When Persepolis was one of the world’s wonders.

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By Natalia Borys

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Persepolis, the archaeological treasure,[1] Western orientalist vision.  I have never imagined that one day I would wander down the streets of Persepolis, that it would be possible.  This majestic site still makes you feel as in a dream, transfers you in the glorious past, to the magnificent history of mankind, especially for history lovers like me.

From the very beginning of  my arrival in Iran, I can’t wait seeing this wonder of the world: to touch ancient stones, full of history, and to wander through this labyrinth city, symbol of Achaemenid Persia, founded in 550 BC by Darius the Great, “King of Kings, King of the World.”[2]

Why Persepolis? Because it is a symbol of a great civilization that has bequeathed so much to mankind. Moreover, Persepolis is one of the most powerful urban constructions in history, a testimony of its incomparable glory.  The emergence of these majestic ruins in the silence of the dawn is unforgettable, the site still fancies a lot.  At the entry, you are welcome by stone lamassu in the Assyrian style, winged human-headed bulls with curly beards,[3] in astonishing splendour, hit the mind and imagination. These ruins are still impressive, and seeing it makes you travel in time and touch the ancient history, the history of the Achaemenid empire of “King of kings”.

On the way to Persepolis

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The figure of the Royal Glory hovered the kings in many scenes at Persepolis. Western scholars consider it as the representation of the supreme God Ahuramazda, while Iranians think it is a symbolic picture of royal glory.

Arriving in Shiraz, from my budget hotel, I took a taxi to Persepolis. The only way to get to the site is by taxi.  Generally, taxis wait on the spot while tourists roam the site. My taxi driver is joyful, as most of Iranians are, want to chat and discuss politics, greets me with a traditional welcome to Iran,” and drops me off at the entrance telling me that an hour or two is more than enough to visit the site. An hour or two? Me, who dreamt of spending a lot of time there. I let him know that I am going to stay longer. My driver must have cursed me and my love for old ruins. The whole day is more appropriate for this meeting with history.

At the foot of Mountain of Mercy, the ruins of Persepolis , the heart of the Achaemenid Empire, stretch as far as the eye can see. The Persian king’s summer residence, which was burned down by Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.[4] and exhumed by archaeologists in 1931, has revealed invaluable details about the first empire of humanity.

An entrance.

12729168_10153926586153770_2428488603171104707_nIt is hot, very hot. I have to wear jeans, a shawl to cover my head and a gold embroidered tunic (Chanel, as it was noted on it) which I had to buy at the bazaar to comply with the Islamic rules of the country.  The sun is blinding and not a single tree at sight. It is February and it is already hot. I can only imagine how hot is in summer. It must be as hot as Hades.  But my enthusiasm is still high. Persepolis!

Near the entrance, in a small museum, I bought myself an expensive little book about Persepolis. Here is the entrance. Today, twenty-six centuries later, Persepolis is still a breathtaking majesty. Ruins of luminous palaces, ancient cross-shaped tombs carved halfway up the cliff, slender columns exposed to the wind and the sun, lavish low-reliefs, everything here permanently captures your imagination. The visitors in the past, like me today, were speechless facing such splendour, which was built to glorify the Great King and the greatest of the Gods, Ahura Mazda.

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Tachara, or The Palace of Darius.

The rise and the fall of the capital.

Persepolis’ palaces and buildings were built mainly during the reign of Darius I the Great (522-486 BC) who emerged, for some, as the true founder of the Achaemenid Empire and, perhaps, its most remarkable ruler. The embellishments of the vast palatial complex were continued by the successors of Darius I, Xerxes and Artaxerxes, during almost sixty years, without being completely finished. A demonstration of the supreme power the large palatial complex was not intended to be the permanent residence of the king. But everything is so big and majestic! The new city of Persepolis was built with the intention to impress visitors, and to be seen by far with its royal palaces, courtrooms, treasure room, majestic doors and stairways, fortifications and harem. Mission accomplished! If even only few ruins of this past splendour remain, they give you an idea how big and majestic it was.

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An enthroned king, two incense burners, a “Median” chiliarch reporting to the king, a towel-bearer, a weapon-bearer, and two pairs of “Persian guards flanking the scene. Who is the king? as Iranian scholars claim, Artaxerxes was still young and had no grown up crown prince. This was evidently the crown of Artaxerxes I, while the former was worn by Xerxes. The audience is held under a royal baldachin with tasselled edges falling in front. Above, five superimposed rows of soldiers.

Persepolis emerged from oblivion in the Middle Ages, when monks, European travellers and notables, in addition to other visitors, reussisited the memory and the past glory of the city. The city was so famous that in 1971, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, chose the site to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire. If the shah Pahlavi was impressed by the site and dreamt of reviving it, the ayatollahs demanded to destroy the site, as well as other pre-Islamic ruins. To destroy the site would have been a crime against humanity, it was hopefully avoided by a tireless campaign by the governor of Fars Province, lawyer Nosratollah Amini, and the strong protest of Shiraz residents. From 1979, the majestic ruins of Persepolis were classified a UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

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The double griffin protome capital. Since the best opinions to date are that the griffin capital may have been intended for the Unfinished Gate at Persepolis. They became famous by being the symbol of “Homa”, Iranian national airline.

Scholars still try to figure out, what was the main purpose of Persepolis. For some of them, Persepolis was a religious city, a national sanctuary, used to celebrate the Zoroastrian Iranian New Year, called the Nowruz, during the vernal equinox. Some of them think, it was set up as an astronomical city, while others still believe that it was built to impress and to show off the Achaemenid imperial power.  Nevertheless, we now know that over and above its sacred and religious character, Persepolis was also conceived as an administrative and political capital. Archaeological excavations, as well as the cuneiform tablets prove it.

The Hall of hundred columns and its stairways. The Immortals.

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Gate of all Lands, human-headed winged bulls serving as “guardians”.

Today, the visitor ascends the Persepolis platform by climbing up a grand double-flighted staircase, called the Great Double Staircase, was most likely built under Xerxes I. It is composed of two flights of stairs each contains111 steps. These large grey limestone steps measure 7m wide and only 10cm high (which enabled horses to access the other side of the walls) offer visitors a glimpse of what awaits him. The entrance, the Gate of All Lands, was used to welcome visitors and delegations that came from all the satrapies or provinces of the Persian Empire to give allegiance to the Great King.

