Human Rights and Peace Education in Turkey

Selcuk University’s Human Rights Centre recently organized its 4th annual human rights summer school. The Raoul Wallenberg Institute supported its establishment four years ago and since 2011 the school is carrying out various human rights related events in Konya, Turkey. This year’s theme was peace education.

iphnone_mardin_dbakir_131__1__960We sat down with Nezir Akyesilmen, the director of the Human Rights Centre, to talk about the activities of the Centre and the reason why they have decided to establish a HRC within their university.

Nezir Akyesilmen currently works as an associate professor at the Department of International Relations at the university. He is also chair of the Centre for Peace Studies and deputy chair of the Human Rights Centre at Selcuk University.

Why have you decided to establish a Human Rights Centre within the university?

We decided to establish a HRC in the University for several reasons. Firstly to carry out activities that aim to increase human rights knowledge and awareness among students, academicians, and other stakeholders of the university via seminars, conferences, study-trips and workshops.

We also wish to widen this awareness in the city of Konya and all over Turkey. We wanted to be able to organize academic and civic activities with other domestic and international organizations and to bring people together from different faculties on human rights.

What types of events do you carry out and what is the main reason behind them?

Almost each month we organize conferences or talks on human rights with well-known human rights scholars or NGO representatives in Turkey.

The last four years we have been organizing the 8-day “Human Rights Summer School” with participants – mainly students but also professionals – from different sectors, disciplines and universities. Throughout the course a wide range of human rights topics from theory to thematic rights are being taught by local and international academics and civil society activists. The aim of the summer school is to spread human rights awareness throughout Turkey, to establish connections between young persons from different cities, universities and faculties and contribute to the establishment of a human rights culture in Turkey.

We have also been organizing an “International Religion and Human Rights Workshop” the last three years, where around 100 academicians, professionals, NGO representatives, religion personalities, experts and students from different religious backgrounds and ethnic origins discuss cotemporary problems and conflicts between religion and human rights. We change topics each year, and this year it’s on discrimination. The aim is to bring people from different disciplines and segments of the society together so that they understand each other, but also to spread the idea of human rights among religious people. In Turkey, the human rights sector is dominated by secularists in academia and NGOs. Even language is secular, which keeps religious people away from human rights.

Another event is the “Human Rights Student Congress” where more than 50 students from all over Turkey participate. The aim is to spread human rights advocacy among the young generation and to bring students from different universities together to create networks between them.

Why do you focus on peace education?

Peace education and human rights education interrelate and interconnect. In Turkey we have a long history of conflicts including Kurdish problems, but unfortunately we have no awareness, knowledge and notion of peace. Yet, we have gotten a peace process in the last three years, though we have a severe crisis nowadays. In order to contribute to the peace activities and having a long-standing peace in Turkey we need both human rights education and peace education. Both will contribute the idea of peace to spread and deepen. In order to strengthen this mission we also established a Peace Studies Centre (PSC) in the university last year. The HRC and PSC work very close together.


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