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International Day of Peace

A while ago I started getting links to a Youtube page in which an articulate young filmmaker, Jeremy Gilley, speaks about the International Day of Peace. Google him and you will discover he started thinking about this over a decade ago in 1998, when he wanted to make a film about peace;

“The millennium was coming, this big moment that everyone was talking about, so I wanted to record something about the world and why we’re not living peacefully. I was thinking about whether the United Nations could really unite the world and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that there was no international day of peace.”

“My goal became to make a film that would try and establish the first ever day of peace on this planet with a fixed calendar date, voted by every head of state in the world.”

He succeeded. In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a new resolution 55/282 declaring 21st September of each year as the International Day of Peace.
The resolution: “Declares that the International Day of Peace shall henceforth be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day.”

So what happens on peace day? Whatever you want. It is not just symbolic, as Gilley says, it is a day to make a commitment. A day to spend with your family, to have a picnic, to organize an immunization, to say sorry. It is a day to talk about peace with your neighbours, to spread the word.

And so, I have a simple request for the approaching day. This September 21st we should visit our enemies, take them by the hand and say, “I don’t care.”
“I don’t care that you are Turkish, Armenian, Greek, Cypriot, Muslim, Jewish, Maronite, Protestant, Catholic, Druze, Shiaa, Kurd. I don’t care what you are because you are the neighbour that fed our cat while we were away and lent my son your bicycle and taught him tennis and I don’t want to be your enemy because actually, I like you.”

If you look at the human aspect of it, Turks, Armenians and Greeks have lived together for centuries without a problem. Look for the Armenian quarter and it is always slap-bang next to the Turks. We may be scared to admit it, but we get on with each other. We wear the same clothes, shop in the same stores and eat the same food. So why are we enemies? Because our governments tell us we are. One day something happens, the next we are at war and then we become addicted to enmity. We are fed it at school, through religious intolerance, through racial stereotyping, through politics.

How many Turks in the Ottoman Empire do you think were horrified by what happened to their neighbours between 1895 and 1922? How many abhorred watching their friends stripped of their belongings and marched off into the desert to die? And how many do you think are confused today by acts of violence against writers and thinkers who speak out against what happened years ago?

And how many kids went back to school after the 1974 invasion in Cyprus to find that their favourite teacher was gone? That their classmates had disappeared? That, not only were their homes and favourite beaches inaccessible, but they could no longer pick up a phone and call their neighbour at the end of the street because of an arbitrary border?

And how do we ever expect to get answers to these questions if we don’t greet our enemies as friends and ask them?
If we want to move from a culture of war to a culture of peace we must unite. We cannot wait for governments to make a difference- they’re too busy politicking, creating more borders and perpetuating enmity. It is down to us- you and me- to take our neighbours by the hand and say,
“I don’t care. I don’t care who you are or whatever happened to us in the past, right here, right now, you are my friend.”

Let us celebrate Peace.


One response

  1. written 2008. Photographs of Lefkosa, Nicosia, Λεφκοσια by Victoria Harwood Butler-Sloss 2011

    September 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm

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