These monumental staircases are one of the masterpieces of Achaemenid art. They are decorated with low-reliefs representing different people of the Empire bringing offerings to the Great King.  This staircase was lucky to avoid the destruction! It was buried under Apadana roof’s fall when Persepolis was burned down, it is perfectly preserved.

The entrance was flanked by two colossal bulls of 5.5m high and carved on a 1.5m pedestal. They observe and guard the entrance in order to protect the city from any threat from the outside. [5] On the underside and the head of the bulls, one could read an inscription in old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian, proclaiming the greatness of Xerxes, the I am Xerxes the Great King, King of Kings, King of lands and King of many peoples, who by the grace of Ahura Mazda, constructed this Gateway of All Lands”.

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Xerxes’ inscription “A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created yonder sky, who created man, who created happiness, of man, who made Xerxes king, one king of many, one lord, of many lords. I am Xerxes the king, Great king of Kings, king of countries containing many kinds of people…”

Undoubtedly, their creators were inspired by the Assyrian tradition, given their resemblance to the bulls of Sargon Palace in Khorsabad.  Like their counterparts, these half-human, half-bulls were considered a mythical symbol of royalty, a reflection of royal power and a kind of guardian angel of the Great King and the Achaemenid Empire as a whole.[6]

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A lamassu is an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted as having a human’s head, a body of a bull or a lion, and bird’s wings. In art, lamassu were depicted as hybrids, with bodies of either winged bulls or lions and heads of human males. The motif of a winged animal with a human head is common to the Near East. Assyrian sculpture typically placed prominent pairs of lamassu at entrances in palaces, facing the street and also internal courtyards. They were represented as “double-aspect” figures on corners, in high relief. From the front they appear to stand, and from the side, walk, and in earlier versions have five legs, as is apparent when viewed obliquely. Lumasi do not generally appear as large figures in the low-relief schemes running round palace rooms, where winged genie figures are common, but they sometimes appear within narrative reliefs, apparently protecting the Assyrians

In the north end, we could see the royal guard, known as the Immortals,[7] as well as the parade in procession with horses and chariots while carrying the royal throne. The procession of gift-bearing delegations is one of the most spectacular elements of the staircase.  During this ceremony, 23 delegations from all satrapies bring offerings and gifts.

Beyond the emotion, grandeur and decadence of the site.

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A royal tomb.

I regrettably have to leave the ruins under a burning sun. Persepolis is undoubtedly breathtaking. It is a wonder of the ancient world. I think of all the other sites of Antiquity and Mesopotamia which weren’t as lucky as Persepolis, and suffered the ravages and damages of recent wars in Iraq and Syria. The Iranian government, however quite reluctantly, has protected its ancient and pre-Islamic history, other regimes and governments did not protect their sites. When I asked Iranians about Achaemenid treasures, stored in Louvre and other world museums, they told me that probably this Iranian past is better guarded there. It is hard to argue about it. Luckily, the great Persepolis adventure lasts, the site continues to reveal its secrets and to make its visitors travel in the glorious past of the Achaemenid Empire of ” the King of Kings …”.

[1]  Founded by Darius I in 518 B.C., Persepolis was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. It was built on an immense half-artificial, half-natural terrace, where the king of kings created an impressive palace complex inspired by Mesopotamian models.  The importance and quality of the monumental ruins make it a unique archaeological site. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/114/

[2]  Darius the Great was engraved “I am Darius the Great King, King of Kings, King of countries containing all kinds of men, King in this great earth far and wide, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenid, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, having Aryan lineage”in Naqsh-e Rostam.

[3] A lamassu is an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted as having a human’s head, a body of a bull or a lion, and bird’s wings. In art, lamassu were depicted as hybrids, with bodies of either winged bulls or lions and heads of human males. The motif of a winged animal with a human head is common to the Near East. Assyrian sculpture typically placed prominent pairs of lamassu at entrances in palaces, facing the street and also internal courtyards. They were represented as “double-aspect” figures on corners, in high relief. From the front they appear to stand, and from the side, walk, and in earlier versions have five legs, as is apparent when viewed obliquely. Lumasi do not generally appear as large figures in the low-relief schemes running round palace rooms, where winged genie figures are common, but they sometimes appear within narrative reliefs, apparently protecting the Assyrians

[4]  After having conquered the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great ordered the destruction of Persepolis in 330 B.C.  According to sources, the fire in the city was ignited to satisfy the whim of his concubine, Thais, while some, like Diodorus Siculus and Strabo considered it revenge for the abuses committed by Xerxes in Athens and in the Greek temples in 480 B.C. In any case, this fire put an end to a city, thereafter said to be frozen in time, with its ruins and its cuneiform tablets waiting two millennia to share their secrets.

[5] Borrowed from Assyrian iconography, the bulls were associated with the monstrous creatures of Chaos allied with Tiamat (the Goddess of salt water) in the Babylonian poem Enuma Elish, and represented a new allegory of the king’s dominance over the forces of evil.

[6] Each guardian of the door has a curly, geometric beard and curly hair – traits of the Great King himself – a crown or a cylindrical tiara decorated with two rosettes and sepals. These two imposing lamassi stood guard in the direction of the Path of Processions to ensure the palace was protected.

[7] The elite corps of which numbered 10’000 infantrymen and formed the royal guard

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The teaching of the putsch attempt of July 2016 in the Turkish schools: towards a new representation of the social in Turkey?

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The title page of the school prospectus 2017-2018 of the Turkish Ministry of Education
The title page of the school prospectus 2017-2018 of the Turkish Ministry of Education

By Camille de Felice

Translated by Anis Arioua

After few weeks of the event of July 15, 2016 during which a section of the Turkish army had sought to seize power by force, During the school year 2016-2017, students of high and elementary schools noticed that a special commemoration program has seen include in their curriculum a special commemoration program consisting of reviewing the putsch attempt and the popular mobilizations that followed. [1].

