The Alliance of Civilizations and the role of Turkey

Ebru Barutçu Gökdenizler 17.04.2013
H.E. President Sampaio,
Mr. Rector,
Distinguished Colleagues,
Dear professors and students,

I would like to thank the Technical University of Lisbon Superior Institute of Social and Political Sciences and the African Students Association for organizing this conference on such an important and relevant topic. I also highly appreciate the opportunity to share with you my views on the Alliance of Civilizations (AoC), which is one of today’s main global instruments for intercultural dialogue and Turkey’s role in it.

I accepted the invitation to be with you today with pleasure, not only because the AoC, as a joint Turkish and Spanish co-initiative, is very dear to us, but also because a university, full of young and dynamic minds, is without a doubt the best venue to have a substantial discussion on this matter. Bearing in mind that the AoC is an investment in a better future, I cannot think of a more fitting audience. Therefore, I would like to thank once again for the awareness and sensitivity that you have shown to this matter.

The importance of intercultural dialogue is growing every day. Therefore, the AoC, fortunately (or unfortunately), remains to be a relevant initiative. As a matter of fact, it has become more relevant than ever with the recent developments in our continent and its neighbourhood. This is why Turkey, as a co-founder of the AoC, continues to attribute utmost importance to it.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Increasing intolerance and xenophobia on the basis of racial, ethnic, religious and gender differences continue to be main concerns for us. We believe that it is not possible to build a common future based on ignorance, fear and isolationism.

Diversity is a risky asset for societies. It can and should be the catalyst of social cohesion and democracy. It is a source of strength and richness to be cherished. But if we start to perceive diversity from the viewpoint of “we and the others”, then it will be source of tension and division.

As long as the principles of democracy and human rights are observed and basic human dignity for everyone is ensured, there is no reason for people of different faiths or world views not to coexist peacefully. For instance, contributions made by migrants to the cultural diversity of the societies they live in cannot be denied. This should be considered as an element of cultural richness rather than difference.

However, it is no secret that cultural diversity and multiculturalism have regrettably gained negative connotations over time. Individuals have become targets of discrimination and intolerance, because of being perceived as “different” in cultural and religious terms.

It is reasonable to expect the gap between cultures and religions to narrow in our
world where information is so easily accessible. However, as capital, information and values have become increasingly globalized in today’s world, unfortunately, so have hatred, fear and intolerance. Instead of celebrating the diversity of cultures, beliefs and outlooks as positive forces that enable us to confront and find solutions to inequality, poverty, conflict and injustice, for a variety of reasons, the gap between cultures and religions has widened. Fears and concerns stemming from globalization, coupled with the economic and financial crisis, have also continued to feed the alarming phenomenon of intolerance.

Freedom of expression is one of the cornerstones of our democratic systems and we shall never relinquish it. But we must also not forget that there is a fine line and that there are no rights without responsibility and respect for different sensibilities. The cartoon crisis was an alarming case in point. After the outbreak of the crisis, Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan and former Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero published a joint article in the International Herald Tribune in February 2006 calling for respect and calm. As they warned in their article, “in a globalized world, in which the relationships and exchanges amongst different civilizations continue to multiply, and in which a local incident may have worldwide repercussions, it is vital that we cultivate the values of respect, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.”

We should see diversity as an asset uniting rather than separating us. Cultural diversity is an important source of wealth. In this increasingly interconnected and global world, tolerance should be our guiding principle for living together with all our differences. As a matter of fact, we should not only live “side-by-side” but also “together”.

We must not forget that, intolerance as such, is a behavioral pattern acquired in time. So is tolerance. This is where the AoC initiative comes into the picture: to eradicate the behavioural pattern of intolerance and to cultivate long-lasting patterns of tolerance. The “Youth” cluster of the AoC, and activities such as this one here today are extremely crucial in this respect.

Our globalized world requires strengthened intercultural dialogue so that future generations are prepared for handling divisive issues between cultures and societies in a peaceful and constructive manner. This will also strengthen peace, stability and cooperation in the world. This was the logic behind the establishment of the AoC.

It is hard to believe that already more than a decade has passed since 9/11, an horrific act of terror which I believe has had a deep impact on the lives of a generation. Let me also here express out strong condemnation of the act of terror in Boston this week and our deepest condolences for the loss of lives and wishes for a swift recovery for the over 100 victims who havesuffered serious injury. The increased polarization witnessed in the post 9/11 world led certain circles to claim Huntington’s theory of the Clash of Civilizations was gaining greater credibility.

