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Confronting Belgium's colonial legacy
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
03 Jul 2017

Decades after Belgian rule in Congo ended, and a century after the atrocities in Congo Free State - where up to 10-15 million Africans were killed - people in Belgium are beginning to confront the troubled history. The unaddressed atrocities are fuelling frustration among the Congolese, who are to this day surrounded by statues, buildings and streets dedicated to one of history’s most brutal rulers. Through art, culture and advocacy, the diaspora and Belgian people are paving the way for an uneasy reconciliation of the past.

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Belgium and Congo-16
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
19 May 2017

In a home dedicated to the Catholic church community, Stanislas Koyi - a 23 year old Congolese expat - leads a youth group prayer. In this mixed group, which features Congolese as well as white Belgians, they often talk about the colonial legacy. “I never want to split the Belgians’ opinion,” - said Stanislas, “to not make them choose between the Belgians or the Congolese.” Vanessa Monzibila, seen on the left, is Congolese herself. “Our parents still have this fear about Belgium, but we - the young ones - see ourselves like them, we see ourselves as Belgians” she said - “But the Belgians don’t necessarily see us as part of them.”

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Belgium and Congo-17
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
19 May 2017

Maryjo Kazadi, a second generation Congolese, attends the group prayer with Stanislas and Vanessa. “I feel Belgian, I was born here,” she said. However, feeling the optimism shared by many other young, second or third generation Congolese in Belgium, she is keen to go back to her roots, bringing with her knowledge from Belgium - “There is just so much to do there,” she added.

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Belgium and Congo-15
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
18 May 2017

Bram Borloo - a tour guide, activist and a painter - leads a group of Flemish woman on a Matonge tour. “In Belgium, children in primary school learn that Leopold II was the ‘King Constructor’” he said, “which continues to construct this false image.” The tour starts among the towering spoils of the colonial era in the Royal Quarter, finishing in central Matonge. “There is no hard link with what we see here, and the [negative] colonial past,” he added, “the past is still traumatic.”

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Belgium and Congo-1
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
11 May 2017

The statue of King Leopold II overshadows a walking tour, organised for adult and teenage audiences seeking to learn about the Congolese past, and learn more about the diaspora in the country. “There was an exhibition at the Africa Museum 5-6 years ago, and it was basically just apologetic about Belgium in Congo,” said Annekien Van Vaerenbergh, a guide working with Vizit for more than two decades.

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Belgium and Congo-13
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
11 May 2017

School tour in Matonge visits one of the shops, which by now are mostly run by Asian immigrants - replacing the traditionally African owners. “Every teacher realises very well what we did there in Congo,” said Annemiet Geldof who teaches religion in a school in Willebroek. Yet, she is aware how little of that history is thought in class.

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Belgium and Congo-14
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
22 Apr 2017

Street market in Matonge had low turnout few months in a row, according to the locals. Jeroen Marckelbach, coordinator of Kuumba, said it was due to increasing running costs inflicted by the local government of Ixelles. “They’re trying to push out the Congolese community, as the mayor of Ixelles said recently - ‘I will clean up Matonge,’” explained Jeroen.

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Belgium and Congo-7
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
21 Apr 2017

Womba Konga, known by his artist name Pitcho, organised the festival Congolisation in Brussels to raise awareness for African artists, and also, reconcile the Congolese diaspora’s search for identity. “In Belgium, no one saw black people,” he said - “We can leave Leopold avenues, but can’t have a Lumumba place,” he said, “who was killed by the Belgians.”

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Belgium and Congo-2
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

Relics from colonial era are still everywhere, including the monumental Justice Palace. However, little is done to acknowledge the atrocities committed in Congo, which overshadowed the colonial wealth brought back to the country.

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Belgium and Congo-3
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

Matonge, the Congolese neighbourhood in Brussels, has a lively African market, which allegedly draws African visitors from all over central Europe. The clagger of hairdressing saloons, beating music and unique smells fill the air in daytime.

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Belgium and Congo-4
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

Nightime in the market, however, attracts a different smell of drug dealing altogether. This is one of the reasons the community is under pressure from Ixelles governors, who want to link the European Quarter with the up-scale Avenue Louise, by untangling the community in Matonge.