While the first week was almost exclusively devoted to activities about the « 15-July »[2] – often referred to as the « Legend of 15-July » or even « Victory of Democracy of 15-July »[3] in the speeches of the government and in the press, the first day of classes has nonetheless had the particularity, like A theater play, of being entirely determined by the Ministry of National Education. With a relatively small margin of maneuver, the teachers had to respect the precise directives that the ceremony dedicated to the 15-July held in all schools of Turkey must be almost identical : the discourse, written by Ankara, the theater plays reproducing the events of the putsch, exhibition with photos of the « heroes » of July-15, recitation of poems, and, finally, distribution of a brochure detailing the official version, validated by the regime, of this unavoidable event of the Turkish socio-political life today.

This first day of school set the tone for a whole year of celebrations that was extended until October 29, 2017. Among the organized activities, I can mention the writing of letters in which students could freely express their emotions and impressions, the visits the « places » of 15-July or namely squares and streets, occupied by the population who were mobilized by the government’s calls to defend and claim democracy, the visits to families of heroes and local « martyrs », making boards with citations, drawings and pictures of those who « made 15-July by sacrificing themselves for their country and to preserve democracy » as well as the production of short films, available on the internet site of the schools, including the Ministry of National Education.

During this year of activities, organized in the schools, the government produced a new brochure to be distributed in schools for the beginning of the 2017-2018 scholar year featuring schoolchildren’s works. In parallel with the publication of this special fascicle, the events of the 15th of July have begun to be integrated into the regular curriculum, since sub-chapters are devoted to this subject in the textbooks, in particular in social sciences, but also of Turkish and religion. Nevertheless, the integration of this subject in the schoolbooks has not been carried out homogeneously; only books, published after 2016 included it in the program. However, it is to be expected that gradually the 15-July will be included in other manuals, including those of history, in the coming years.

Eda Saygi 15-7 panosu (1)

In addition to the teaching in the schools, of this attempted putsch, certainly elevated to almost the rank of new year zero by several personalities close to or members of AKP, it is a new representation of the society that is promoted by this way. Indeed the school remains the ideal place, which each authority seeks to seize for ideological purposes in order to impose a representation of the social legitimizing the domination of a group on another one or even by others.

In this case, this involves writing a new history of contemporary Turkey. In fact, when writing history which is an inevitable process during the construction of historical facts, some elements are silenced, the forgetfulness, which is necessary to the foundation of the nationalist discourse according to the sociologist Anthony D. Smith. [4]

The historian Francois Audigier emphasizes the fact that through the disciplines of the social sciences, especially the triad history-geography-civic education- there is a will of the authority to achieve ideological objectives by not only seeking to communicate concepts and values to the next generation but also to transmit, in an underlying way, a shared representation of the given world, to place a consensual referent, acceptable for all. Because of the compulsory nature of the school for the entire population of a state, it remains a privileged place for the fight for symbolic power and the enforcement of a certain representation of the social. The lessons taught are de facto the dominant and orthodox theories of a society at a given epoch.

Eskisehir Burcu Ekinci 28.09.2017 ilk ders 15 temmuz

The introduction of references to July 15 in some schoolbooks is a part of a larger range of school reforms that can be traced back to 2012 and to many notable changes that were approved at that time. When changes occur at the program level, there are also variations in the selection paradigm of what will be taught which are taken into consideration. While retaining a majority of the essentials of the Turkish school traditions, there is a desire to establish the 15th of July as a fundamental date, constitutive not only of Turkish history but in a more transcendent way of its destiny and identity ; being comparable – and in fact compared – to the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, to the victory of Canakkale during the Great War or to the declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Education represents for all governments a space to invest in order to establish a certain representation of the social and so, in this case, some idea of Turkey. In this, Recep Tayyib Erdogan, the actual Turkish president, poses himself as a competitor of Mustafa Kemal, by looking to establish his own vision of Turkey but also the national and civic identities. His ambitious aim to overcome and supplant the legendary figure of Ataturk and to reconnect with the Ottoman tradition, that assigned to the territory of Anatolia and to Turkish people, a status of a regional leadership even of the Muslim world.

[1] DE FELICE Camille, L’enseignement du 15-Juillet dans les écoles turques : rupture ou continuité dans le processus de fabrique du citoyen républicain ? Observatoire de la Vie Politique Turque, décembre 2017

[2] 15 Temmuz Destanı

[3] 15 Temmuz Demokrasi Zaferi

[4] SMITH Anthony D., Nations and nationalisms in a Global Era, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1995

AYSOR, the forum for social innovation in Armenia

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By Nataliya Borys.

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On 3-6 February 2017, Yerevan became a hub of innovative ideas which flew in the air spreading creativity and EYP-spirit. AYSOR4Innovation NSC of EYP Armenia gathered 120 local and international participants under the theme of social entrepreneurship and innovation. “New ideas, project initiatives, hundreds of new friends and much more” organizers claimed. It sounded so impressive and innovative, so I decided to apply.

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As I have already participated in the EYP Armenia, I know that it is well organized, the debates are interesting, international delegates have time to enjoy the city and you just feel as at home! I was also curious to know more about the social innovation in Armenia and how the organizers are going to handle this topic. This topic is not obvious for Western countries, so how an Armenian NGO can handle it? How to make the Armenian youth to adhere to social innovation? What do they know about the social innovation and entrepreneurship?

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The AYSOR forum has the part of the classic EYP session, which includes resolutions, teambuilding and the General Assembly with voting procedure. Additionally, participants have to present the concept of the social entrepreneurship project, a start-up. This was the main difficulty of the AYSOR session. The start-up should have a name, a logo, values and a business plan. Moreover, participants should think about social innovation, sustainability and the financing of the project. Such ambitious plans for young Armenian participants!

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As organizers insisted, the main idea was to reuse the existing things to make it more sustainable and socially responsible. As the founder of EYP Armenia, Suzanna Shamakhyan rightly stated “We have maximization about new: innovation sometimes puts a shade to what is old, but innovation is using the old in a new way, that will be sustainable, and bring a long-term impact”. Caroline Steiner, Junior professional at the EU delegation to Armenia, who took part in the forum reiterated that she “sees Armenia as a very innovative country: it has great technological and innovative potential to achieve even more”. So to reuse or create a new project? So how did the participants handle the topic? Which innovative and original ideas they could bring?

