The Nahda Network, initiated by the independent pro-democracy civil society organization Young Civilians (Genç Siviller), brought together academics, journalists and activists from Turkey and Middle Eastern nations over the weekend for a summit in Bursa to discuss a number of topics related to Turkey's domestic issues as well as its diplomatic role in the region.
Nahda Network Director Ceren Kenar called the online platform's Bursa summit over the weekend groundbreaking in that it provided Turkish journalists the opportunity to listen and learn from their Syrian counterparts in the midst of the Arab Spring uprisings. “We exposed Turkish columnists and journalists to the voices of Syrian journalists and activists. In a way, it was groundbreaking because it served as an educational opportunity,” Kenar told Today's Zaman in an exclusive interview on Sunday.
The major focus of the summit was the ongoing popular revolt in Syria, where the ever-increasing bloodshed dominates both headlines around the world and the international community’s agenda.
As the Nahda Summit closed, in fact, Turkey welcomed on Sunday a resolution passed in the UN Security Council to send 30 unarmed cease-fire observers to Syria as a step in the right direction.
Syria may be a hot topic, Kenar said, but Turkey and other nations wrestling over the country’s future should pay more attention to what the Syrian public has to say. “Turkey is proud of sharing the largest border with Syria, but it knows so little about its neighbor. Nearly 30,000 Syrian nationals are taking refuge in Turkey, yet the country’s main sources for what is going on in Syria are Turkish analysts and pundits,” she argued.
“Arab voices are underrepresented in Turkey. We hear about them and their lives and their struggles, but it is through a second-hand medium,” said Kenar, emphasizing Nahda Network’s aim to fill that void. Kenar said Nahda, which means “enlightenment” in Arabic, wants to make Turkey more aware of the pro-democracy spirit in the Middle East. If Turkey desires to increase its economic and political influence in the region then it must listen and try to better understand the Arab Spring activists and the Middle Eastern publics as a whole, Kenar stressed. “If not,” she warned, “Turkey’s role is doomed to be Orientalist and Turkey-centric.” Kenar pointed to Western nations like the United States, which she said miserably missed this important point in its dealings with the Middle East. Before the Arab Spring, Kenar recalled how it was viable and common to conspire and collaborate with dictators in the Middle East. “That is not the case anymore. Nations who want to get involved must listen to the Arab Spring activists. It is impossible to neglect their demands,” she pressed. Taraf columnist Sevan Nişanyan, in comments to Today’s Zaman, agreed Turkey has in the past “taken an attitude of utter indifference” concerning the Arab world. “This country has been extremely ignorant about the Arab world for many generations.” But, Nişanyan added, this mentality has changed to some extent. “The Turkish public has realized there is a world out there besides the United States and Europe. In principle that is a good development,” he said. Nişanyan, who has been a great admirer of the Nahda Network’s pro-democracy founders, said, “The Young Civilians are a fascinating group. They arrived on the scene in Turkey in 2007 as a breath of fresh air. They are just the kind of group that gives one optimism.” Though the pro-democracy group has a limited membership and finances, Nişanyan said, they have been able to create an awareness and a vision that are very useful for the future of Turkey.
Syrian activists’ flag prohibited at summit
Even in the Turkish city of Bursa, however, Syrian activists faced pressure on Saturday morning. When activists tried to put up the Independence Flag, an old flag of Syria that has become a symbol of the Syrian opposition, at the Merinos AKKM Orhangazi Hall for the summit, a building management official told them they were not allowed to fly an “unofficial flag.” Activists and journalists criticized the action on Sunday as an example showing that even Turkey struggled with questioning nationalism, authority and its own “Assads.”