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Turkey: Democratization, Human Rights, and Security


“Turkey: Democratization, Human Rights, and Security" is a World Policy Institute program that aims to establish a multifaceted dialogue around significant issues in Turkey's democratization process –minorities and security, historical memory, and democratization and the political system – and to ensure that developments within Turkey are taken into account by US policymakers.

The program seeks to broaden the traditional security-oriented perspective on US-Turkish relations by focusing on aspects of Turkish society that directly affect Turkey’s place in Europe and the world, including its relationship with the US. We hope to contribute to the evolving process of democratization and reform within Turkey by working closely with Turkish partner organizations to promote dialogue around a range of issues affecting human rights, security, and democratic change. We are primarily interested in bringing together and disseminating, within and outside Turkey, a range of Turkish voices and views, and in bringing Turkish actors together with activists and experts from the US and other countries, provide a comparative perspective on shared problems.



In 2014, we completed a project with the Center for Truth, Justice and Memory (Hafiza Merkezi), based in Istanbul, and the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan, entitled “Memorialization and Democracy in Turkey.” Hafiza Merkezi is Turkey’s first organization devoted to transitional justice, which studies the ways in which societies dealing with legacies of violence or dictatorship cope with this history as they transition to more peaceful, democratic and pluralist social forms.  A central aspect of transitional justice is the effort to develop shared narratives of history, particularly where this history involves violence and repression. Memorializing past events is a key element in developing shared historical narratives.

History and historical memory play a central role in Turkey today, as evidenced by the lengths to which the Turkish government has gone to combat recognition of the Armenian genocide. Turkish society has only recently begun to grapple publicly with the genocide and later instances of violence and repression in the Turkish Republic, both historical, such as the pogroms of Greeks in the 1950s, and ongoing, such as the conflict with its Kurdish minority.


Grassroots efforts to commemorate past violence and forgotten victims are growing, and the project’s aim has been to encourage dialogue around these efforts. In February 2013, we held a groundbreaking workshop in the eastern Turkish city of Mardin with a small group of participants interested or involved in memorialization efforts. The participants came from a variety of political, ethnic and religious minorities, and included local Kurdish politicians. We also invited representatives of memorial initiatives from Germany, Bosnia, and Israel who are working, in contexts often similar to Turkey’s, to restore the memory of forgotten groups, correct biased ways of remembering, and promote public discussion of history. Over three days, the Turkish and international participants shared the work of their initiatives and engaged in a lively but respectful exchange of views on many aspects of history and memorialization. The response was uniformly enthusiastic, and the workshop has already inspired several new memorialization projects within Turkey and cross-border cooperation with international partners.


The project also compiled an online catalogue of existing memorialization efforts in Turkey--including initiatives as varied as the restoration of a spring in a formerly Armenian village, monuments to casualties of the Kurdish uprising, and a museum on the Circassian minority. The catalogue will be updated regularly and will form the basis for outreach efforts by Hafiza Merkezi around the theme of memorialization. This is a unique initiative in the Turkish context that promises to generate an important dialogue regarding the possibilities for memorialization, its purposes, and the obstacles it faces. 


Belinda Cooper, director of the program on Turkey: Democratization, Human Rights and Security, is a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute.  

Meltem Aslan is the executive director of the Center for Truth, Justice and Memory (Hafiza Merkezi) in Istanbul, Turkey. Since its founding in 2010, the Center has organized groundbreaking conferences in Turkey on aspects of transitional justice. She is also the executive director of Anadolu Kültür, an organization devoted to fostering mutual understanding through arts and culture. In this capacity, she has overseen dialogue projects among Armenian and Turkish young people, publication of children’s books in several languages, multicultural art and film programs, and a wide variety of other projects aimed at promoting intergroup and intercultural collaboration, reconciliation and empathy. She is a recipient of the International Center for Transitional Justice’s Cape Town Fellowship on Transitional Justice.

Harun Ercan, Researcher


The Center for Truth, Justice and Memory

The Fetzer Institute



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