Monthly Archives: September 2012

Finding “The Power of One” in the Voices of Many

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This week, Knowledge and Innovation officers of the Peace it Together network Mehmet Erdoğan and Ellada Evangelou offer some thoughts regarding the idea behind the title of the conference, “The Power of 1.”

Conflict is messy, loud and chaotic. Passions and vices run high, people are afraid, shouts, cries and screams are the predominant sounds. There is nothing organised or individualised about it. The polyphony, or rather the cacophony, of conflict is disarming. The possibility for an individual to exist in a heated situation and maintain themselves in the context of reason and sobriety is slim.

As the urgency of the conflict dies out, the most somber of minds come out, slowly peeking from their doorways as if after a tornado, to see whose spirit has remained standing.  They peek to see who can pick up their scattered ideas, their crumbled enthusiasm and their battered voice in order to start rebuilding. They witness those who increase their reluctant pace with time, recollecting Eleanor Roosevelt’s words, that standing as an individual is not only a right, but an obligation.

The margin of potential for one voice, one singular energy to penetrate, or even infiltrate into conflict and the post-conflict period has become the reasoning behind the Inter-regional conference to be held in Nicosia in October 9-11th, 2012, entitled The Power of One.

The host city itself has been the site of both deafening noise and crippling silence during the last decades. Its inhabitants have (been) moved around, its houses pierced with bullets and its quarters parted with barbed wire. The old city does look like a tornado-hit site in many of its corners.  It has been master-planned, macro-examined and micro-analyzed. But it hasn’t been abandoned. A handful of dedicated, committed individuals and organizations work together every day in order to ensure the city lives on.

The Power of One is demonstrated in many local stories, should one look even slightly beneath the surface. Take for example the story of the three young photographers who decided to live the city. They went around, saw, heard and smelled it. They took pictures of what they saw. Without concern for funding or access to a physical location, they began, slowly, to upload these pictures, one by one, on social media. Documenting, from the perspective of a regular person, the abandoned, the heartbreaking, the personal, the absurd. Then this went viral. Now there’s an exhibition of their work in one of the neighborhoods they happened to photograph.  And people are coming in groups to watch it, and a conversation has started. Each new spectator, each perspective reinvents the city and negotiates the telling of history of the city offered by the images. Curating a shared narrative, a shared history. The city is coming to life through the empowered gaze of three young people.

How do you talk about that? The fearlessness? The disregard for the lack of precedence? The unapologetic magnitude of honesty?

This is not a unique occurrence. Young people all over the world are using the freedom and convenience offered by technology and social media to speak up. With a specific pillar dedicated to community voice and representation, the Power of One 2012 is setting up a framework specifically fitting for such stories, and many more like them from Europe and the Middle East.

Click here for the Old Nicosia Revealed Facebook Group.

Click here for the Power of One conference website.

Fuelled by injustice: disability rights

Faize Erdoğan has been living in a wheelchair for the last decade, and at recent local elections in northern Cyprus, was unable to vote because her polling place was an inaccessible elementary school. Faize’s son, Mehmet, decided to take action and campaigned against the obstacles preventing his mother from voting: “My mother was unable to even access the building, as she, and many other disabled individuals like her, had not been considered during the election-planning process. The room that had her voting booth had at least seven or eight big steps, and she couldn’t even enter the room. I watched her being turned away and witnessed up close her sense of demoralisation, and it pushed me to a place of anger fuelled by this incredible sense of injustice.”
The incident was symbolic of a much larger, all-too-familiar struggle – the complete invisibility of disabled individuals and their alienation from public spaces. Following this incident, friends and family were mobilised to rally the local media, and Faize was able to gain the support of more than 50 civil society organizations, including non-profit associations and almost all active political parties. With this support, a protest was organised and a petition was launched based on the UN Declaration of Disability Rights.
“We see this victory not as the end but as the beginning of the struggle.”
This initiative, now known as EngelSiz, asks the question, “Am I disabled? Or are you the disabler?” The group strives to show that it is possible to live without being disabled from public life if only society at large puts effort into it. By distributing a petition over the Internet, EngelSiz collected more than 4,000 signatures in less than a month. The group presented the signatures to the leadership in the Turkish Cypriot community on 13 July, 2010, resulting in an acknowledgement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons.
“We see this victory not as the end but as the beginning of the struggle,” explains Mehmet. “The northern part of Cyprus is not considered a legal state by any other country other than Turkey, and the authorities cannot sign or be held accountable to the provisions in the UN Declaration”. However, EngelSiz hopes to use the UN Declaration as a basis in the updating of rights related to the disabled community. “Therefore, as a volunteer, independent group of activists, we plan to continue doing awareness raising activities as well as staying involved with high level authorities in seeing through the full implementation of the law.”