Ozer epic Tilburg University Magazine

“Change needs to come from young generations”

Character 4 min. Sara Terburg

Global Law student Özer Şahoğlu (19) participated in the European Youth Forum in Paris. At this four-day international gathering, he represented his home country of Cyprus. This island is divided in a Turkish-speaking and a Greek-speaking part. He came back to Tilburg with lots of hope for the future of Cyprus. ‘Young people are more aware of the fact that we are all Cypriots.’

Ozer Tilburg University Magazine

Özer grew up in the Turkish-speaking, northern part of Cyprus. Before he moved to Tilburg, he lived with his family in the capital Nicosia. He calls it the last divided capital in the world. He explains that living in Nicosia is a lot like living in Berlin before the reunification of West and East Germany in 1990. ‘There is an abandoned airport in Nicosia. No-one is allowed to go there. There is a buffer zone with UN soldiers. Growing up there was not a bad experience even though you always felt a possible threat.’

The Youth Forum made me very optimistic about what my generation of young Europeans will be able to achieve

Young people and students from every EU member state came to Paris for the Forum. ‘Most were in their twenties, I was one of the youngest. Because they aimed for equal representation, they invited people from both sides of Cyprus, a Greek-speaking girl and me.’ In different committees, they discussed topics like the environment, human rights and international solidarity. ‘I was part of this last one because I wanted to talk about the Cyprian conflict. Within this committee, I was part of the subgroup illiberal democracies.’ The Forum ended with presentations to politicians in panels. ‘I was really impressed by the vision of the other young people. For example: one of the French panellists who was in debate with young people on stage was against giving shelter to refugees from other countries except Ukraine. A young German activist replied to him saying: ‘Human beings are human beings’. This impressed me and made me very optimistic about what my generation of young Europeans will be able to achieve in human rights and environmental and other problems.’ Özer explains that his committee proposed things to prevent democratic backsliding of countries, to develop democracies, and to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. ‘My contribution was about biased education in Cyprus and how the conflict causes illiberal practices to appear across the island. So during the presentation, we mentioned that reconciliation between the Greek- and Turkish-speaking Cypriots should be stimulated to prevent illiberalism.’

I was really impressed by the vision of the other young people

Divided by politics

The student tells that, on April 1 this year, young people in the north started to protest against government policies. ‘They are doing inspiring stuff like picketing in front of the government building for days. I am mentioning this because I think nobody in the EU is talking about the Cyprus conflict. There are no borders in the EU, but there are borders in Cyprus and that is against the goals of the EU.’ Özer is convinced both parts of Cyprus want peace. ‘Most information on the internet about Cyprus is not accurate and misrepresents both the Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot communities.’

He thinks change needs to come from young generations. ‘Their vision is different. They are more interested in collaboration. They see that we are not so different and that even the dialects we speak are quite similar. We speak Cypriot dialects of Greek and Turkish. We have the same Cypriot traditions, cuisine and customs and many more things in common. We are divided by politics.’  

Living and studying in Tilburg

Özer chose Tilburg University because of the high quality of the education. ‘My goal is to develop my skills and to gain more knowledge. And I wanted to do a Bachelor’s in Law. The lecturers and professors in Tilburg teach us things from different perspectives and I think that is what makes this university different from others. Global Law in Tilburg is one of the best Law programs in the world.’ The course he learnt the most from is Philosophy. ‘It gave me a wider perspective to evaluate things in a different way. For example, one of our first assignments was to watch a documentary entitled “Buying coal, selling lives”. Seeing how we all have our own unique struggles around the globe impressed me very much and it also showed me that there are people who do not lose their hope of a better world.’

‘Each experience gave me new perspectives’

Özer calls himself an activist. ‘I have been active in civil society for six years. I want to help change the situation in Cyprus. I want to raise awareness about the human rights and peace process in Cyprus.’ So when he was invited to participate in the European Youth Forum, he did not hesitate. ‘I am used to participating in events. That is how I was brought up.’ His activism started at the age of thirteen when he visited a communal peace camp. ‘There I discovered that it is really interesting to learn about sociology, peace, and human rights. I dedicated myself to gaining more knowledge and being more active. So the following years, I went to every social and civil society event. I visited a documentary night, public events, social demonstrations, festivals, and cultural activities.’

My goal is to develop my skills and to gain more knowledge

Every event made him more curious because each experience gave him new perspectives and knowledge. He explains that, in a country in conflict such as Cyprus, many things are not discussed. ‘The schools are biased. Biased education is a huge influence as History in Cyprus is no longer a subject taught in school but political tool to influence public opinion on both sides. So when you meet new people and organizations, you discover new things about your country.’

Ambitions

Özer has two more Bachelor’s years ahead. ‘What I am going to do after that, I do not know yet. For now I focus on developing myself.’ His clear answer to the question of whether he sees himself in politics is: ‘No, I see myself working in civil society. That is where people are committed to improving the social situation and enhancing the lives of people in countries like mine. Civil society is the place where democracy is being protected.’