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I must admit that the topics to handle were quite difficult and challenging. For instance how to handle the challenge to create a more favorable environment for the development and the extension of startups in Europe? It is quite a multi-level complicated topic, as participants should know about the political, legal and economic environment of the EU. Or in my committee, the topic was to ensure protection of whistleblowers in the EU while simultaneously maintaining protection of sensitive information. Whistleblow….what? Have you ever heart about whistleblowers? I am ashamed to admit that I discovered this word for the first time. In Switzerland financial institutions and banks are regularly shaken by the whistleblowing scandals; it is such a complicated topic, which includes so many aspects of the problem. It is a complicated topic for experienced specialists in European affairs, so for students, it is even more complicated.

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However, Armenian participants surprised me with their ideas, their capacity to think and act quickly and their creativity. They had so limited time to brainstorm, to find a logo, and to make a business project. These kinds of projects need a lot of time, some of the real star-ups take months to be realized, while in Yerevan inexperienced Armenians did a miracle being so concentrated.

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In the committee “legal affairs”, my committee, the debates were heated! We tried to use the Swiss time management; Swiss moo box announcement, however, it was difficult to stop the debates 😉 After the stormy brainstorming, we accepted the idea of Elizabeth, who came up with the whole project, called “Pen & Paper. The right to write!” This project is innovative for Armenia as it handles such as complex cultural and economic problem as the corruption and complaints. As participants explained to me, it is not in the Armenian culture to report about the cases of corruption or to report to your boss. Often it is considered as a shame to do it. Moreover population does not trust in a hierarchy and in the government to solve the problem, if not to mention the police. The project consists of the online platform, where the employees of any organization can report any mismanagement, corruption, illegality or wrongdoing anonymously. From one side the cultural problem of the “reporting” problem is solved, as it is anonymous. No more feeling ashamed to report on your boss or the corruption problem! From the other side, this project foresees the secure channel for reporting it further to the police. If no actions have been taken, this complaint is going to the police with the legal obligation to start the investigation.

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The real novelty came from the FEMM committee, the Committee on women’s rights and gender equality. They had a difficult task to handle the problem of women’s presence in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) domains, where women represent only 13% of working staff. How could they assure the gender equality at the heart of Horizon 2020 and in STEM? The FEMM committee traditionally fails to pass their resolutions. However this time the topic seems to be less political and emotionally charged. Nevertheless the discussions were heated and the debates passionate. The committee offered to promote “soft” gender quotas (hotly debated), legal protection, as well as the online platform about the discrimination within the workplace. Nothing shocking or outstanding, however these measures were virulently contested.

The committee made a quite conservative, according to the European standards, project about women making the home-made food, called “Women in the kitchen”. The main idea was to involve the housewives in the project by making them to prepare the home-made food, done exclusively from local and organic ingredients, which is sold after in the lunch-boxes. Thus women with small children or elder parents can also work and be paid. Some of the participants protested that women’s anticipation is not in the kitchen. Yes, I agree, but to my mind, it is always better for women to work and to have their own revenue than locking them at home. Probably this project is not a perfect project for women’s emancipation, but it allows women to combine work at home, the care for small children and some kind of emancipation. So I can only say big “Yes” to this project. And guess what? A miracle happened! The resolution and the project passed. Passed! Ok, it was not the crushing victory, but a big step for discussions.

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Another novelty for Armenia was the project (2 projects!) related to the waste recycling. All these projects offered innovative ways to recycle the waste in order to improve the environmental condition within the country, as well as to give job opportunities for the unemployed persons. One of the committees offered even to make the refugees work on recycling the waste. It seems to be a cultural problem in the country toward the litter recycling and working at this job. Is it shameful to recycle its own waste?

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In the conclusion, I can say that the AYSOR forum was quite intense but productive in terms of ideas and conclusions. It is not only about some abstract ideas and resolutions about Europe, I can understand that somehow it can be difficult to debate if you have never been to Europe. However participants had a solid knowledge of European legislation and structure. Moreover, they came up with concrete projects, designed for Armenia, with the idea to include the socially excluded population and handle the urgent problems of the Armenian society: corruption, women’s rights, education and the waste-management. I was really impressed and it was also revitalizing to see young Armenians to be fully involved in the debates, as well as to believe in Europe and European values. During the times of Eurosceptics in Europe, this Armenian energy and their trust in Europe is very refreshing and gratifying. I hope that this experience will be beneficial for all participants, and we all will become active citizens and one day, (who knows?), will change something in this world, to contribute to the society in order to make it a more just and more socially responsible. Thanks to AYSOR forum and the EYP Armenia to give the opportunity to youngsters to do it.

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Armenian youth asks for changes. Some personal impressions after AYSOR’s session.

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16463266_1292449847483604_1326912343732238444_oBy Nataliya Borys.

Eternal friendship of Russian and Ukrainian peoples.

When I was accepted to participate in the AYSOR session in Yerevan,[1] Armenia, I was truly excited by meeting old friends, but in the same time, I apprehended the political debates about Ukraine, Crimea, Russia, Putin and all these conversations that I faced few years ago in the full crisis of Crimea, or exactly 3 years ago.

When in 2014 I came to Armenia for the first time, I arrived to Georgia and took a taxi to Yerevan. During the long ride from Tbilisi to Yerevan, while contemplating the beautiful scenery, I also had a long conversation, or rather the monologue by the taxi-driver, who was happy to debate the issue of Russia and Ukraine with me. I listened for long hours about the “eternal friendship of Russian and Ukrainian peoples” and about “Slavic brothers”. When I tried to sleep a bit, other passengers fueled the debates adding more to an old Soviet myth about the “eternal brothers, Russians and Ukrainians”. Another day, another taxi in Yerevan, and the same discussion about “eternal friendship of Russian and Ukrainian nations”. It seemed that nobody supported Ukraine. Even during the EYP session,[2] the participants gladly agreed and made a resolution that Crimea is the part of Russia against the virulent protestations of Ukrainian participants.

Thus I was morally ready in 2017 to listen about “eternal friendship of Russian and Ukrainian nations” and to agree with it in order to get rid of this conversation. Half sleepy in the taxi driving from the airport, I was sincerely surprised by the taxi-driver, who uncovered my Ukrainian accent, and gladly made a passionate speech against Putin “Go ahead Ukrainians, f…Putin and all this mafia in the Kremlin”. What?! Am I in Armenia? Can’t believe it. What’s about the “eternal friendship”? Another day, another taxi, and another surprise. A taxi-driver once again gladly debated about the war in Ukraine and even though admitting that we shouldn’t fight against “brothers”, concluded that the war was created by Putin and completely useless.

