Intra-Youth Dialogue: Role of Youth in Shaping Social Cohesion Post ISIS
Social Cohesion Intra Youth Dialogue, is a year long project of Erbil Hub for the year 2017–2018. The project consists of a sequence of dialogues aiming to involve youth voices from diverse backgrounds in dialogue to speak their mind, be heard to prevent isolation, strengthen bonds, explore the similarities and overcome the stereotypes to foster social cohesion and coexistence at a critical time where the country and the region is going through.
We live in a communications age where dialogue is often replaced by the exchange of emails, facebook posts and comments or on the various messaging applications in our electronic devices. While we’ve gained many exciting technologies in the recent decades, to a great extent these technologies have encouraged us to lose the art of spending time together; of talking, listening, and understanding each other.
On September 20th & 25th, 2017 Erbil Hub kicked off it’s first sequence of roundtable dialogues inviting speakers from diverse backgrounds living in Erbil to facilitate dialogue on coexistence. Speakers from different backgrounds of Yazidi, Southern Iraqis/Arabs, Kurdish Diaspora, Christians and Muslims were invited to tackle and bring issue to the table, analyze them and find solutions for them.
As a Kurd, living in Erbil, we all have different stories when it comes to cross cultural experiences. Here’s my own little story. My grandmother is Turkmani, she has Alzheimer which means she does not remember in which stage of my studies I am and keeps asking me, but she always tells me the story of her time having Jewish neighbors like it’s her first time. Telling me how kind and how helping they were. How beautiful the diversity was and how they used to live in peace with them. Also speaking of my mom, she knows so many Christian words with having Christian neighbors and friends and she still visits some of them.
These are to show the cross cultural & religious bonds that have existed for so many generations that we shouldn’t let extremism, discrimination or politics take it away from us. But, the recent fights against ISIS, the influx of IDPs, and the economic decline have exacerbated the short-lived prosperity.
The Islamic State’s advances in 2014, paired with the political and economic crises that have bedevilled the Kurdistan Region and Iraq, exacerbated communal relationships who have been living in the North of Iraq and may incite new tensions if left unchecked.
The youth especially are caught up in the crisis. While many have experienced displacement due to the conflict, others have lost years of education, and/or feel dis-empowered in the lack of employment in the middle of the economic crisis in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.
The questions which the 2 dialogues circled around were; why having such a dialogue is important? What’s the role of youth in shaping social cohesion post ISIS? Why should we get youth involved to strengthen the bonds regardless of our differences while the politicians are driving us apart? How can youth work to diminish the current state of racism? How the youth can break the taboos? And how does the Government help the youth engage more in socioeconomic progress? How will the independent Kurdistan which we don’t know when will happen, affect the ethnic and religious minorities living in Kurdistan?
Our Kurdish Muslim speakers stated that it’s early to make “post ISIS” statement, because even if this radicalized group is defeated militarily, the causes which prepared grounds for them are still right here. Multiple approaches, not only military, need to be taken to achieve that.
Talking about Youth contribution to strengthen Civil Society, they pointed out that our civil society organisations and NGOs are mostly linked with parties. So there is kind of political control or dominance over this sector. Although some try their best to get the status quo shifted, it takes time and commitment.
They also highlighted the position of minorities in the future of Kurdistan, and suggested that Kurdistan should become secular state where rights of minorities are protected in the constitution.
On the other hand, the Kurdish Diaspora speakers and Foreigners living in Erbil, analyzed the questions which were discussed in accordance to a viewpoint of those who have lived abroad and experienced other forms of governance.
The speakers agreed that in order for any form of social cohesion to be brought about, there needs to be a sense of belonging for all the communities living together. Youth can work together to create platforms which is inclusive for all the communities. Youth can also collaborate on putting forward constructive policy suggestions to the government which promote cohesion in society.
As a tangible solution, establishing social centers in the neighborhoods which welcome all communities, and which are not labeled by any political party, religious or ethnic groups was suggested.
The group discussed that capacity building programs can be carried out by those who have experience from abroad or been privileged to have an education system where they have been equipped with capacity building and leadership skills. The aim is for those people who have knowledge to deliver, to do it in the language of the locals and broaden their focus to include the deeper divisions of society where people have been deprived of basic academic, social, and professional skills.
The participants of this group also agreed that the Muslim majority of our society have the main role of being inclusive of the other communities to make them feel safe and integrate into the rest of the communities.
To conclude, the group agreed that the diaspora community have a great responsibility of creating platforms of impact and change for the rest of the communities to partake in.
Furthermore, the Christian and Yazidi speaker’s stated that throughout history, the Kurdistan Region has welcomed and embraced all different cultures, religions and ethnicities. Their struggles are not about feeling included or welcome in the region, but their struggles circled around being labeled and miscommunication. Christians mentioned that they don’t feel comfortable living in an isolated neighborhood of their own people which makes them feel like they live in a box by not integrating with other people, so they seek volunteering organizations to work with youth, build trust and strong communication with the others.
As a follow up dialogue, our 2nd roundtable was on the day of referendum, Sep 25th, 2017 the same topic was discussed with a broader perspective in addition to the effects of referendum on the minorities in Kurdistan. After polls shuttered across Kurdistan our group of Shapers, guest speakers and international group of scholars and researchers gathered and began dialogue about one of the most vital questions Kurdish society will face in the coming years: co-existence and social cohesion. The young attendees, with ink-stained forefingers showing their participation in the day’s vote and wearing Kurdish clothes, discussed that a way must be figured out for all of us to live peacefully together in this new country. While Former President of the Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani had already pledged a future state of Kurdistan would be secular, not an ethnic one.
One of the attendees from a minority background said “if we’re going to build a country that is only for the Kurds, then it’s not going to work,” he added “being a part of a religious minority, if I don’t feel safe in the new country, then I won’t stay”.
Erbil Hub will continue to hold consecutive dialogues each month with different youth, the project is a chance to shape the social cohesion, strengthen integration and tackle gaps and other pressing issues among the youth regardless of their background for the generation to be prioritized, not become a major security threat.