG has started a journey to value the big potential of youth in creating a civic milieu through volunteerism. It supports youth projects and organises peer to peer trainings – making it possible for young people to realise their own social responsibility projects according to the local needs. It also promotes youth mobilization within and outside the country.

Since its foundation, young community volunteers implement three kinds of projects: social service, social awareness and social advocacy. TOG supports these projects; partly funds the projects or helps to raise fund for them; communicates with public and press, and empowers the young people with trainings, traineeships, grants, and mentorship. Aside from fostering volunteerism amongst young people, TOG's priorities also include:

  • Respect to differences during all activities (cultural diversity) - No segregation based on religious, ideological, political views or ethnicity;
  • Transparency and Accountability;
  • Youth participation, visibility of young people;
  • Teamwork;
  • Social Entrepreneurship;
  • Peer to peer training, aimed to increase both the level and quality of non-formal education and life-long learning.

Changing the Lives of Young People living in Armenia and Turkey - Peace Building Projects

Nonviolence, overcoming prejudice and discrimination, identity.

The construction of national identity tends to create an enemy from other constructed nationalities. The peace process and mutual understanding amongst individuals are negatively affected by this dehumanization process. Nations exclude and demonize enemies as the "others". This process can only be broken down by creating spaces for dialogue through interaction and youth mobility.

In this light, TOG has held international youth mobilization projects with NGO's from Armenia, to break down the hatreds and the prejudices of young people living in the two countries.
In 2008, an International TOG ATAK (a social sensitivity gathering of young people from different ethnicities, backgrounds, and lifestyles for the promotion of tolerance and dialogue of TOG) was held in partnership with Kars TOG Youth Organization, and the Armenian Young Women Association (AYWA). 50 youths from Turkey and 20 youths from Armenia participated in renovating a primary school in Arpaçay, Kars, and organized workshops on intercultural dialogue.

In 2009, TOG was the partner of the "Bridge of Benevolence – Tolerance through Cultural and Educational Dialogue" project with Future is Yours (FTR) from Armenia. The project aimed at developing mutual understanding and dialogue among young people in the two countries. 14 youths from Turkey and 16 from Armenia participated in the two exchange projects, in Istanbul and Yerevan.

The project was implemented in three stages: 1.) Formation of the groups and preparation of mutual visits of the participants 2.) Field visits to Yerevan and Istanbul 3.) Evaluation of the project and publication of the summarised guide-book.

An essay competition on the topic "How to create a Bridge of Benevolence" was announced. Training courses on principles of democracy, tolerance, the history of the cultures of Armenia and Turkey and their interrelation were organized. From July 27 to August 2, 2009, visits from Turkey to Yerevan, and from Armenia to Istanbul took place. Training, discussions, events, and meetings were organized during the visits. The groups visited historical and cultural sites and museums which gave an opportunity to promote intercultural dialogue among the group.

As a result of mutual respect; listening to one another's opinions and concerns; and showing a deep sense of responsibility, the young people of the two countries succeeded in creating a real bridge of tolerance and benevolence. The youth of Armenia and Turkey expressed their opinions and impressions of the project in their discoveries and evaluations. The project was sponsored by the US Embassy in Armenia, OSCE Office in Yerevan, and Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation.

These international youth mobilization projects changed the lives of young people, and helped build peace between the two countries. TOG continues its peace building projects with NGO's from Armenia, and for 2011 is collaborating with Eurasia Partnership Armenia on Youth Bank.


Meet a Peacebuilder:

Merhaba! My name is Zekeriya Dündar and I am a community volunteer and I have been volunteering for social peace, solidarity and change. While we describe peace we are using the words like absence of war, no fights as they stand an opposition to peace. A true peace consist of dignity, tolerance, love and inclusive diversity. Like Benedict de Spinoza says: "Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence justice." Personally I perceive peace as individual. First step is bringing it into mind. After it becomes a part of our consciousness then we can take an action for that. Since it is sensitive, it needs care and apprehension. However, it is eternal and unique it needs protection. Determination is the way to sustain it. Standing against violence, discrimination and any kind of conflicts provides peace. Peace is a quality life while living together with the soul of brotherhood and dignity. As it is freedom of life, it is limited only with respect and clemency.


The country

Turkey has always been a melting pot of different cultures, and has exported its cultural influence throughout the EuroMed region. It has been a destination for many migrant communities that have contributed new styles and flavours in its rich cultural environment.[67] Young people aged between 15-24 account for 18% of Turkey's population (approximately 12.5 million youths!). Engaging in cultural and artistic activities, the large youth population seeks a more important role in decisions affecting youth employment, education, and the promotion of national and regional unity.[68]

The Republic of Turkey's position is geo-strategically important, as it is the epicentre of business trade between Europe and Asia. Turkey is a land of vast ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity – being the home to Turks, Kurds and Armenians, Alevis, Yazidis, Assyrians, Laz, Caferis, Roma, Rum (Greek Orthodox), Caucasians and Jews. A centuries-old mix of languages, cultures, and traditions are practiced within its borders.