Am I in Armenia? The same Armenia?

Eco-friendly and smoking free spots in Yerevan.

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The Green Bean non-smoking coffee bar in Erevan.

During my last visit to Armenia, I discovered that all public places were smoking places. There was no way to avoid the smoke in Yerevan, no difference if you‘re a pregnant woman or a child, you always in a smoke. Once I dropped into the hairdresser’s shop and discovered that everyone was in a thick fog, my smoke-stinking hair became more smoke-saturated. Only the EYP was a non-smoking area when we could breathe a bit. After few days, I started to suffocate.

I really feared the smoke and what a surprise! I discovered new non-smoking places in Yerevan. Some cafés offered non-smoking places and some of them, particularly the Green Bean coffee shop, were completely smoking-free. And do you know what? These places were full! Moreover, the hostel was also the smoke-free place. Such a nice surprise!

Few years ago, during the EYP session we debated about the ecological topic, something relating to the traffic problem and the alternative to cars in Armenia. Being in the ecological committee means to be in “loser’s” committee when you fail to accept your ideas to others. We tried to discuss the topic, but Armenian participants did not want to listen to. It seems that only the idea to have a bike was extremely hilarious for Armenians. Is it a joke? The car and only the car. It was my another surprise to discover that participants not only to listen to some ecological ideas, but they also tried to find solutions to ecological issues. Such a victory! A bike is not anymore considered to be the loser’s vehicle! Hurrah!

defaultMoreover, the Green Bean coffee shop is Armenian-based, eco-friendly green café where you can enjoy a real good coffee without smoke, gluten-free cakes and salads. Everything is so delicious. On its walls, there are posters about green Yerevan, items made in Armenia, waste-sorting and other things that seem to be alien in Yerevan just few years ago. Somehow it became a reality in Yerevan. It is another small victory. It is a small victory for Yerevan to have non-smoking places and it reflects the changes in the Armenian society. It becomes acceptable not to tolerate the smoking places. I can breathe!

Women in the kitchen.

d181d0bad180d0b8d0bdd188d0bed182-13-02-2017-193345-bmpAnother sensitive topic and another committee, who fails every time, it is the FEMM committee and women’s question. After bikes and dogs, women’s committee is a kind of another “losers” committee. Delegates feel often upset to be in this committee, as their resolutions seldom pass, especially if it is about sensitive topics, such as the burqa, women’s rights, Muslim women or refugees. In 2017 delegates in the committee of FEMM were excited about the topic but did not really believe in their success. If even the officials do not believe in it, so what’s about ordinary participants?

When the delegates presented very careful resolutions (it was all about “suggesting”, “encouraging” and “trying”) I was still pessimistic about the issue. They made a quite conservative, according to the European standards, the project about housewives making the home-made food, called “Women in the kitchen”. In another place, I would probably protest, but it was already a big step and a bald project for Armenia. I made a lot of noise to encourage the committee. And guess what? Another miracle happened! The resolution and the project passed. Passed! Ok, it was not the crushing victory, some of the participants were proud to vote against it. Another audacious idea from the committee was to promote the paternity leave. It was something that seemed to be the most alien thing for most of Armenian participants.

d181d0bad180d0b8d0bdd188d0bed182-13-02-2017-194711-bmpDiscussing women’s rights and its place in the society was another small victory in the Armenian society. The topic and the committee which fails to be discussed got its first victory. Viva women’s rights!

Small but perceptible changes.

Small but perceptible changes occurred in the Armenian society among youth, and not only. Of course, I was in Yerevan, in the capital, among “progressive” youth, members of EYP, who are English-speakers, kind of new elite of the country. But there were also taxi-drivers, talks in the hostel, in the museums, in the coffee shops and all other random encounters. Somehow this situation reminds me Ukraine before Maidan, the youth, who aspires for changes and for more just, equality and peaceful society, with European values of tolerance, openness and the rule of law.

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Another non-smoking place in Yerevan.

Probably these coffee shops, non-smoking places and talks about women’s rights in Yerevan can be seen anecdotic comparing to the whole country, however for me, they are the indicator of the slow, but steady changes in the Armenian society.

Russia and Putin lost it’s the most fervent supporters in Armenia. No more passionate speeches about eternal friendship among “Slavic” nations and “everything but not the war”. The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) neither brought peace nor prosperity in the country. Prices are high comparing to neighboring countries. The society remains highly corrupted and there are no jobs for young Armenians. Many Armenians still go to Russia to work. The government overuses the pretext of the conflict with neighbouring countries to blame everything on it and not to conduct reforms (as in Ukraine). The country seems to be locked in the political and economic deadlock.

The youngsters understand this deadlock and seem to be trapped in this situation. They understand that there is no other alternative for the European Union and for the rule of law. They are quite supportive of Ukraine, who dared to challenge Putin. However it is not easy to be surrounded by highly nationalistic, aggressive and powerful neighbours, thus there is no other political choice for such a small country as Armenia.

Nobody expected the Ukrainian Maidan to happen. While Ukrainian political corrupted class arranged the political deal with both Russia and the EU, Ukrainian youth lived its own life: travelling and studying around the world, chatting on the internet, launched new projects. The ignorance of the Ukrainian youth’s aspirations and its steady Europeanization was fatal to the regime of Yanukovych[3].

The similar changes occur in Armenia. The political class and the youth live quite different lives. The Armenian youth aspires to changes: for a more just society, the state of law, for jobs and for having a possibility to choose for their lives. I am quite optimistic, if even the political and economic situation seems not to develop, the youth of Armenia has already affirmed its choices and voiced loudly their dissatisfaction.

[1] AYSOR means Activate Youth for sustainability: obtaining & rebuilding. On 3-6 February 2017 Yerevan became a hub of innovative ideas which flew in the air spreading creativity and EYP-spirit. AYSOR4Innovation NSC of EYP Armenia gathered 120 local and international participants under the theme of social entrepreneurship and innovation. Billions of new ideas, thousands of project initiatives, hundreds of new friends and much more.

