Mediation and Education. Member Spotlight: Hülya Sapmaz

Hülya Sapmaz is a lawyer, mediator, and mediator trainer based in Izmir, west coast of Turkey. With Bachelor’s Degree in Law from Dokuz Eylul University, she has been practicing since the moment when mediation rules have been accepted by the Turkish assembly in 2013. Hülya is also a founder and former Director of Izmir Mediation Association, one of the biggest mediation associations in Turkey with nearly 190 members, and, currently Executive Director of Izaramer, Izmir Mediation Center .“My mediation adventure started with the law. In Turkey, only law faculty graduates can be mediators, this is the first rule to become one. According to our law system, mediation agreement has an enforcement power.”

Training Lawyers to Become Mediators

When it comes to inspiration for starting a mediator career, Hülya says that it was a realization that if you want to solve the problem for the world, you can start with solving your personal problems. It is the same approach to solving your problems and the problems of other people. “When I’m helping others to solve their problems, the results are affecting me, in other words, since the problems of others cannot be separated from the world I live in, I am actually contributing to my own peace.” she adds. Mediation became mandatory in Turkey – first in 2018 Labor Law disputes then in 2019 Commercial Law disputes and in 2020 Consumer Rights Disputes. Hülya is training lawyers to become mediators. In order to connect with other mediators, she joined Mediators Beyond Borders International and helped to create the MBBI-Turkey Regional Group. As she says, “it is a peacemakers organization, so I am often recommending other mediators to join and get involved as well.”

Educating Young Mediators

A project that Hülya puts a lot of effort into, is working on peers mediation, focusing on the change of motivation to solve a dispute and solve problems without discussion and fight, which, as she says, is very challenging in her culture. “After 12 years old there’s less and less you can do when you’re educating a child,” says Hülya. Along with Peer Mediation Association (AKRANDER), more than hundred mediators and psychological counseling and guidance teachers and started a mediation training program for secondary schools and children between 11 and 15. The programs follow the rules of facilitative mediation created by professor Abbas Türnüklü , where the first participants are teachers and psychological consultants of the schools, whose support is needed to teach mediation to children and have a great effect on their lives. The program started in several schools, but now more than 50 schools all over Turkey participate, and thanks to the online system, more and more participants are joining.

“They adore it, says Hülya when asked about students’ feedback “It’s unbelievable. I have been involved in hundreds of law cases, but I have never felt completely fulfilled by the results of my work. With the peers’ mediation, you see it one month later. Their families are giving feed backs , telling us that kids’ behavior changed dramatically in a good way. They are more understandable, they listen more, the way they talk and act changed. They also reducing disputes around them, started to mediate disputes with neighbours and friends.” According to her, it is the most important thing she and her co-workers have done as mediators. Hülya is also looking forward to changing online meetings to face-to-face activities, as soon as it becomes possible again, and make the program available for more disadvantaged groups. Children that are not in well economic conditions, public schools, and everyone who is suffering from a lack of support. “When the lesson ends, I don’t want to leave the class. Kids want to have more lessons, we were teaching them 8:00 pm to 11:00 pm which is beyond their sleeping time, but they want to continue to listen. Teachers were shocked and said that in normal cases you can’t keep them online more than 20 minutes”.

When asked about a thing that she’s the proudest of, Hülya stated that she is the proudest of kids, and this program is one of the  most meaningful thing she ever did for her mediation career. She says that other successes seem very small and insignificant, comparing with peer mediation. “Of course It’s so nice to see people  solve their problems, shake hands, leaving the table with good feels. It is good to see them smiling and thanking you. It makes you feel good, but the peers’ mediation you feel more spiritual satisfaction for sure” Among the obstacles that appear on the road to peer mediation, was funding, and spreading the word all over the region that is a very critical region, between the Balkans and the Middle East. There was a need to establish the network, collect experiences, and since the organization is self-funded, collecting donations is crucial to its survival and accomplishing the mission of spreading the knowledge.

Culture and mediation in times of pandemic

Speaking more about the cultural diversity of the region, Hülya admits that culture has a big impact on mediation. It is not possible to understand people, what they really want, and avoid misunderstandings without being aware of their bonds with the cultural backgrounds. Living in the middle of cross cultures, different ethnicities, and religions, it is important to discover which culture people come from. “I see it neglected in mediation, the cultural backgrounds, gender, and religion. To be a good mediator, you need to work on cultural differences as well.” Aside from cultural misunderstandings, Hülya draws attention to other problems that mediators have to face now, and it is a COVID pandemic. Some time ago it was important to meet face to face, look into the eyes, and now what we are missing is the body language. These days mediators have to accept online mediation through video conferences. “I cannot say it’s less useless than it was before” Hülya adds “I had to accept online mediation. Feel not as much as face-to-face mediation, but it is working and I am sure that when time passes we will get more used to this type of communication. Maybe we will learn how to use online mediation to understand the feeling without body language.”

Article by Maciej Witek, MBBI Writer