Friday, November 25, 2016

`The Ministry of Education is the Ministry of the Future…`

`The Ministry of Education is the Ministry of the Future…`

Sevgul Uludag

Tel: 99 966518

These are the words of Astrid Thors, the Chairperson of the Max van der Stoel Jury and former High Commissioner on National Minorities of the OSCE… She was speaking on the 24th of October 2016 at the Peace Palace at the Hague on the occasion of the Cypriot Association of Historical Dialogue and Research receiving this year, the prestigious Max van der Stoel Award. For the award, co-presidents of AHDR Alev Tughberk and Kyriacos Pachoulides were there…
We all know AHDR – its seat is at the Home for Cooperation on the buffer zone, right across the Ledra Palace Hotel… It is being supported by funds from Norway as well as having received support from EU and other countries and donors in the past…
The most important thing that AHDR has done for Cyprus is bringing teachers together, writing supplementary educational material, teaching ways of looking at our bitter past from multi perspectives, creating a space on the buffer zone – The Green Line – for people to meet and talk and drink coffee… No, it is not the Buyuk Khan in Nicosia where you just sit and have coffee and chat with your friends from both communities but that is all - this is the Home for Cooperation where things actually happen, not just drink coffee and chat… Seminars, conferences, exhibitions about our past showing ways about how to deal with our future…
We worked voluntarily with AHDR in their preparation for the book about `missing persons` - the supplementary educational material prepared for teachers to use in the schools in both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities… The book has been prepared in three languages: Turkish, Greek and English and already civil society in Lebanon has picked it up to use to demonstrate their own problem of `missing persons`… But it Cyprus it stayed there although some teachers took it and used it but when it came to the official Ministry of Education, none of the books prepared with so much care and effort and so much research have been picked up, looked at or praised… Or used… The officials of the education in the Turkish Cypriot community have no such intention to do that – the officials of the education of the Greek Cypriot community too have no such intention… AHDR's efforts might be recognized through awards and they might receive the Max van der Stoel Award from the hand of the Minister of Holland but this is like water flowing over the hand of the officials – they don't care and they have never shown any interest at all to sit down and at least take a close look at what AHDR has been doing…
Foreign Minister Koenders of Holland, during his speech at the award ceremony said in summary:
"This year's winner of the Max van der Stoel Award possesses those two virtues in abundance. From the moment travel restrictions between the two parts of Cyprus were relaxed, 13 years ago, the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research has quietly worked to foster mutual respect and understanding.
History cannot be denied; nor must it be forgotten.
But its misuse can become an obstacle to normal relations between peoples.
Its distortion can separate majority and minority communities.
Its manipulation can divide societies that should be united.
Mutual understanding cannot be imposed or declared. Take the Association's educational projects. They are not meant to teach one specific version of Cypriots' history; rather, they are meant to increase historical awareness and stimulate critical thinking. They show how different perspectives on shared history can coexist, without one perspective being favoured over another.
In the end, politicians cannot make Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots live in harmony. Politicians cannot make people trust each other and build a society together. That will be up to Turkish and Greek Cypriots themselves.
The success of the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research demonstrates the power that communities themselves have to shape their relations. It serves as a shining example to other countries where relations between communities are strained.
The current Cypriot-led talks are reason to be hopeful about reunification. If and when reunification occurs, the need for mutual understanding will become even greater. As more and more Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots meet each other, occasions for tensions and conflict will multiply. In that sense, the toughest challenge lies ahead. This award is not just meant to recognise past achievements; it also serves to encourage future efforts. The work of today's award winners is helping to advance the indispensable process of reconciliation. May it do so for many years to come.
I would now like to ask the two co-presidents of the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research to join me.
Kyriakos Pachoulides, Alev Tughberk, I am honoured to present the seventh Max van der Stoel Award to you both…`
The Chairperson of the Jury, Astrid Thors, in summary said:
"Various and conflicting historical narratives often contribute to the division of societies. Some historical narratives even perpetuate these divisions. The lack of cohesion within a society often threatens its stability and may increase the likelihood of opening up old wounds. For this reason, it is my firm belief that education should feature more prominently in peace negotiations. After all, our future and the future of the generations that follow us is framed in our educational system: it sets the stage for how we interact with different members of society. As I often say, `The Ministry of Education is the Ministry of the Future…` Having started as a bicommunal endeavour, AHDR's work is exceptional today because it now encompasses an inclusive inter-communal approach by engaging the Armenians, Maronites and Latins of Cyprus as well… Building peace also means that persons from different backgrounds can meet in structured and meaningful settings and that is something that AHDR provides. Shaping minds to think critically about history and preparing the members of all communities to accept different view on history is what drives AHDR. Reconciliation is the key. In fact, the remarkable work of the association on offering guidance to teachers to think critically about missing persons can serve in other contexts where the wounds of similar tragedies are still open… I hope that the example of AHDR and their openness to others can inspire all of us today along with other educators and civil society activists and decision makers globally…`