[2] EYP (European Youth Parliament) in Armenia. See more http://eyparmenia.org/?s=AYSOR

[3] Former Ukrainian president, who fled to Russia after the Maidan.

The 2016 Turkish coup d’état attempt: A first-hand account

Posted on

By Taner Toraman

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Source: https://krytyka.com/sites/krytyka/files/styles/article_image/public/images/opinions/coup-democracy_wins_-_pano1en12rnks3_0.jpg?itok=KeBnafqF

On the night of July 15, 2016 parts of the Turkish Armed Forces attempted to overthrow Turkey’s AKP government. While the coup d’état failed and many questions about it linger to this day, its consequences were enormous and continue to shape Turkish politics.

This is an account of that fateful Friday night by someone who happened to fly to Istanbul during the coup d’état. The person who recounted his experiences wishes to remain anonymous.

The flight

 “I had decided to fly from Switzerland to Istanbul on the 15th of July 2016 to oversee the construction of our house there”

Before I left Switzerland, I hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary, with one exception: a banker, friend of mine had heard that I was leaving for Turkey on that day. He wrote me that he had an “intuition” and that I should leave the Istanbul Atatürk Airport immediately on arrival and stay clear of any crowds I might encounter.

The first sign that something unusual was going on happened shortly before touchdown in Istanbul. I’ve flown certainly more than 100 times to Turkey. But this was the first time that our airplane suddenly accelerated and started climbing again when we were only minutes away from landing. When the aircraft aborted the landing, we were so close to the ground that we could clearly see the houses, cars and people of Büyükçekmece. Büyükçekmece is already part of Istanbul, the last district that an aircraft coming from Switzerland overflies before landing at Atatürk International Airport.

Atatürk Intl. Airport

After gaining altitude again, the aircraft veered off towards the Sea of Marmara, over which we were flying a holding pattern for about 15 minutes. This was very strange. Even if it’s peak season, the planes are never put on a holding pattern after having begun the final approach. Normally, that happens much earlier. We finally landed at around 7PM local time.

After the landing, another strange thing happened. After disembarking the aircraft, we had to get on the airport bus. But I had never been on an airport bus that drove around for such a long time on the airport grounds only to get to the arrival terminal. The route the bus took was completely different from the usual one.

At that moment, I thought that these strange occurrences could be explained with the charter flight, which I had booked for the first time to fly to Istanbul. Maybe they were doing things differently. But then we also had to wait unusually long to claim our baggage. I finally left the terminal and took the shuttle bus that connects the airport to Taksim Square, one of the hubs on the European side of Istanbul. Shortly before eight o’clock, the bus departed from the airport.

Jet Coup

The coup

When I got to Taksim Square, I saw people who were singing and playing music. It was almost a festival. There were a lot of people standing by and watching. It was a typical display of the Gezi Park spirit on a Friday evening. The musicians were still the same Gezi Park activists from 2013. There were several groups who were playing music in different languages. There was one group with maybe 50 or 60 spectators and several meters further there was already another music group. It was half past nine at this point.

Then I took the Metro from Taksim Square to Sarıyer, a district on the European coast of the Bosporus. A lot of incidents related to the coup d’état were already taking place at that moment, but because I was in the Metro I didn’t see much of that. In the hotel in which I stayed everything was as usual, there was no palpable difference from the previous times I had checked in there. I laid down for a while in my hotel room because I had a slight headache from the flight. After resting, I wanted to leave the hotel to eat something but I fell asleep.

Sariyer
Sariyer district

At half past eleven I woke up from a phone call. A relative asked me where I were, if everything were alright, if I were well. She told me that a “darbe” (coup d’état) probably had taken place. I was still so drowsy at first that I thought she was talking about a “deprem” (earthquake) instead of “darbe”.

Then I saw that my wife, who had not come with me to Turkey, had tried to call me several times while I was asleep, so I called back. She told me that live broadcasts on TV were showing that a putsch was underway in Turkey and that she was worried about me.

She also told me that when she had first heard of the putsch, she was on a visit of relatives. The brother of one of those relatives was living close to the MIT headquarters (the Turkish intelligence organization) in Ankara. He had sent them videos he had recorded, which my wife forwarded to me via WhatsApp. The videos showed helicopters shooting into buildings, apparently belonging to the MIT. I deleted that footage later, in case that I would end up in a security check somewhere. I didn’t want the security forces to think that I was trying to smuggle something out of the country.

Rumelikavağı Boğaziçi İstanbul

After the phone calls, I decided to leave the hotel and go outside because I wanted to see what was going on. It was shortly after midnight.

While I was leaving the hotel, nobody at the reception said anything. The reception was occupied but the man there didn’t speak with me. It was very calm in the hotel, there was no one to be seen.

The hotel I was staying in was in Büyükdere, a neighbourhood close to Sarıyer. I walked down to the main street. That’s where all the restaurants and cafés are. On a typical Friday night, these places are bustling with activity. Now however, I barely saw a car or a person. Everything seemed deserted.

But then I came across an ATM and spotted a crowd. There were about thirty people who were withdrawing money. It seemed that they were afraid that they wouldn’t be able to access their savings anymore because of the coup d’état.

Then I saw three or four of these little grocery shops, which are very typical for Turkey. The gates of these grocery shops were rolled down halfway. They were raised just high enough so people could enter the shops when they crouched. They probably wanted to stock up on necessities. From hearsay, I knew that it is a warning sign in Turkey, when people are starting to withdraw money and buy supplies. They knew that a crisis was imminent. When I saw these people doing that, I knew that things were serious. There were two important streets in the area. One was the main street with the cafés, shops and the banks. And the other was the coastal road that runs parallel to the Bosporus. I walked down to that road at the waterfront. That’s usually a very busy road, even at midnight. Now however, there wasn’t a single vehicle to be seen.

I wanted to take this road and walk to our house, which we were building. I guess the distance I had to walk was about three or four kilometres.

While I was walking towards our house, a fighter jet flew over the area at a very low altitude. It was very confusing, because you couldn’t locate the fighter jet. There was just a very loud noise coming simultaneously from all directions. It suddenly changed when the jet stopped flying over the waters of the Bosporus and started to fly over land. Now, the noise was reverberated by all the buildings.

