Nazlan Ertan - [email protected]
“I feel responsible for each and every project here,” said İrem, her voice shaking with emotion as tears crept into her eyes. “I want all of them to become a success. I am ready to work as hard as any of the project owners, so get me to work with you. I can work 10, 12, 20 hours if necessary.”
There is a moment when the sentimentalist hiding in every cynic comes out. Mine came out sitting in a circle with Syrian, Iranian and Turkish young people who dared to dream and a team of young volunteers determined to see that dream become a reality. A space of 90 square meters, home to an InnoCampus Entrepreneur Acceleration Program, gave 29 participants a place to work, talk freely and discuss issues on which something needed to be done, while also providing a venue to dream, dare and act.
İrem Sefa Yayımlar, a young woman from İzmir, is living in a rented apartment in Gaziantep to see the four-month project through as the project coordinator until May 10 when the projects will be presented to the business world – possible mentors, investors or partners.
As I glanced around the room, I noticed that İrem had moved us all: The hulky and convivial director of one of Turkey’s top companies, there to teach trainers the makings of a successful brand, looked down on his lap, his face twisted in the way Turkish men’s faces twist when they want to stop tears. An English headhunter and coach, who was there to teach the budding entrepreneurs about professional strengths, started blowing his nose which had become very red. As İrem thanked us all for coming and sharing our experience, a dozen Adam’s apples moved up and down, including that of the pensive bureaucrat and the calm-looking businessmen-cum-volunteer. They are the co-founders of InnoCampus, a non-profit program designed to provide innovation and entrepreneurship experience to young people.
It was there and then, despite an era of bad news, doctored truths, hate speech, no-win choices, suicide bombers and “mother of bombs,” that I started believing that good people and dreams would prevail.
You/we can create spaces of dreams and innovation with few resources; fight prejudice and irrational rage with intelligence and meet tragedy with determination and dignity instead of self-pity.
When the young Syrians, who make up two thirds of the participants of the project, talk about their experience, there is no self-pity or helplessness, just a desire to explain. “What hurts is that we are told to go back to our country and fight. What they do not realize is we have fought until the very end – like the last Mohicans,” said Husam Bayazit, a medical pharmacologist who is currently working on Speak-Up, a TedTalk-like platform that would enable Syrian refugees’ success stories to be shared.
The Syrian participants have all worked on their own country during the war: engineers from the Urban Research Center continued to carry out comprehensive city studies Azaz, a Syrian rebel-held town just 7 kilometers from the frontier with Turkey. Dara Danashi, an interior designer, worked in the renovation of schools that were hit by the war. Bayazit helped with the people wounded in fighting.
The projects they develop are designed for Turkey, but they hope they will be able to go back one day. That day may not be near. “As we enter the seventh year of the conflict, there is no political end in sight,” said Abby Dwommoh, the Turkey spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which sponsors the program. “The vast majority of Syrians have expressed to IOM both a hope and an intention to return to Syria once the war ends. Through this program and others, we support refugees to gain skills and experience that will serve them in any country in which they live, including Turkey and in Syria.”
The presence of the refugees and the Turks and expats who work with them have made Gaziantep a vibrant city where nationalities and cultures come together to exchange ideas, swap best practices and help each other out.
If I were to pick one image to describe the crossed paths of Gaziantep, it would be an ancient image in the Zeugma Museum – that of Zeus abducting Europa. The explanation said that Zeus, attracted to the Phoenician princess, disguised himself as a bull and abducted her. The Asian girl, Europa, who was taken to Crete, gave birth to three sons – and more importantly, gave the continent its name.
From Europa to Medea, mythology is filled with refugees, and so is modern history, from Einstein to Steve Jobs, but also Amin Maalouf and Tahar ben Jelloun, both of whom wrote eloquently about the pleasure and pain of being a stranger and the fresh perspective it offers.
I know it is the weekend of the referendum and you, readers, would rather read the analysis on what will happen if it is a “yes” or if it is a “no.” Or the “mother of all bombs” that was dropped on Afghanistan.
I know it is the weekend of the referendum and you, readers, would rather read the analysis on what would happen if it is a yes or if it is a no. Or the “mother of all bombs” that dropped on Afghanistan. Precisely for these reasons, I want to urge to you to believe that Irems of the world, creative, resourceful, selfless and ready to build bridges, are more enduring than those who want to build walls.