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Belgium and Congo-8
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

Inside Kuumba, the Flemish-African cultural center in Matonge, traditional dances, music and languages are thought to African and European audiences. In this particular dance class, a mixed variety of students indulged in rhythmic moves and uplifting atmosphere, drawing cheers from the observing posse of Congolese men and women.

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Belgium and Congo-9
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

The unofficial Lumumba library at the heart of Matonge is run by a charismatic and passionate activist, Philip Buyck. Together with other campaigners and the Congolese diaspora, he continues in the push towards having an official Place Lumumba recognised a few blocks away.

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Belgium and Congo-5
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
17 Apr 2017

Ylhan Delvaux sits inside his old family home, which is now subdivided and rented out; he still lives on the top floor. “The smell is the same as it was in my childhood, I always feel like my mother is looking at me.” Ylhan’s Congolese-Belgian mother, burned herself in Luxenbourg in a violent protest against racism.

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Belgium and Congo-10
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
14 Apr 2017

Bozar in Brussels has an office dedicated to African art, called the ‘Africa Desk’. From here, numerous initiatives have been organised to promote and raise awareness for African and, as Tony Van der Eecken called it - Afropean - artists. ”There's frustration among the Congolese that they’re not accepted or seen as part of anything here. Using Bozar to honour Congolese artists is symbolic because it’s a place for recognition - it's near to the royal palace, cultural center of the king, it has a value in the mind of the people,” said Tony.

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Belgium and Congo-11
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
14 Apr 2017

Tony Van der Eecken is heavily involved in promoting African artists, as well as bringing to the Congolese history to the forefront. Tony remembers when there was the first exhibition on Congo, by Congolese artists: “It was confronting, showing colonial times through Congolese eyes - and it was not that positive about the Belgians. It was a shock exhibition, it was good,” he said.

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Freediving kas turkey 01
Kas, Turkey
By Mark_Esplin
30 Sep 2014

Kaputas beach is one of Kas' main tourist attractions due to the colour of its beautiful warm water and pleasant sandy beach.

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Underwater High: Turkey's Female Free...
Kas
By Mark_Esplin
29 Sep 2014

Kas, Turkey
September 29, 2014

As a child Sahika Ercumen had acute asthma. Her breathing difficulties were so bad that until age twelve she couldn’t do any physical activities and spent most of her time sat at home. Determined to confront her illness she went to her local swimming club and jumped into the water.

To everyone’s surprise Sahika was a natural swimmer. Like many young girls she had imagined life as a mermaid and her newfound love for water ultimately changed her life. “I felt I was diving in another world, in a dream world. It was so relaxing, so nice underwater. I hadn’t played sports until I was 12 years-old because of a sickness, so it was really a miracle for me.”

The swimming coach asked her to hold her breath and swim underwater. In her first attempt she out performed the club professionals and knew she wanted to dedicate her life to the sport. Through intense training, her physical strength improved, as did her immune system, until she was no longer affected by her asthma.

Sahika is now the leading female free diver with six world records including the women’s deepest return dive on a single breath – an astonishing 91 meters.

Sahika also now trains and mentors aspiring new freedivers in workshops in the Turkish coastal town of Kas.

Freediving is an extreme sport in which participants swim for long distances underwater to exceptional depths, or for long periods of time, on a single breath without the use of scuba gear. Unsurprisingly it requires great physical and mental strength as Sahika explains, “After 20-30 meters your lungs are the size of a football, as the pressure increases they get smaller and smaller. By 30-40 meters your lungs are like tennis balls… Your veins too are getting smaller and your heart rate drops. The blood circulation moves to only your heart, brain and vital organs – there’s a big change [to your body].”

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Freediving kas turkey 07
Kas, Turkey
By Mark_Esplin
29 Sep 2014

Free Diving world record holder Sahika Ercumen during a training dive in Kas, Antalya, Southern Turkey.

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Freediving kas turkey 09
Kas, Turkey
By Mark_Esplin
29 Sep 2014

Free Diving record holder Sahika Ercumen surfaces after a training dive out at sea near Kas in Antalya, Turkey.

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Freediving kas turkey 12
Kas
By Mark_Esplin
28 Sep 2014

Free dive enthusiasts check out the action below as they wait their turn to dive during a workshop lead by Sahika Ercumen.

