live around half a mile away from the clashes happening at Istanbul’s Taksim Square, so over the last few weeks, I have been closely following the development of the protests. I have grown increasingly disillusioned and paralysed by the situation. The Turkish government has been responding with extreme force to what was to begin with a peaceful protest. But when they did respond with force, the protesters fought back. They obviously wanted to defend their rights. But we all know who had the weapons.
These events have made me think increasingly about why people use force to create change. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that the protesters have now adopted a ‘silent standing protest’. On Tuesday, young people in Istanbul’s Besiktas district gathered to discuss where the protests were heading and alternatives to violence. This gives me hope, because now is the time for diplomacy and dialogue between the two opponents.
I can see many parallels between the situation here in Turkey, and what Awra Amba went through in their early days of trying to establish their community. One of the main principles that Awra Amba is founded upon is peaceful behaviour, and not retaliating with force or aggression, even if force and aggression is used by the other party.
Withstanding attacks and threats for decades is not easy for anyone. Yet, the Awra Ambans have decided that it is what they believe in and they stand by it. If we are threatened most of us instinctively assume the fight or flight mode. It is only human. Yet, if human beings always respond in this way, we can not create peace with one another.
Fear is very prevalent in our world. Fear of the other and the unknown. Rather than trying to understand and empathise with someone else’s situation or point of view, we often fear that it may disturb our own balance and the comforts of our own life. What strikes me most about Awra Amba is their lack of fear. They were attacked and harassed because of their ideals, but they didn’t show fear. Instead, they reached out to those who attacked them. Why? Because they believed that if they did so, the opponent would take their hand and want to make peace. They know that aggression can never lead to peace. Many people in the world do not seem to understand this.
The story of Awra Amba is timeless and universal. It’s a story about a brave group of people, whose belief in peace and fairness has made them better human beings. But none of them were born like that. They made a conscious effort to create peace. One of Awra Amba’s core beliefs is discussion, both at family and community level. When things go unsaid, misunderstandings occur, and they may lead to conflict between people. Without regular discussions, Awra Amba would not be living in peace as a community.
When I first learned about idocs (or web docs, that some choose to call them), what excited me most was not how you can use new technology to do cool things with content (well, it did a little bit), but the potential that this kind of storytelling method and distribution strategy could have on audiences. The internet offers us opportunities to tell stories and create tools that could trigger social change. As we have seen in many world conflicts recently, social media has played a huge role in social change. Would Egypt be where it is today without social media?
My dedicated team and I are working very hard to finish The Awra Amba Experience by the end of the year. The first part of the project engages the audience in exploring the story at their own pace on an interactive interface, where they will discover short films and multimedia stories. Our aim is then to create a platform for a global dialogue about some of the most important issues in the world today. Using Awra Amba’s inspiring story as a springboard for the dialogue, we wanted to make it easy for people to join in. Therefore we have divided the discussions into 10 themes, which correspond to the content inside the experience. The platform will be moderated and led by a number of opinion leaders in the different subject matters to spark the discussions.
We have been working on a prototype for the discussion platform, where all user contributions will be visualised as a growing fabric. The idea came from the fact that Awra Amba as a community has a tight social fabric. On top of that Awra Amba is a weaving cooperative, which has allowed them to grow economically. We wanted the world to join in to create their own social fabric – a representation of how they want their world to look like. While writing down their thoughts, they will simultaneously weave a digital fabric, whose shape and pattern is determined at the end of the themed discussion. We believe that when you co-create something with another person, you inevitably feel closer to them. Because at that point, you are sharing something and sharing is a very powerful tool for change.
I will be talking about the story of Awra Amba and our future plans for the project on Saturday afternoon at the iDocs lab in London, at the Open City Docs Fest.
Hope to see you there!