I soon reached the base of the coast guard in the next neighbourhood. The Regional Command of the Turkish Coast Guard for the Bosporus is stationed in Çayirbasi. They usually control the ships which are traversing the Bosporus. Now the base seemed deserted. In fact, I had not seen a single representative of the state so far. No coast guard, no military, no police.

At this point, I decided to return to the hotel, since there was nobody on the streets and nobody knew where I was. What’s more, I didn’t know to whom the fighter jet belonged to that had overflown the area. Was it an aircraft belonging to the group that supported the coup d’état? Was it flying here to show the military’s strength and presence? To demonstrate that the military had taken control of the government?

On the way back, I wanted to check out three or four cafés in Büyükdere, which were normally frequented by social democrats. I wanted to drop by to see if anybody was there, what they were doing and if everything was ok. Usually, you would have a hard time finding a place to sit in these cafés. Women and men visit these cafés, play carts and stuff like that. It’s a place where people with a certain way of life meet. When I reached the cafés, they were almost empty. I saw maybe five or ten people, who weren’t staying outside but were playing cards inside. There was a TV running, which they were watching while they were playing. I have a friend who is living there and I thought that he might be in the café, but when I couldn’t spot him amongst the guests, I continued my way back to the hotel. It’s also not the best moment to approach these people who have never met you before. They can’t really be sure who you are or what you might be up to. I returned to the hotel because I wanted to follow the events on TV and talk to people in Switzerland. That way I could get much more information.

When I was back at the hotel, it was after one o’clock. I was watching TV and trying to figure out what was happening. On the TV, I saw that at half past eight, pro-coup soldiers had stormed the Atatürk International Airport with tanks. That had taken place about half an hour after I had left the airport. And then I also saw that at half past nine one of the bridges over the Bosporus had been occupied by the military. That footage was shown time and time again.

At that time, several politicians appeared on TV. Ahmet Davutoğlu (then Prime Minister of Turkey) and Abdulla Gül (former President of Turkey) were talking. Abdullah Gül was speaking very aggressively and pugnaciously, which was not his style at all. But what struck me the most was that even though each of them called from a different place, their message was still the same, almost as if it had been agreed upon in advance: That the people should protect and support the government. They were saying that the people should stand up for the government and take to the streets. The government’s demand to take to the streets seemed very strange to me. On the TV you could see that the pro-coup faction had deployed heavy weaponry. And the government was sending unarmed civilians to counter them? That didn’t make sense to me.

Beginning at about two o’clock, the muezzin of every mosque started to recite the call to prayer. And then they started to spread the same message as on the TV: That the people should protect their government and that anyone who was trying to harm the government would be severely punished. I thought that this was very unusual. You weren’t hearing appeals against violence from the minarets, instead they were asking the people to fight.

I stayed awake until six o’clock in the morning and was writing and talking with people in Switzerland. Then I tried to get some sleep.

The aftermath

When I woke up at nine o’clock, the news was reporting how many people working in the state institutions had been arrested. The number they were giving was 3000 people. And apparently those 3000 people weren’t directly involved in the coup d’état but rather alleged supporters. I was wondering how they could identify this quickly who belonged to which side in that chaotic night, let alone apprehend them.

After eating breakfast, I wanted to know what had happened to our house under construction. Outside, everything was still very calm. There wasn’t a single taxi, urban bus or minibus operating. The streets of Istanbul are usually full of these.

Since there was no public transportation available, I had to walk to our house again. On the way, I passed once again the base of the coast guard and then the local police station. There was still nobody around. Only the long urban buses were standing in front of the entrance of the police station. At first, I thought that they were there to bring soldiers quickly from one place to another. Later we learned that they were placed there for the protection of the police buildings. That way, the tanks of the pro-coup faction wouldn’t be able to attack the police as easily. The police were protecting themselves but I didn’t see any protection for the civilians.

But when you did come across some security forces, you didn’t even know on which side they were on. During the whole night, we had heard of the police, army and intelligence service units that were fighting for pro-coup faction. But nobody knew how strong they really were and if some remnants were still operating.

When I reached the construction site of our house, everything was silent. Only one carpenter was working, who was living nearby. The others couldn’t come to work because there were still road blocks in the city. At that time, we could also still hear the mosques every twenty minutes with the same message as during the night.

At noon, the news was becoming increasingly absurd. Using your common sense, you couldn’t possibly reach the same conclusions as the ones the news were broadcasting at that moment. Suddenly the once venerated Fethullah Gülen had become the terrorist Fetö. And even though the coup d’état had completely failed, the news was trying to make it look like as if the entire military, economic and judicial power of Turkey had been controlled by Fethullah Gülen before the putsch.

Then motorcades started to appear in the streets. At first, there were only a few cars who were part of it, maybe five or six. But over the course of the next two days, these motorcades became longer and longer. And vehicles that were belonging to the state became part of these motorcades as well: The garbage trucks and trucks of the municipalities and so on. A lot of people with Turkish flags were on top of these vehicles.

Before the coup, one didn’t have the impression that the supporters of the AKP liked the Turkish flag too much. But suddenly, all these people were flaunting the Turkish flag on their motorcade. And they were playing military marches from the Ottoman Empire. They were screaming “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the greatest) as well.

On Saturday evening, there was an incident in Büyükdere, at the cafés that were frequented by the social democrats. The people on the motorcades and the visitors of the cafés got into an argument. The social democrats told the supporters of the government that they should refrain from deliberately driving in “their area”. They wouldn’t accept their show of force.

And then you could also see how the nationalist party (MHP) became part of these motorcades. Their nationalistic symbols became more and more visible. On the first day after the coup d’état, the leader of the nationalistic party had assured the government their support. And one could see how the both parties were trying to form an alliance. But there were also people who were demonstrating exclusively for democracy and liberty.

That was the state of affairs, when I returned to Switzerland, after having made sure that the construction of our house was going well.”

 

The impossible mission of infiltrating the Spanish border in four days.

Posted on Updated on

By Valentina San Martin, translated by Cécile Guiraud

A successful arrival

Amid tensions between Brussels and Rabat[1], it is within a few days that more than 850 African migrants succeeded to reach the Spanish enclave Ceuta from Morocco, pushing through the border fences to do so.

