Research Association for Democracy, Peace, and Alternative Politics – DEMOS Research Association (Demokrasi, Barış ve Alternatif Politikalar Araştırma Derneği – DEMOS) conducts extensive research, analysis, and translations centring on peace studies with a gender perspective. The association is receiving grant and capacity-development support from our Institutional Fund, launched in collaboration with the Support Foundation for Civil Society (Sivil Toplum için Destek Vakfı). With this grant support, DEMOS will work on improving its impact measurement capacity by employing an impact evaluation expert.
Read below our interview:
This is the first time DEMOS is receiving a grant from our foundation. Can you tell us about the purpose of your organisation and the work you do so that our readers can get to know your association better?
We were established in 2015 in Ankara by individuals working in the field of social sciences with the aim of collaborative knowledge production. Since our inception, we have been conducting research centred around peace studies, with a focus on gender perspectives, examining examples from Türkiye and around the world.
We dream of building a peaceful society where everyone is equal. DEMOS employees and volunteers carry out research, knowledge and experience sharing, and advocacy activities on peace and reconciliation, transitional justice, social memory, and conflict transformation in Türkiye. In addition, we are planning new studies on monitoring and advocacy.
We share and disseminate the outputs of these activities through printed and digital publications, podcasts, conferences, workshops, and seminars. In doing so, we strive to keep rights holders and grassroots organisations involved in social peace struggles informed about current debates, critical approaches, and international developments, aiming to empower them.
Rather than treating gender as a separate field of work, we consider it a fundamental axis that intersects with all of our activities. We aim to support the participation of women and/or LGBTI+ peacebuilders, feminist and LGBTI+ organisations in mechanisms for peace and transitional justice, and advocate for an understanding of peace and democracy in civil society and the peace movement that is sensitive to gender.
We dream of building a peaceful society where everyone is equal.
How do you define peace? Does it simply mean the absence of war? Can you also discuss the role of civil society organisations and public institutions in building and sustaining peace?
DEMOS views peace as a concept that encompasses not only the cessation of direct, structural, and cultural violence but also the elimination of inequalities that fuel and can reproduce conflicts. Therefore, it would be incorrect to say that peace is merely a state of conflict-free existence. Peace is a complex and lengthy process that involves transforming social relationships from the grassroots and addressing the root causes of conflicts.
According to DEMOS, for this to succeed, we need to confront past human rights violations and the social inequalities we face today. This includes the unveiling of truth, documentation of violations, ensuring accountability, providing access to reparations for survivors, and establishing guarantees to prevent the recurrence of such violations. However, sustainable peacebuilding can only be achieved in a scenario where the causes of war have been eliminated.
The effective participation of civil society in official peace and reconciliation processes enhances transparency, instils trust in society, and consequently positively affects the efficacy of these processes. In Turkey, civil society has been involved in various initiatives aimed at the democratic resolution of the Kurdish issue, along with various social movements and political parties. They have gained significant experience in the transition to non-violence/peace negotiation processes. There is a lively possibility of entering a new era that can benefit from these experiences. Therefore, it is important to create spaces where civil society can utilise its past experiences, taking into account the possibility of a peace process being brought back to the table with the elections.
On the other hand, when we evaluate the official peace processes and mechanisms for dealing with the past (e.g., Compensation Law No. 5233), we see that the state has not provided room for civil society participation in the design, implementation, and monitoring of these processes. Furthermore, we observe that civil society organisations (CSOs) and individuals involved in the peace movement have been subjected to judicial harassment, and even the demand for peace itself has been criminalised. For future peace processes, legal regulations are needed to ensure the participation of civil society.
Rather than treating gender as a separate field of work, weconsider it a fundamental axis that intersects with all of ouractivities.
You conduct work on social memory. What is social memory? Considering the February 6 earthquakes, how does social memory relate to disasters?
We see social memory as a mechanism that cannot be separated from the social, cultural, and political transformations occurring in our environment; it is a mechanism that holds society together and unifies it. We believe that memory is socially and politically constructed. In this context, we relate our work on memory to processes of conflict transformation and peacebuilding.
Similar to national historiography, which reproduces the discourse of power and is constructed from top to bottom, we establish a dynamic understanding of memory that considers it a contested field and places agency at the centre. Recognising that each social group possesses different social memories, we emphasise a pluralistic and non-homogeneous understanding of memory. We believe that adopting this perspective provides a comprehensive framework and a broad perspective for the construction of social peace.
With the February 6 earthquakes, the experience of disaster has been added to the social memory of communities. It is possible to consider the relationship between social memory and disasters by examining how societies experience, remember, and interpret catastrophes. Documenting the social memory of disasters is essential for addressing the negligence that makes them more destructive, ensuring accountability for human rights violations, meeting the demands for repair from survivors, taking necessary measures to prevent similar destruction in the future, and implementing policies.
In order for society to recover, it is essential for the government to establish an effective disaster management policy based on this collective trauma. Moreover, to repair the emotional and psychological damages caused by disasters, there is a need for collective solidarity and processes of understanding and listening to one another.
In order for society to recover, it is essential for the government to establish an effective disaster management policy based on collective trauma.
As an association working in the field of human rights, can you tell us about the opportunities and limitations that digital media brings to social struggle?
Digital media provides individuals and communities with tools and platforms to make their voices heard and amplify their messages, strengthening their efforts to mobilise target audiences. The increasing number and expanding capabilities of digital media channels make them highly conducive for raising awareness about rights-based, political, and social issues, reaching a larger audience.
By enabling alternative perspectives and direct representation of individuals, digital media allows for the production and representation of information by the subjects themselves. However, digital media also carries certain risks and limitations. In the fast flow of contemporary digital communication, it is easy for misinformation to circulate, and any individual or group can influence and/or make decisions based on false and/or manipulated information.
For example, vulnerable groups such as women and LGBTI+s can be targeted and harassed due to manipulated information. Despite the anti-discrimination and anti-hate speech policies of platforms, complaints are generally not positively addressed. Since various companies or authorities determine these policies, it is a fact that the digital space can easily become an unsafe environment for individuals and organisations involved in activism.
Therefore, activists, human rights defenders, and CSOs using digital media need to consider several variables, such as ensuring the accuracy and verification of the information they produce and disseminate, maintaining an open and transparent communication policy, and creating a digital space that is free from discrimination and hate speech.
By enabling alternative perspectives and direct representation of individuals, digital media allows for the production and representation of information by the subjects themselves.
Which organisational development areas will you focus on with the grant support provided by our Institutional Fund?
We will focus on sustainable impact measurement and evaluation to monitor and assess the impact of our activities in peace and reconciliation, conflict transformation, transitional justice, and social memory more efficiently and effectively.
To measure the impact of our work, we intend to develop a measurement and evaluation model that is sensitive to gender and pluralist participation and is based on qualitative data. We aim for this model to contribute to the improvement of our current work and the planning of new activities. As a research association, we care about revealing why and how the information we produce is used, how accessible it is, and receiving feedback from our stakeholders. This way, we aim to review our activities, digital communication, and existing and future resources.
Founded in Ankara, DEMOS conducts extensive research, analysis, and translations, centring on peace studies from a gender perspective. Their critical publications, podcasts, and workshops offer accessible knowledge for activists, researchers, and organisations striving for social peace. DEMOS shares this knowledge through print and digital media, podcasts, conferences, workshops, and seminars.