Interview with Fatma Azgin
September 22nd, 2017 at 9:30 a.m. in Nicosia
Anna Prodromou (AP)
Fatma Azgin (FA)
AP: Fatma Azgin. A woman, an activist, a professor, a pharmacist. Quite a few identities intersecting in just one person. Which identity, or which part of your identity do you feel defines you or represents you the most?
FA: Well, it depends. Everything defines me. They are all parts of my life. My profession is very important of course, but I do feel that maybe I'm neglecting it sometimes, because I’m doing other things. My social life, my philosophy, peacebuilding, these are also very important. So, in that sense, I think my philosophy is the most important. Well, I said my profession, I’m earning a living and I'm also socializing with people, that is also what feeds me. I'm writing for the newspaper and I'm making a television program, so I get feedback from the people, on political matters and other things. Well, the other thing is that I'm married and I have two sons. Since they were born, I have been involved in activism, so maybe I'm not that good at being a housewife or a mother, but my sons say I'm ok (laughing). I am devoted to all these things. And I love music also, this is another one of my things. This is my life, a little bit of everything, but I do it all very sincerely. These things are permanent, my job, my home, my children, peacebuilding and of course being an intellectual, writing and making TV programs. I have so many concerns about Cyprus and other issues of course, but mainly Cyprus.
AP: As a Cypriot, it is understandable that you have a special interest in the Cyprus problem; you are a citizen of this island. On the other hand, that is not the case for everybody. Many Cypriots, if not all, have been impacted by the war, but not all of them are actively interested. What made you personally have such a strong interest in this issue? Did something happen in your life that made your strengthen your desire to be engaged in peacebuilding?
FA: Well, you know, when I was a child at school, I was always an activist in different subjects of course, but the Cyprus problem started when I was a child. I think I got this this peacebuilding philosophy or something in my heart from my mother and father, because they were very peaceful. When we're talking about peace, it's not only about the Cyprus problem, but relations, interactions with people. So, this is from my childhood and of course, my reading has helped me with this, it has given me the opportunity to learn how to achieve peace, especially in terms of Conflict Resolution. All of these come from something that I can't explain. It's in my nature. I grew up in a peaceful family. All my life, I have had good relationships with everybody or at least I have tried to. Some people, they don't like that I always try to be fair and just when I speak - I don't like to discriminate against anybody and I always support people in the community, whoever needs it, like women’s issues or other issues. There are many problems in the community in which we live. I cannot remain quiet if there is something wrong, if there is dishonest or inequality. Equality is very important for me. You know, I’m part of a group that is active in these issues and we have published magazines. For example, I'm one of the people who first started writing on feminism. Of course, there have been other women in history and we continue this struggle. This issue is a problem that exists around the world and it persists, but we are working on it.
AP: How easy was it as a young woman to have these interests, and to be so actively involved in public affairs?
FA: Well, I was like this from a very early age, in school; in fact, in elementary school, I was the captain of the school. I grew up with activism - wherever I go, I find activism. To give you an example, in 1975, I had just started working as a pharmacist and that was the time that the Turkish Federation state was established. I was acting as the general secretary of the Cyprus Pharmacist Association at that time and the parliament decided that they would form a new constitutional assembly parliament and they said that the MPs would remain, they would continue, but there would be some NGOs or professional people who would act on behalf of their groups. So, ten groups or associations were able to elect one person from within their association to be their representative in the parliament. My association in Cyprus elected me among five other candidates.
AP: Were there any other women in the Parliament at that time?
FA: No, it was only me. They didn't give any attention to the women’s associations, even though there were some women’s associations active at that time. This meant that they didn’t allow any representatives of the women’s associations into the parliament. So, by coincidence, I was the only woman MP out of 40 MPs. It wasn’t always easy. My interest in politics started earlier of course, when I was a student in Turkey. I was reading the newspapers and I saw that there were student movements in France. I had just started university at that time, so I felt this connection to the pulse of that era, in terms of women’s politics. Everything is politics, our life is politics. For two years, I did this job and I was acting sometimes in the political parties. I've been a member of these parties, a leftist actually, but I thought that I couldn’t speak freely and freedom is very important to me. I’m a kind of intellectual politician who doesn't obey all the rules.
AP: You have had a strong interest in these issues, so I guess for you, it was particularly fulfilling to be actively engaged. Do you think that there has been substantial change over the years?
FA: Yes, I do feel that things have changed. You know, we had a teacher in peacebuilding, an American, Dr Louise Diamond. She explained to us about conflict resolution, she was saying that "change happens when somebody makes something" and she gave an example of monkeys living on an island and eating potatoes. One day, one of the monkeys washed a potato in the ocean. The other monkeys thought it was very funny, but later the second day, the other monkeys started doing the same. And one day, all the monkeys were washing them, all the monkeys in that area started to wash them, then all the monkeys around the world. She said that change happens like this.
AP: Yes I agree, although sometimes that tendency to mimic the behaviour of others or to be influenced by others also applies to negative attitudes.
FA: Yes, is true that it’s good when this ability helps us, but you are right that a lot of things happening at the moment are also making me sad. In Turkey for example, but also in other countries, things are getting worse.
AP: Do you think Cypriots like change?
FA: Well, they had to change everything. Imagine from ’74 onwards, everything in their lives changed; sometimes I criticize them and I tell them “Why are you stuck on '74 and you can't make peace? You have changed your life, your house, your attitudes and you are using technology now.” I can't understand this, this is another mentality. Nowadays, we still continue to hear stories of hatred or whatever. But also stories of strategic profits, especially in Turkey. So that is my understanding. It's very interesting that everything has changed in Cyprus, systems have changed, people have changed, technology has changed, life has changed, but there is no solution. This is very interesting.
AP: How do you believe all this can be overcome? Do you think a possible solution will emerge as a result of a political decision or it’s going to come from grassroots movements?
FA: Well what has activism achieved? Together with my friends in peacebuilding, we have create new groups and this has given us the opportunity to get to know each other. People now know what Turkish Cypriot people really think. I think that now, we are doing the only thing we can do. We can't do anything to impose ourselves, we can only encourage the leaders, or whoever it is that will decide on the solution. The important thing is that we improve the relations between the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots as people. That’s why we are doing peacebuilding in Cyprus to bring people together, that’s what we are doing. And of course, if we look at the history of activism about peacebuilding starting from the 90s, many Greek and Turkish Cypriots came together in projects and workshops. In particular, opening places like this (H4C) was ideal, the opening of a coffee shop that can be easily accessed from both sides. These things weren’t happening before. We have mixed marriages that have started to happen and I'm very happy about this. We see that there are many groups working together, but of course at the end, it's not enough, we have to have a political system that supports those initiatives.
AP: My last question is if you are you optimistic or hopeful about the future?
FA: Well, when the negotiations started, I said there would be no solution and there were a lot of people saying, why are you like that? This time will be the end, the last. This conflict is protracted, so it is not easy and there is not the right mentality. I don't know when the solution will come, maybe in the long run, definitely not now, or next year. We lost the opportunity with the Annan plan. So now we have to face the greatest challenge.
AP: Thank you so much!
FA: Thank you!
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