On February 20th, 2017, by 3:30 am, around 600 sub-Saharan migrants tried to enter in Ceuta and “359 succeeded”, claimed the enclave prefecture in a statement.

After breaking the doorways with shears and hammers, they reached the European Union. According to a prefecture spokesperson, these events had already taken place “in the same area, which is difficult to monitor, on February 17th, 2017, where 498 migrants succeeded to enter in the territory at the same spot”.

Rabat-Brussels dispute.

Since Rabat and Brussels have loosened their ties, the country hinted that they could relax the control they have on migrants who, once on the Spanish soil, can seek asylum and get settled in the EU. A dispute does exist between Morocco and the EU regarding the interpretation given to a free-trade agreement on farm and fishing products. In an arbitration given at the end of January, the European Court of Justice stated that the agreement did not apply to Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that is now controlled by Rabat. The trade exchanges between Morocco and some European countries are therefore being subject to postponement[2].

On February 6th, 2017, the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture had warned Europe that it was getting exposed to “real risk of spate in the migratory tides”[3].

The good relationship between Spain and Morocco have not been altered

The head of the Spanish government, Mariano Rajoy, has however considered that Morocco had done everything possible to restrain this new wave of refugees. After long journeys, they are thousands to wait in Morocco for the opportunity to push through the fences and to enter in Ceuta or Melilla.

“The Moroccan security officials have put all their efforts together et and I am grateful to them” he said in a press conference in Malaga, on the southern coast of Spain. “What happens is that there are difficult battles” he followed, describing as “wonderful” the collaboration with Morocco and claiming that the relationship between the two countries had never been better[4].

What next?

During the night, the local news El Faro de Ceuta was able to film dozens of young Africans in the streets of Ceuta. They danced with joy and kissed the ground of the Spanish enclave crying “Thank you, God” or “I am in Europe!”.

According to Isabel Brasero, spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ceuta, there haven’t been any serious casualties among them. “We have transferred eleven people to the hospital, eight needed stitches and three had to get a scan”, she said. According to the authorities, two civil guards and one immigrant were attended for more serious wounds.

The temporary accommodation centre for migrants is overflowed by asylum applications: “we have around 1400 people in the centre for a reception capacity of 512”, explained the prefecture’s spokesperson.

To offer them a shelter, the spokesperson has asked for lots of tents and a field kitchen, which should be installed on the parking of the neighbouring horse-riding centre. The NGO has also given to each migrant a kit with new clothes, shoes, and blankets while it was rainy and windy.

Nevertheless, it could then be more complicated. The Ceuta enclave is, with Melilla, the only land border between the African continent and the European Union. In these difficult times where nationalist right-wing European party is gaining popularity, a more thorough monitoring could soon be implemented.

While the migratory flux is often assimilated with long and dangerous journeys and a difficult arrival, the disembarkation of February was rather surprising. The international relations remained intact, no one died or was seriously wounded. The event was followed by some singing once arrived on the European land: the crossing went extraordinary well. But what about the international community? Could this sudden arrival frighten a few Europeans? We’ll see. In the meantime, the migratory mission that some wish it were impossible may have a breach, and it is Ceuta.

[1] Claimed by Morocco, the enclave is, with Melilla, the only land border existing between the African continent and the EU. It is a transit point for illegal migratory flux coming from sub‑Saharan Africa and going to Maghreb.  Since the mid-2000s, eight km long of barred double-fencing.

[2] Learn more on this issue on https://www.letemps.ch/monde/2017/02/20/pres-300-migrants-ont-force-frontiere-ceuta; http://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/2017/02/06/maroc-union-europeenne_n_14631432.html (both in French)

[3] http://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/2017/02/06/maroc-union-europeenne_n_14631432.html (in French)

[4] https://www.lorientlejour.com/article/1036261/plus-de-850-clandestins-forcent-la-frontiere-de-ceuta-en-4-jours.html (in French)

Our world simply needs humanity.

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GIMUN 17 (1)
The 18th Geneva International Model United Nations Annual Conference.

By Mawuli Affognon.

This is my last blog post for the 18th Geneva International Model United Nations Annual Conference. I would just like to let you know. I hate writing in the first person. I don’t like talking much about my life not because I don’t think it’s that interesting, but that’s how it is. From 25th to 31st March 2017, I watched young people from all around the world debate a variety of topics. I saw conviction, emotions and bursts of laughter. I worked with ambitious young people; worried about their image and under pressure to be successful in life. It was the first time that I’d spent a few days in Geneva. It’s often just a transit city for other destinations around the world. This Swiss city is beautiful, particularly because of its buildings, but above all these people that come from all seven continents. Over the course of the week, the gaze of the woman who was serving the NATURA menu at the restaurant has intrigued me. I would have liked to have asked her opinion on the issues that our delegates have been discussing over the last six days. Does she have an opinion on international politics?

GIMUN 17 (2)

Within these beautiful institutions with its impressive walls, sometimes it is easy to forget about the little cogs in the big wheel. The woman who wakes up early in the morning to clean, the gardener who looks after the flowers or the cook behind stoves that light up to the appetite of the undeterred men and women. I drank a lot of coffee to keep up. I arrived in Geneva on the evening of 24 March from Paris, where I had participated in UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week on behalf of KEKELI LAB based in Togo. In other words, I was tired when I arrived in the city of the Jet d’Eau. But I wanted to do this. I have to admit that I didn’t drink just coffee; vanilla chocolate and vanilla milk were also favourites of mine. I confess. I had the honour of meeting the lady who was in charge of the big coffee machine. Yes, it was an immense honour to meet the person that made magic possible. I think that our world would be more peaceful if we had the humility to observe and to give a voice to those who often do not have one. I’m going to stop there so I don’t miss my train to Lausanne.

In a few years’ time, I hope the young people who had simulated UN negotiations will not lose their innocence, their faith in humanity and their desire for a better world. Many of them will represent governments, multi-nations, powerful lobbyist groups over the coming years, and I hope they don’t succumb to the animal face of humanity. I hope that they don’t succumb to the desire for destruction and the greed that lives in each one of us. As for me, I’ll be heading back to my life as an African student in Europe. Like our world, I think I need love and to smile.

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Long live GIMUN! May peace reign over our families in the regions of the world where the greed for surplus value and the murderous madness of trigger-happy madmen reside.