Dr. Derya Yüksek is a researcher at the Communication Studies Department of VUB. For around a decade, her work has centered on media, peacebuilding, and citizen participation, carrying out projects and academic research bridging these fields. On a personal level, the Gulf War at the beginning of 1990 was a defining point for her, as she was a child living in Turkey.

Peace is about non-violence, freedom, equality, and justice in all relationships

“As frequently quoted, peace is not a destination; it is the way. It is about how you approach life, how you relate with people and your larger environment. Peace as a purpose, therefore, means thinking, talking, acting for, be(com)ing peace in every endeavour, including research.”

A strong sense of justice

“Peace means more than an absence of war, or an ultimate state of full harmony or stillness. It is a continuous, never-ending process aimed to transform ourselves and our world for the better and for the benefit of all, and incorporates many levels and layers, from individual to collective, from inner peace to world peace. It is about non-violence, freedom, equality, and justice in all relationships; it needs respect, empathy, creativity, collaboration, and collective action, and perhaps more importantly, developing a capacity for realising such constructive transformations.”

“I have always had a strong sense of justice, and a vision of a world where people live freely and equitably, without wars, poverty, discrimination. In-depth thinking about peace, however, many times comes along with personal experiences of conflict, trauma, and sometimes wars. Looking back, I recognise that the times of the Gulf War at the beginning of 1990s, was a defining point for me. At that time, I was a child living in Turkey, relatively close to the region where the war was going on. I was watching the war unfold from the TV until late at night, seeing the destruction, fearful of whether something like this would soon happen in my country, in my city, to my family… I had even created a small shelter inside our house where we can hide if that happens… I think this was the first time I deeply felt the need for peace worldwide, and for doing something about it: later called the ‘CNN effect’.”

Violence is not limited to the wars between countries; it could exist at home, in our neighborhood, within our country...

“As I grew up, I started recognising the different levels and dimensions of peace: violence was not limited to the wars between countries; it could exist at home, in our neighborhood, within our country... It could exist physically, in our behaviors and actions, discursively, in our words and thoughts, structurally, in our systems… All interconnected, in the sense that it was not sufficient that I want peace in my life, in my family, community, country, and so on. Moreover, peace was not something to hope for, but to work towards -involving, communicating and collaborating with, all others. And, I started working towards this direction in different ways.”

Something that others can also benefit from

“I was particularly lucky to be closely connected with an arts collective from very young ages, which later gave me the opportunity to work in projects that used arts as a tool for dialogue and peacebuilding between different, and many times, conflicting countries and cultures. In time, these experiences brought along a deeper interest and motivation for studying conflict and peace, by doing academic research in different contexts.”

“Doing research in the field of media and communication, with a particular attention on participatory media practices in relationship to peacebuilding, involving conflict-ridden people and communities in the process, and working to act as a catalyser for them in developing the necessary capacities for transforming conflicts ‘by peaceful means’ largely helps me to connect this purpose and the associated values with my research. In this sense, I feel at (my intellectual) home more than ever. I continue to learn a lot from these experiences, and work to turn these learnings into something that others can also benefit from, and contribute to, through my research.”

Achieve something larger than our individual selves could do

“There is a general tendency to view research as something that is too complicated and incomprehensible -a work of specialists, distant from the daily lives, needs, and concerns of the people. Many times, researchers are considered as an elite class, working in their ivory towers, absorbed with accumulating specific knowledges that help them to attain a privileged status in the society. This thinking is unfortunately strengthened by certain practices of some academic institutions and academicians, and put a distance between them and the society, between the university and the world. It is therefore very important to re-link these two; showing that social research, in particular, is about identifying problems in our social world and generating ways to act upon those problems, working together with the people who are affected the most, and building the necessary knowledges in a collaborative way.”

Critical awareness and empowerment

“I think having communication and community participation at the core of my research help me to work towards these ends. Through my research, I make an endeavour to combine theory with practice -touching the lives of the people, with the aim to collectively develop capacities for positive transformations, to be able to discover and fulfill our best potentials, for the benefit of all.”

“This, first of all, requires a critical awareness - that a potential exists, and a sense of empowerment to provide us with the resolve to identify and act upon the various factors (physical, structural, cultural-discursive) that obstruct our potential realisations. Then, we need to figure out how to develop, activate, and tap into that potential, not only individually but also collectively, which requires learning to respect, share power and collaborate with others, linking our capacities with theirs, and acting together for our shared visions, and against shared obstacles, to achieve something larger than our individual selves could do.”

Pandemic as a time for reflection

“These times well highlighted the interdependencies between countries and people worldwide -similar to the realisation that we cannot live in peace while others die and suffer, regardless of how far they are. They showed us the importance of the shared values of humanity, and the need for expanded solidarity and care that should embrace all, given our interconnectedness. At least for some, the pandemic provided a time for reflection on all these, encouraging us to think and act in new, innovative ways to turn this plight into better new ways of living and relating, by tapping into the creative potentials of this period of uncertainty.”

“I see the way out of this mood in turning research into something meaningful and useful. The new research project I am working on, “Collective Imaginaries for the Post-Pandemic World” aims exactly at this. By launching a participatory media project that connects youth from diverse backgrounds for sharing their pandemic experiences, and exploring and documenting their shared visions for the future, the objective is to explore how these experiences may be used to develop, and act upon, collective youth visions for the post-pandemic world, with the involvement of stakeholders and policy-makers at local, national and EU levels.”

Peace as a life purpose

“I have, in Brazilian scholar Paulo Freire’s words, a “critical hope”: hope that arises from a critical understanding of the world, and that is nurtured by the motivation of action for positive change. This is both a personal and professional aspiration that I feel dedicated to, and that I would like to continue working towards. For me, this is the meaning of peace as a life purpose, and the rewards are invaluable: the overflowing happiness and content brought about by the continuous development and fulfillment of your best potential, for yourself, for others, for your environment and for the life that circulates all.”

Would you like to find your purpose as well and fight injustice? Then take a look at The World Needs You under Peace.