Photo courtesy of WACHarrisburg
Saturday Sept. 16, the Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking (CGUP), the Bowers Writers House, the Turkic American Alliance, Harrisburg Academy, Hilton Harrisburg and the Midtown Scholar Bookstore sponsored the annual International Peace Symposium and “Peacemaker in our Midst” Awards. The 2017 International Peace Symposium was dedicated to Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi. Yazdi passed away in Turkey in August after devoting much of his life and career to advocating for human rights and democracy.
The symposium began at 10 a.m. with some welcome remarks from President Carl J. Strikwerda. After he thanked those who were speaking at the event, World Affairs Council of Harrisburg CEO and President Joyce M. Davis, a member of the College’s board of trustees, introduced the World Affairs Council by discussing everything that they do and all that they work toward. Davis also discussed the International Travel Program and the partnership with the Turkic American Alliance.
Bowers Writers House Director, professor Jesse Waters concluded the greetings with an introduction to the Bowers Writers House, an interdisciplinary venue for programs and areas of study that bring in individuals from all areas, specialties and disciplines.
Following the welcome and greetings, Sait Onal introduced Turkish newspaper writer Abdulhamit Bilici, who was exiled from Turkey “following recent political turmoil and government oppression of the media in Turkey,” Onal explained.
Bilici defines himself as a humble journalist who happened upon journalism even though he never technically studied it. According to Bilici, his way of relaying his story to American people is by putting his scenario into one that they may be able to understand,
“Imagine that the biggest newspaper of America is shut down by the government and the editor-in-chief of that newspaper is in exile in Canada or Mexico,” Bilici said. “That is my situation.”
Bilici originally joined the newspaper because they had principles that he was interested in when he left college. This newspaper combatted fake news by always publishing correct information, which caused an uproar from many terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, who were threatening the newspaper frequently.
After 15 years, the newspaper became the largest newspaper in Turkey, with over 1 million copies in circulation.
Bilici says that the main goal of the paper is to become a model of democracy and a platform for democratic views. Turkey had a very sudden shift in 2013 from democracy to autocracy when two small protests turned into a widespread country-wide protest where many were killed.
The Turkish leader then turned on his country and the Turkish government slipped into a dictatorship.
The president’s first goal was to destroy the media, which landed over 200 journalists in jail and a few, such as Bilici, into exile.
Fifty of the journalists in jail in Turkey worked for Bilici. Bilici closed with a word of advice to those in the audience.
“If you like to protect your democracy, you should protect your freedom of expression,” Bilici said.
Bilici’s story was followed by the Threats to Peace panel, moderated by CGUP Director and professor of history Dr. David Kenley.
He introduced the four panelists: Josh Bartash from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Dr. David Lai from the U.S. Army War College, Bert Tussing, who is the Supervisor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Army War College, and Don Brown, who works at Widener University’s Environment and Sustainability Center.
Bartash specializes in civil rights and extremism activists (hate groups) and his agency is the first to be called in cases of hate crimes.
Lai spoke about his take on the situation in North Korea and how little the United States is truly doing to fix it.
Tussing spoke of eight different pillars to solving problems, such as keeping the safety of the American people at the utmost priority and eliminating safe havens for terrorists. Brown spoke about global warming and what it is doing to the ocean and suggested that the easiest way to fix it is understanding, fairness and justice.
During the luncheon, Dr. Mehdi Noorbaksh introduced Trita Parsi, who spoke about “Losing an Enemy: Iran, Obama and the Triumph of Diplomacy.”
The “Peacemaker in our Midst” Honorees were announced to be the Neighborhood Dispute Settlement, the Pine Street Presbyterian Church, Joyce Bylander of Dickinson College, Ann Marie Judson, Samia Malik, professor of engineering and physics Dr. Kurt DeGoede and Dr. Rukhsana Rahman Athar Rafiq.
To close the event, Davis returned with some closing remarks.
For more information on the International Peace Symposium or the World Affairs Council of Harrisburg, please visit www.wacharrisburg.org.