Chairman of the International Strategic Analysis and Research Association (USTAD) Mr. Ahmet Akgül: “We have established a platform with the support of the NGOs in Mardin to carry out humanitarian aid activities and support the brethren and neighbor people of Syria, who are in a difficult situation, from the view of troubles are temporary and neighborhood and brotherhood is permanent. We aimed to raise awareness both in the region and the whole country and at the same activate the public mechanisms. We will continue helping our Syrian brothers who are our guests here or are suffering with hunger and cold in Syria”.
Civil society activities are sine qua non for the settlement of the democratic culture. In this context the number of “think tanks” has increased remarkably during the recent years. One of the prominent organizations among these is the International Strategic Analysis and Research Association (USTAD) established in Mardin, which is one of the first organizations established in the Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia regions. We have discussed USTAD in special and the structure, problems and priorities of the NGOs in general with USTAD Chairman Ahmet Akgül.
What was your aim in establishing USTAD, and what are your objective and missions?
International Strategic Analysis and Research Association (USTAD) was established in 2011 as a think tank based in Mardin.
We are at the heart of a region with which global actors are interested mostly. Therefore we have started from the point of revealing the national and international strategic and social, cultural potentials of the region, and analyze any kind of national or international steps taken towards the region, conduct brainstorming and finally become the research and thought center of the Mideast.
When doing this our main criterion is to support the stemming of democracy and increase the life standards with the view of being open to all sections of the society.
What makes USTAD different from other think tanks?
The history of think tanks goes back to about 20-30 years in the West. In Turkey we see mainly think tanks established in Ankara or Istanbul recently.
Almost all of these organizations are interested in our neighboring Mideast countries and the developments taking place in this region.
What makes USTAD distinctive here is that we are at the heart of this region and live witnesses of the developments. We have kinship relations with the countries in the region. In other words; we do not work office based, but rather we are always on the field. Since the events are all lived here, we have opportunities to access any information without spending time and resources.
We acknowledge that there are researchers and intellectuals who make outstanding analyzes regarding the events in the region. However sometimes we come across some comments that we cannot stop ourselves laughing. Such comments are results of efforts trying to look at the region with a torch from a far away distance.
Due to requirement for consistent analyzes and researches targeting the region we have found it necessary to establish USTAD.
What are your fields of activity?
Believing to the fact that if light is shed from this region to the other side we will be able to get better results, we have undertaken and plan to continue social, cultural, economic, scientific and intellectual activities, R&D activities, projects and documentation, and activities focusing on international relations, security, environment, energy, law, industry, science and technology, and other regional, national and international issues.
We have made our brainstorming sessions traditional. We are drafting analyzes and reports on certain issues.
We have another important feature. We have brought together intellectuals, opinion leaders and those who have words to say regarding the developments in the region and did not find a chance to make their voices heard so far.
What is the approach of the society and public institutions towards your organization?
Although we face similar problems with other NGOs, the activities we have undertaken during the last year with our own resources in addition to the works we have undertaken through NGO-Public dialogue have helped us overcome the negative situation.
In fact the perception of civil society is not settled very well among the public authorities in Mardin as the case in the whole country. Although the approaches by Governor of Mardin Mr. Turhan Ayvaz and the Mayor Mr. Beşir Ayanoğlu are positive, other public institutions are hesitant on cooperation with the civil society. The main reason behind this is in fact the state culture we have been taught. This culture has wanted us to be individuals who do not question and argue and accept anything the state brings. Those who acted opposite were considered as carrying out harmful activities whether individual or organization. Therefore the civil society also approached the state with caution for a long time.
What are the main problems which the NGOs face in Mardin and the region?
As you are aware the region has undergone very painful periods. Although remarkable democratic steps have been taken recently the memories are still full with the applications of the past. This situation inevitably affects participation to civil society activities.
It is a fact that we have been politicized excessively as the whole country. We can see the same situation in the region too. It is difficult to carry out civil society activities in such an excessively politicized region. You can easily be labeled as being supporter of any camp while carrying out a certain activity.
Are there any other think-tanks in the region? If any, what is the level of collaboration with them?
As far as I know there are no other international organizations in the region. There are some organizations in fact, established within the universities and are limited with the local activities.
In any brainstorming session organized by USTAD we host at least two NGO representatives. As the member of the NGO Platform in Mardin, The USTAD Civil Initiative Desk is always in contact with other NGOs.
Finally, can you provide brief information regarding the activities of Mardin-Syria Solidarity Platform, which includes USTAD as a member and we think is the first of this kind in Turkey?
This platform in fact is a very good sample for undertaking activities to which the satet had problems in fulfilling.
We have established this platform with the support of the NGOs in Mardin to carry out humanitarian aid activities and support the brethren and neighbor people of Syria, who are in a difficult situation, from the view of troubles are temporary and neighborhood and brotherhood is permanent. We aimed to raise awareness both in the region and the whole country and at the same activate the public mechanisms. For instance we managed to move the Syrian refugees living in tents in the trash dump to the idle Boarding School with the support of the District Governor of Kızıltepe. We will continue helping our Syrian brothers who are our guests here or are suffering with hunger and cold in Syria. We need the support of all benefactors for this cause.
We hear comments trying to show this people as burdens on our shoulders and we see disinformation spread for this purpose. In fact we see the truth with our own eyes because we live in this region. Syria is undergoing one of the most tragic periods of our time. We cannot turn our backs to these people. It is a duty of being a human and instructed by our religion to share what we have with these suffering people.