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There is a Need for More Concrete Steps for Collective Living Interview with Dr. Mine Yıldırım

Could you tell us a little about the work your organisation does in the field?
The Freedom of Belief Initiative originated from my individual field of study. While I was doing conducting my doctoral studies on the collective dimension of freedom of religion and belief, I saw that there was no NGO advocating freedom of religion and belief for everyone. At that time, Mazlumder had was doing some work; it was also a faith-based formation but does not continue to work in this area constantly.

Organisations working in the field of human rights were not interested in freedom of religion and faith. I started by setting up my own online blog; I wanted to create a resource that has news, reports, agreements, etc. that interest everyone. My ideas on monitoring and reporting have advanced, establishing an NGO as an individual is, of course, difficult. So, instead of establishing anything, I preferred to be included in an existing NGO with this project idea. I met the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and we created this project. There are past studies focusing on minority rights; I personally find it more helpful to advocate for freedom of belief in the scope of human rights for the case of Turkey. Each right which is defended as a minority right can also be defended as a human right. We publish reports in Turkish and English; we also include rights that are crosscutting right the freedom of religion or belief, right to education and the right to property. We advocate based on reporting. We are also a part of international monitoring mechanisms such as the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe monitoring the execution of ECtHR judgments, the UN, Universal Periodic Monitoring Process… In fact, our reports are a resource for many organisations. From time to time, we also try to create a dialogue platform that brings different groups together.

What does the concept of “multiculturalism” mean to you?
There are many components making up culture, and it makes me think that a multidimensional framework should be created so that they can exist and develop freely. In general, we can say that it multiculturalism is an inevitable phenomenon in our age. Because we live in many different cultures and the world is moving towards a higher level of multiculturalism. Migration, the constant movement of people… If we look at the diversity of beliefs, people’s beliefs can change without any physical movement. 

What does the expression “living together” mean for you?
I think this is something a little more difficult… Because multiculturalism can happen naturally, but we may not interact with each other. But life together also implies interaction. Communication between different groups requires respect for each other. For this, there must be certain rules. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that it was not against the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) for the French court to have convicted a woman who covered her face in a case originating from France, and this was based on the rules of living together. But we haven’t yet solved the issue about by whom, according to what, how and how these rules should be established. In order for coexistence to exist, firstly  “the individual” must exist… Therefore, those individuals must be able to protect some of their rights; for example, some positive measures can be taken for this. As a country, we are lacking in this regard. The right to education in the mother tongue and the right to train their own religious leaders are a few examples which come to mind. There are both restrictions and no financial resources to realise these rights.

What are the barriers preventing different identities living together? What are the main problems? Is it possible to categorise these barriers? (politically based, expression based, etc.)
Not knowing each other, and having prejudices based on this. From time to time, there are groups and individuals who think that some groups think that they are rule-makers, have the right to set rules by standing at a higher position. Another important problem is that, the human rights standards that should be based on these issues are not known and/or enforced by society or public officials.

What are some of the cultures and identity groups in the field/city in which you are active?
Groups of faith and ethnic groups. Sunni Muslims, Christians, Jewish, Bahais, Alawis, Atheists… Kurds, Turks, Armenians, Jews…

What are some of the cultures and identity groups in the field/city in which you are active?
The Anatolian Culture Association, the Hafıza Association, the Hrant Dink Foundation, Centre for Public Policy and Democracy Studies (PODEM), Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), Association for Monitoring Equal Rights, Human Rights Association (IHD), History Foundation. 

What are the conflicts and discrimination aspects which are specific to identities? Could you categorise these? (Politically based, expression-based, etc.)
In my own field of activity, areas where identity-based discrimination occurred in terms of access to rights can be listed as freedom of employment, access to justice, education and religion or faith. I think the basis of this discrimination lies in the meaning predominantly attributed to the identity of religion or faith – the area of identity that is thought to conflict with national interests is limited. This limitation manifests itself in the limitation of access to basic human rights. The elements that sustain this perception of conflict are basically repeated narratives in the context of education, media and political discourse on history, religion, identity. Transformation areas or which will reverse them, can be realised by coming together. On the other hand, change by means of legislation is also possible. In Turkey, both should be possible.

Regarding the discrimination which identities and culture groups are subject to, are there any areas open to cooperation with the aim of transformation and acting efficiently? What would be your suggestions?

I do not think there is an area that can be quickly converted, as many of them depend on political will… But I have been thinking of municipalities recently. Many municipalities can conduct studies how to eliminate discrimination on access to rights and services and steps can be taken in a quicker manner. And if the Ministry of National Education gives support, then also education.

What should be the objectives of civil society organisations for the steps to be taken?
The first thing that comes to mind is to identify the problem areas. We have to answer the question of what needs to be done in more concrete manner, specifically in what areas, not general impressions. In addition, they can think of good practices and offer alternative solutions. They can inform public officials who are open to communication. First of all, I think that people in and around civil society organisations can be informed; I sometimes think that they themselves do not know enough about the issues.

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