The role of culture in interacting with refugees

The role of culture in interacting with refugees

When I set out on my morning walk last weekend, I came across a view which I am not familiar with in the neighborhood I live.

Crowded Syrian families had come early in the morning for a picnic on the grass.

Just as they were preparing for a joyous breakfast with tea, bread, and watermelon surrounded by lots of kids, those of us who were locals of the neighborhood—were watching them with nervous looks.

I caught those looks more than once and this thought just crossed my mind:

“Turks that had migrated to Germany in the 1960s most probably were subjected to similar concerned looks.”

Germany has talked about the integration of foreigners, including Turks, for years. The problem has still not been solved despite all these debates.

We are now breathing the same air as 3.5 million Syrians.

Questions along the lines of “How can we live together without throwing them anxious looks? How can we overcome our cultural differences?” should interest us all. We definitely do not discuss these issues sufficiently.

The role of culture in migrant receiving countries

The latest report of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), which has been published each year since 2011 provides input and vision to culture policies and is looking for answers to these questions.

The seventh report made public this month is called “Living together: Developing cultural pluralism via art,” has been written by Feyzi Baban from Canada’s Trent University and Rim Rygiel from Laurier University. The writers are academics doing research on issues like migration, refugees and integration in North America and Europe.

The report focuses on the role of art and culture for living together in the long run in societies hosting different cultures.

It provides successful examples in Europe and Turkey.

A few days after I received the report, I came across an interview on television conducted with Feyzi Baban and Özlem Ece, the director of the İKSV’s cultural policies.


Ece first said the fundamental principle of the İKSV’s culture policies are to enable all elements in society to participate in art and culture activities.

“Our purpose is to diversify our crowd. We are trying to uplift culture and art especially among disadvantageous groups. And we also learn during this process,” she said.

Baban on the other hand, spoke about their research with Kim Rygiel on how different cultures, ethnic identities and religions live together in Italy, Denmark, Germany and Turkey.

The five year-long project is in its third year. Two answers have arose from their research on how we can live together despite our differences: Assimilation and multiculturalism.

“There are problems in both approaches. It is important to recognize differences but what matters is for people to interact with one another,” he said.

Millepede Culture Association in Gaziantep is a good example according to him.

The association supporting Syrians artists and in a culinary project brought together Syrian women with local women. It published a Turkish-Arabic brochure for a film activity.

“The association has opened a space for Syrians. It facilitates the interaction between Syrians and locals,” he said.

The number of associations like Millepede are still low in Turkey compared to Europe. The İKSV’s report advises local municipalities to coordinate similar work with NGOs.

Istanbul Culture and Arts Foundation,