The Leaders of Change summit 13-14 March in Istanbul was hosted by the Turkish Futures Researches Foundation TUGAV founded in 1987. The theme was “Changing to meet, meeting to change”, emphasising the radical changes in policymakers’ thinking now taking place and the importance of sharing new ideas to address the urgent problems facing particularly the Middle East.
The summit was the first of what TUGAV President Ahmet Eyup Ozguc plans to be an annual forum supported by the Turkish government and Istanbul University. Just as the G8 is losing out to a more representative G20 in global economic decision-making, the Turkish organisers intend that such summits can shift attention away from gatherings such as the elitist World Economic Forum (WEF) and provide a more democratic platform for voices of change.
Like the WEF, it provided the opportunity for world leaders to meet. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had meetings with Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidential Council Member Bakir Izzetbegovic, Iraqi Vice Presidents Adil Abdulmehdi and Tariq Al-Hashimi, Iraqiyya List Leader Iyad Allawi, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Tachi, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, former Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, UNDP Director Helen Clark, and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the context of the summit … //
… The need to see today’s changes in historical perspective was stressed by Bathounia Shaaban, adviser to Syrian President Bashir Al-Assad. While “the fall of the Berlin Wall” was generally seen as the inspiration behind recent changes in the Middle East, which have come “20 years too late” according to Davutoglu, Shaaban disagreed: “The changes are 90 years too late. What’s happening now should have happened instead of the Sykes-Picot agreement of WWI between Britain, France and Russia to carve up the Middle East into weak colonies.”
Shaaban described “the bloody, terrible ‘change’ brought to the region by the imperialists” with the creation of Israel and now the invasion of Iraq, killing millions. “The US understands very well what it is doing. It has never intended to bring freedom and democracy, but rather to take oil, protect Israel, and to try to keep the Arab world outside history.” She predicted that “in 10 years, we will see how Turkey played an important role in creating positive change in the region.”
Ross Wilson, former US ambassador to Turkey and director of the Eurasia Centre at the Atlantic Council, warned that “the new order will be disorder”, that “allies like the US and Turkey will have to cooperate to shape this disorder to create stability and democracy, a lesson which has been retaught to us in recent years.”
Misconceptions such as Orientalism, the clash of civilisations and the end of history were criticised as stumbling blocks in achieving peace in the Middle East. Orientalism, the Euro-centrism that dominates relations, assumes “history flows from a single centre.” The US, as epitomised by the views of Bernard Lewis and Richard Pipes, assume that dictatorship is endemic to the Arab world, that it can’t be democratic by definition. This paternalism, as Kinzer pointed out, is the major factor motivating US policy in the Middle East and holding the Arab world back.
Abrahim Kalin, adviser to the Turkish PM, argued that “peace means more than lack of war.” It means overcoming these prejudices and recognising the importance of adequate welfare, prosperity. Achieving peace is complex, “not just the snowball effect” of building momentum, but recognising “the butterfly effect”, where events affect other events in a complex pattern. “Wisconsin demonstrators were inspired by protesters in Tunisia and Egypt”, seeing their struggle as similarly trying to bring down a dictator. “History can reverse itself,” he argued, and surprised listeners with the words of Lenin: “Sometimes decades pass and nothing happens; and then sometimes weeks pass and decades happen.”
The bottom line for Kalin is a concerted effort to recognise the 1967 borders in Palestine as the only solution to the crisis there. “There is not need for any more ‘processes’.” Turkish journalist Cengiz Candar dismissed even the possibility of a two-state solution as no long possible. He sees Turkey as a possible negotiator between the Palestinians and Israelis, though the latter will have to make a radical change in their attitude, since their two main rivals at present – Turkey and Iran – are now working together. Candar predicted an Egypt-Turkey-Iran as the coming axis of power, and advised Israel to seek rapprochement with Turkey as soon as possible if it knows what’s good for it.
Turkey’s approach to the newly independent Balkan states is being formulated now. Murat Mercan, president of the Turkish Parliamentary Foreign Relations Commission, described the Ottoman period as one of relative harmony and balance among dozens of ethnic groups, including Christians, Muslims and Jews. While he approved of the move to re-integrate them through NATO and the EU, he criticised EU “double standards” towards members, and the Euro-spats over Kosovo and Macedonia. He called for Turkish involvement economically to create “greater interdependency between cities” and “to maintain the multicultural, religious, and ethnic fabric of the region, noting that there are many ethnic Balkans living in northern Turkey. Omer Ozkaya, editor of Turkquie Diplomatique and head of the East-West Researches Institute, noted the social collapse in the region following the civil war in the 1990s and the dangers of the region becoming a drug-smuggling corridor.
Bulent Arinc, deputy prime minister, praised Turkey’s new “zero-problem” foreign policy approach, emphasising negotiations intends to recreate a 21st century regional neo-Ottoman peace, now “based on openness and democracy”. The cancelling of visa requirements with Albania, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya and Syria in 2009, and later with Russia, Egypt and others is evidence of this intent. The marine border problems with Greece were resolved and tensions in Cyprus eased, “not with a fist. You need to open your fist to shake hands.” He vowed that the current government would resolve the Armenian conflict, encouraging more trade and cultural exchanges. “Neighbours shouldn’t fight. We have the will to resolve outstanding disputes” … (full text).