In their acceptance speech of the award, Alev Tughberk and Kyriacos Pachoulides said:
"AHDR receives this award with great gratitude. We need to highlight, though, that we strongly feel that this award is shared with all those in Cyprus, whose work promoted, over the last decades, inter-communal co-operation, mutual respect and understanding as the foundations for a sustainable, peaceful re-united Cyprus.
The establishment of AHDR in 2003 was the fruit of the determination and the aspiration of Cypriot educators, researchers and civil society activists, coming from various linguistic, ethnic, religious, social and educational backgrounds. Our common belief was and is that education can and should play a positive role in the transition from a deeply wounded, traumatized and segregated society into a society where reconciliation, peace and social cohesion prevail.
Through these years, AHDR provided opportunities to teachers, educators, researchers, students and the general public from all over the island to engage in a constructive and open dialogue. A dialogue on how our past can be approached in a critical manner and on how history can be taught in our schools, according to the current pedagogical trends based on the guidelines set by international and regional organizations and bodies, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UNESCO and the Council of Europe. Teacher training seminars and workshops, international conferences, research and supplementary educational material publications, activities for children and youth, public debates, historical tours and movie screenings are just some of the tools that AHDR uses in order to advance critical thinking and historical understanding in our society: two elements which we believe are necessary and crucial for any democratic society, especially for a conflict driven one like ours.
In our proposal on the reform of history education in Cyprus, we state that historical understanding not only enables us to understand the people distant in the past, but also contemporary people living next to or far away from us. In other words, by learning to think historically, we also learn to understand one another, accept and cooperate with each other. In this respect, we promote a history education that aspires to transform students' understanding of the world through the teaching of how to study the past and think historically. In our understanding of history education, political and ideological agendas should not distort history teaching, nor should history be used as a tool to consolidate division.
AHDR activities and projects, create the context within which individuals from across the existing divide interact in a meaningful way and cooperate with respect to or even despite their differences. A major achievement of AHDR is the establishment of The Home for Cooperation (H4C), a unique institution in the buffer zone in Nicosia, which is geographically and symbolically accessible to all people living in Cyprus. The H4C not only stands as one of the best concrete examples of what people in Cyprus can achieve through cooperation, but also operates as an incubator of future ideas and initiatives of individuals and groups from across the divide working together with a common vision for a re-united and peaceful country.
AHDR strongly believes and promotes, through its Policy Paper on Rethinking Education in Cyprus that this common vision can be better served by an education that prepares children and youth to live in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-faith society built on the values of human rights, trust, partnership, and equality.
We follow and support the efforts of the current political leaders in Cyprus, under the aegis of the United Nations, to reach a just, comprehensive and sustainable solution to the Cyprus problem. We take this opportunity to congratulate our UN friends on UN Day today. We believe that our political leaders have the determination to respond positively to the call of history and the need of our people for a re-united Cyprus. Following their example, we also believe that along with the political and geographical division, the division in the minds of people will be addressed. Trust and mutual respect should be consolidated. AHDR is proud of the work it has been doing over the years in this direction.
As we are all aware, recognition brings about motivation. Becoming a member of the community of organizations which have been honoured with the Award is highly encouraging for the Board, staff, members, friends and volunteers of the AHDR. Having received this prominent award, we are determined to work harder for the empowerment of the people of Cyprus to build bridges to defy hatred and fear and to move towards mutual understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation…."
We too congratulate the AHDR for all their efforts for peace and reconciliation… Perhaps the officials of the education departments of both communities can learn somethıng from the experience and efforts of AHDR…


Photo: Kyriacos Paschulides and Alev Tughberk receiving award...

(*) Article published in the POLITIS newspaper on the 20th of November, 2016 – Sunday.

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