Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Photographs from ‘Follow the Women’ bring message of hope

A collection of photographs focusing on daily life in the Middle East by Turkish photographers Ayşin Özer Başkır, Şirin Çizmeci, Serap Ertüzün, Selma Şevkli and Ela Esra Günad is now on display at İstanbul’s Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall.

The five photographers are members of Follow the Women (FTW), an international organization that has been conducting cultural and social youth exchange projects for more than 30 years. FTW was founded under the leadership of Detta Regan, who traveled to the Middle East as a teacher and drew attention to the situation of women and children in the region using her bicycle as a tool. The organization brings together women from all around the world and since 2004 around 500 women have cycled across the Middle East every year, hoping to contribute to peace efforts in the region, FTW Turkey coordinator Günad says in an interview with Today’s Zaman.

Starting from Lebanon, women from 30 different countries traverse the 300 kilometer road stretching across Syria and Jordan and into Palestine, Günad explains. “Our objective is to create public interest in the region for sustained peace. We observe that the group that is most affected by the conflicts in the region are women and children. We primarily want to emphasize this. In order to share the experiences of the people in these countries and support them, we organize this cycling event every year,” she adds. The women go to villages, refugee camps and bombed and decimated residential areas to see how daily life continues in these places.

Featuring 45 images from last year’s journey, the collection that is currently on display emphasizes the fact that life goes on in the Middle East in spite of the harsh conditions people must deal with in order to survive. “Their daily lives still continue in the places that include traces from the occupations, under the control of the armies and among the ruins. In every frame, you see a story showing you how to go on with life. Unfortunately, peace cannot be achieved [merely by] signing cease-fire arrangements,” she says, underlining that in addition to peace there must also be efforts to create better conditions in the region. “You will see people in this exhibition who do not lose their hope for peace.”

“Recently we learned from the press that the check points [in the Occupied Palestinian Territories] are being shut down, which means access to basic human needs, such as water, food and medicine, is blocked. Sometimes they wait four or more hours at the control doors to pass in order to go to school or to their jobs. If they are lucky that day, they can pass through, but they never know what will happen the next day. Sometimes after waiting many hours they go back to their homes,” Günad explains, pointing out that they wanted to share their experiences in the region with Turkish citizens this year.

FTW increases its membership numbers every year with new contributors from all around the world. It is not necessary to be a professional cyclist, Günad says, citing the example of a Turkish woman who joined them from Diyarbakır after learning how to ride a bicycle from an 11-year-old child. Whoever wants to contribute to efforts for peace in the Middle East can contact FTW at

The exhibition in the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall foyer will run through Feb. 25.

11 February 2009, Wednesday

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