“Walk of Truth is the result of the drive of Tasoula Hadjitofi, an extraordinary woman and a good friend. I first met Tasoula when she came to me for Turkish lessons. After a while, we became interested in each other’s background and when, six months later, the lessons were behind us, the friendship remained”
That meeting was really very special because we originated from nations where people lived on different sides of a dividing line: a gap that, for centuries, had separated and carved deep grooves in people’s lives. Initially, our contact did not go smoothly; there was complete lack of trust. For Tasoula, I was the ‘enemy’. She was a passionate activist for the Cypriot cause. I had studied Turkish and was well informed about the history and background of my own country. That sometimes led to some rather heated discussions because neither of us was the type to shy away from confrontation. Through it all, however, we learned to value and respect each other as people.
We began to go for a walk every Sunday morning which grew to a habit. Over time, other friends joined us, forming an international group. They were from Turkey, Cyprus and Greece. During these walks we talked about everything, from politics, culture and philosophy to more personal matters. Precisely because people were from very different backgrounds, clashes could not always be avoided but, because they occurred in an atmosphere of mutual respect, we even had fun with them. Whatever subject came up, we always went deeper into it. And the wonderful thing was, that the bond between us became even stronger. We overrode religious and political divisions and found each other through sharing similar thoughts on the value of culture to humanity. There was much that divided us, but there was even more that united us. This awareness is the very basis of Walk of Truth.
I learned a lot from the conversations with Tasoula. I was well informed about the history of Turkey, but I had very little knowledge of Cyprus. I was curious, so I listened. It was the first time that I heard ‘the other side’ of the story, and it was the very personal aspect of the history that so deeply touched me. For that very reason, I felt the freedom to speak of my own life’s experiences, making it possible for a true friendship to grow between us.
The most important insight I gained from these talks is that the personal story is much more powerful than the big story. One person’s history can clarify so much and create a serious counterbalance against political reality. It can bring things into perspective whereby your perception of life and the world can change. I’m not saying that, previously, I had no notion about the other side of the story, but the talks with Tasoula, gave it a face and, consequently, I was able to see things in a different light. I became more sensitive to the human aspect rather than the political. In the past I could sometimes express strong opinions regarding the Ottoman history, relying on scholarly viewpoints that I perceived as true, objective and important. After those conversations with Tasoula, however, I thought: ‘Those general theories based on abstract analysis are not what it’s actually about. It’s about the story; the people’s story.’
Walk of Truth’s aim is to use culture as a bridge between people. I think that’s wonderful. Because people are vulnerable when it comes to their culture, it is often used as a weapon in situations of conflict. The destruction of churches or religious objects is a deliberate act of aggression that affects a nation at its core. But, precisely because culture is important to people, in conflict areas it can also be the common denominator: a link that connects us to one another. Walk of Truth turns a weakness into a strength, and that is what makes this organisation so special.
Knowledge of each other’s culture is the first step towards reconciliation. Knowledge leads to understanding and respect for each other’s symbols; it lays down the basis for meeting and participating in dialogue. People from different cultures come together when they’re able to discuss what for them is precious and indispensable. Dialogue plays a crucial part in Walk of Truth. Dialogue is conducted from a point of self-knowledge and healthy self-esteem. Before you’re able to reach out to the other, it’s important to know who you are. I have spent twenty years learning about my culture. I am rooted in that culture. That’s what I believe in; it’s what makes me strong. And from that position, I am genuinely interested in the Dutch culture. Respect for your own culture forms the basis for respecting somebody else’s culture – perhaps not the easiest path, but certainly the right one.
I see Walk of Truth as an interesting opportunity to bring people together. It is an idealistic response to, the often harsh, political reality. I believe in this initiative because it is rooted in the hearts of people and appeals to universal values. There are examples of similar initiatives, which have led to great things. Take, for instance, the recent uprisings in the Middle East where, through peaceful means, the youth of Egypt have brought down a dictator. It may seem that politics is the overall decision maker, but ultimately, it is the power of the people that brings about changes. When people engage in dialogue, raise their voices, and together allow their cry for reconciliation to be heard, so much is possible.
Walk of Truth is but a small movement in a world full of serious conflict but it is, nevertheless, a very powerful movement because it is derived from the strength and commitment of people, and their desire for peace. Prejudice, war, and political and religious discussions seem, at times, to determine our lives. However, the undercurrent of genuine contact between people concerned with that, which truly matters, is much stronger. It is a purifying force that forges a bond powerful enough to cross borders.
Erhan Gurer, Turkologist