Following an initial attempt in 2002 by hosting the first ever joint forum meeting which brought the EU and OIC (at that time) to gather in Istanbul in an effort to promote harmony and cooperation through crucial intercultural dialogue, Turkey’s response was the AoC.

Ladies and gentlemen,

By virtues of its unique geography, Turkey has always sought to bridge the cultural divide so to speak. Serving as a crucial bridge for the much needed dialogue and interaction between different cultures and faith systems, Turkey is also the living proof that a western democracy can exist and thrive in a predominantly Muslim nation. Turkey refutes the theory of a “clash of civilizations”. This is why Turkey together with Spain launched in 2005 the AoC initiative in an effort to eradicate the tide of intolerance, extremism and polarization in the world.

Being a cradle of civilizations itself, Turkey attaches great importance to one universal civilization based on fundamental values such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law, as well as regional cultures co-existing under the global umbrella of tolerance and harmony.

The fact that the initiative was adopted by the UN Secretary General as an UN initiative shortly after its launch testifies to its universal appeal. The AoC has become the flagship of global efforts to promote intercultural and interfaith dialogue and tolerance as well as to collectively counter extremism. The Group of Friends of the Alliance, formed within the United Nations, currently stands at somewhere near 135. The strong global interest in the initiative that this figure represents also proves the international communities’ commitment to an atmosphere of cooperation rather than confrontation. This is a promising sign.

Allow me to make use of this opportunity to thank H.E. President Sampaio for his personal contribution to the AoC over the course of the past 6 years as its first High Representative. Under his able leadership and guidance, the Alliance has made great strides towards reaching its primary objective of building bridges to promote dialogue and understanding among peoples and to foster a culture of peace in the world. His personal commitment to its cause has been instrumental in giving higher resolution to the initiative and recruiting many new friends of the Alliance.

We may have covered significant ground in 8 years. In this respect, the Forums of the AoC, in Madrid, Istanbul, Rio, Doha and lastly held in Vienna have been important milestones in this process, expanding the initiative to different regions. The next will be hosted by Indonesia in 2014.

The AoC serves as a forum to express and implement the political will of nations to counter prejudices and stereotypes between different religions and cultures. Recent developments surfacing in the international arena, and in particular in the Mediterranean basin, have rendered this initiative all the more meaningful, necessary and relevant.

However, there still remains a lot more to accomplish. It is no easy task. Today, our objective continues to be the encouragement of greater cross-cultural understanding; to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect; to draw on not the differences that divide but the commonalities that unite us. It is often easy to speak about building bridges of trust, about promoting tolerance and advancing cross-cultural friendship. It is, however, sometimes difficult to translate our deeds into actions. This is a long process which can only be successful with the full commitment and contribution of the international community as a whole.

On its part, Turkey is proud to be among the first countries to have adopted and completed the implementation of its First National Plan and to have already adopted the second one. Our Strategies are based on an understanding that rejects the demonization of peoples of other cultures and faiths, and regards diversity as a source of enrichment. It is based on the principles of pluralism, dialogue, tolerance and respect for human dignity, fundamental freedoms and gender equality.

Turkey hosted the Istanbul Global Forum in 2009 and “the Alliance of Civilizations Partners Forum” under the Replenishment Mechanism in 2012 in Istanbul. This is an indispensable instrument to endow the AoC with the necessary financial resources to implement the many promising projects that the initiative has inspired. To date, Turkey has committed 2 million Dollars to this end.

Turkey believes that the stronger the Alliance grows, the stronger we will be in combatting prejudice, intolerance and polarization. Therefore, we will continue to provide every possible support to the AoC. Turkey will also be at the side of the Alliance’s new High Representative H.E. Mr. Al Nasser in his endeavours to take the Alliance further by reinforcing intercultural trust, tolerance and respect for diversity through partnership and cooperation.

Allow me to conclude by saying a few words on Turkey’s EU accession. The completion of this historical project -a historical project not only because it has been underway since 1959 but also because of the global impact it will have- will constitute a solid example of the fulfilment in many respects of the aims of the AoC and of the coexistence of people from different religions and cultures in a milieu of peace and tolerance. It will show to everyone inside and outside the EU that the Union is truly based on the principle of “unity in diversity”.

Thank you, for your kind attention.


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