Ozer Sahoglu: Empowering young people to advocate for a brighter Cyprus

13 May 2021

Ozer Sahoglu: Empowering young people to advocate for a brighter Cyprus

Ozer Sahoglu’s recent selection for Europe's Migration Team of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth is perhaps no coincidence. Since the age of 13, Ozer has been actively involved in peacebuilding activities and is an avid advocator of human rights, migration and discrimination prevention policies.

As the only Cypriot representing the island in the UN’s Major Group for Children and Youth, Ozer recently turned 18 and is a high school student in Nicosia where he lives. His interests revolve around human rights, politics, volunteering, active participation, gender equality and writing. 

“As a young person living in a divided country, I want the best for my country,” says Ozer. “When I was 13, I got involved in a bi-communal peacebuilding organization because of the existence of the wall that divided my country that I didn’t believe should be there,” he adds. “I believe all Cypriots should live together.”

Ozer is currently running his youth-led civil society organization which he formed as a result of the project. “I have devoted myself to changing people's thinking so that the borders that exist in the mind can be broken before breaking physical borders,” he reveals. “This is what started my advocacy journey,” he adds.

In his eyes, one of his biggest achievements is advocating for an end to gender-based discrimination in schools in the north of Cyprus when he stood against gender-based discrimination and advocated for the right to access to human rights education in schools. “I think that creating an education where young people learn about human rights is one of the biggest investments for the future of a society. If young people are aware of their rights and grow up with an awareness of their universal freedom, this lays the foundations for a freer and more ethical society; students who study in schools today will be leaders in societies tomorrow,” explains Ozer.

Over the years, Ozer’s passion has led him to lead, participate in and create numerous social activities and initiatives. He has actively worked in collaboration with international and local civil society. In 2017, he visited the European Parliament and in 2019, he went to the United States as a part of a bi-communal peacebuilding organization. 

“There are very serious global problems and serious violations of rights in the world we all live in,” says Ozer. “I had to face serious human rights violations and was discriminated from a very young age… I witnessed the consequences of human rights violations both for myself and the society I live in. My greatest motivation is to leave a better world behind for future generations. I may not be able to change what happened yesterday, but I can change what happens today and tomorrow and I want to contribute to that change. Fighting for a Cyprus and for a world where equal rights and freedoms of all people are guaranteed is my greatest motivation.”

To this end, he deems his selection as part of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth as important. “I will fight to change people's lives by doing my best in collaboration with other young members. I am very excited to represent my country and Cypriots as a whole,” says Ozer. 

He envisions that his involvement in the group will help him to attain “social and legal change through new policies and regulations where people will be treated under human rights policies, migration policies, and discrimination prevention policies that protect them from becoming a victim of an injustice or human rights violations”. 

Ozer is also keen on encouraging the younger generation to participate in peacebuilding initiatives and learn more broadly about the work of the United Nations. “I see that young Cypriots are different from older generations. As a new generation, we grow up in a globalized world with a fresh vision, a unique perspective that can change the world,” he says. “I believe that young minds will make the best contribution to everything, from the resolution of the Cypriot conflict to the formation of a peaceful Cypriot nation, especially so that our country, which has been divided for years, can be reunited. This is why young Cypriots should be in contact and actively participate with the UN,” says Ozer.

Ozer recalls the UN's vision and implies that listening to the views of young people and recognizing them is in the interest of both Cyprus and the United Nations. “This will make the future of Cyprus brighter; the thoughts of young Cypriots deserve to be heard by the UN and the whole world,” he says.

Through his youth-led organization, Ozer aspires to start bi-communal networking projects and initiatives to increase the representation of young people within the United Nations. “I believe that a collaboration like this will result in creating stronger bonds between Cypriot youth and the United Nations so that young people can have their say on the future of their country. It’s important that the UN encourages the active participation of young people in its policies on the Cyprus problem through listening to the concerns of young people,” he concludes.