Turkey is currently home to approximately 1.9 million refugees, mainly from Syria, but also from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, according to the UNHCR. The majority of these refugees are living in the southeastern area of Turkey near the Syrian border unofficially known as Turkish Kurdistan. Due to long-standing conflicts between Kurds and the Turkish government, this region has seen a lot of violence, which escalated in recent weeks after the breaking of a ceasefire between the Turkish government and Kurdish rebel groups. Turkey’s July 2015 air strikes against PKK bases in Iraq comes with a rise of tension and violence within Turkey as well as a loss of moral among Turkish Kurds; many people in southeastern Turkey have friends and relatives directly affected by these bombings.
In 2014, a group of Istanbul-based artists, organized by Turkish clown/actor/director Güray Dincol, approached CWB-USA about supporting them in bringing some joy and laughter to southeastern Turkey. This project was the result of that initial inquiry. The goals of this project were threefold:
- To train a group of Turkish actors, clowns, musicians and acrobats in Istanbul in the specific skills associated with performing for populations in crisis, across linguistic and cultural boundaries;
- To create a clown/ circus show with these artists and tour it to southeastern Turkey to perform it in refugee camps and communities affected by conflict, to provide some relief from stress; and
- To empower these Turkish artists with skills, information, and contacts to provide ongoing support of refugee populations through performance.
The last-minute addition of four Kurdish teachers/performers from Diyarbakir and an Armenian artist to the workshop in Istanbul created an unexpected and welcome dynamic of cultural exchange during the artist training. This was quite an unusual thing for all involved, as there has historically been a lot of tension between these ethnic groups within Turkey, and there is very little interaction between them on any level of society. This inspired a fourth goal:
- To facilitate cultural exchange among Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian artists through play, dialogue, song, and clown.