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Freediving kas turkey 02
Kas, Turkey
By Mark_Esplin
27 Sep 2014

Free Diving world record holder Sahika Ercumen leads a breathing workshop in Kas, Antalya, Southern Turkey.

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Freediving kas turkey 03
Kas, Turkey
By Mark_Esplin
27 Sep 2014

A student relaxes during a yoga session as part of a free diving workshop lead by Sahika Ercumen in Kas, Turkey.

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Freediving kas turkey 04
Kas, Turkey
By Mark_Esplin
27 Sep 2014

Sahika Ercumen teaches breathing exercises during a free diving workshop in Kas, Antalya, Southern Turkey.

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Freediving kas turkey 05
Kas, Turkey
By Mark_Esplin
27 Sep 2014

A student laughs during a breathing workshop lead by free diving record holder Sahika Ercumen in Kas, Antalya, Southern Turkey.

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Freediving kas turkey 06
Kas, Turkey
By Mark_Esplin
27 Sep 2014

Though well known throughout Turkey, Kas remains less popular with foreign tourists than the near-by towns of Bodrum and Antalya city.

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Freediving kas turkey 11
Kas
By Mark_Esplin
27 Sep 2014

Sahika Ercumen instructs students during a breathing workshop in Kas, Southern turkey.

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Islamist Extremists Clash With Police...
Tunis, Tunisia
By Wassim Ben Rhouma
18 May 2013

A journalist covers the demonstration as Islamic Extremist Organisation members clash with police in the Capital Tunis.

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Wounded Syrians at the Reyhanli Hospi...
Reyhanli, Turkey
By info
27 Mar 2012

Reyhanli, Turkey | March 26, 2012

Five wounded Free Syrian Army fighters were brought to the Reyhanli Hospital in Turkey on March 26, 2012. The dissidents crossed the Turkish border close to Kavakli, Kusakli and Bukulmez villages in Reyhanli, Turkey. The fighters had been shot in the arms and legs by the Assad Regime Army.

After passing a barbed-wire barrier, Syrians dissidents are rescued by a Turkish ambulance posted at the Turkish border. The wounded Syrians are then brought to the Reyhanli Hospital.

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Wounded Free Syrian Army fighters car...
Reyhanli, Turkey
By info
27 Mar 2012

Reyhanli, Turkey | March 26, 2012

Five wounded Free Syrian Army fighters were brought to the Reyhanli Hospital in Turkey on March 26, 2012. The dissidents crossed the Turkish border close to Kavakli, Kusakli and Bukulmez villages in Reyhanli, Turkey. The fighters had been shot in the arms and legs by the Assad Regime Army.

After passing a barbed-wire barrier, Syrians dissidents are rescued by a Turkish ambulance posted at the Turkish border. The wounded Syrians are then brought to the Reyhanli Hospital.

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Wounded Free Syrian Army fighters car...
Reyhanli, Turkey
By info
27 Mar 2012

Reyhanli, Turkey | March 26, 2012

Five wounded Free Syrian Army fighters were brought to the Reyhanli Hospital in Turkey on March 26, 2012. The dissidents crossed the Turkish border close to Kavakli, Kusakli and Bukulmez villages in Reyhanli, Turkey. The fighters had been shot in the arms and legs by the Assad Regime Army.

After passing a barbed-wire barrier, Syrians dissidents are rescued by a Turkish ambulance posted at the Turkish border. The wounded Syrians are then brought to the Reyhanli Hospital.

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Free Syrian Army in Idlib
Idlib, Syria
By info
23 Mar 2012

Idlib, Syria | March 21, 2012

A Free Syrian Soldier ready to fight against the Syrian Army in Idlib on March 21.

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Free Syrian Army in Idlib
Idlib, Syria
By info
23 Mar 2012

Idlib, Syria | March 21, 2012

The Free Syrian Army patrolling around Idlib hills on March 21, 2012.

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Free Syrian Army soldier
Idlib, Syria
By info
23 Mar 2012

Idlib, Syria | March 21, 2012

A Free Syrian Army Soldier in Idlib.

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Free Syrian Army soldier
Idlib, Syria
By info
23 Mar 2012

Idlib, Syria | March 21, 2012

A Free Syrian Army soldier in Idlib.