Istanbul Forum: Concrete Progress Made In Building Bridges, Connecting People Across Borders

By | 7 April 2009

Youth, Business Leaders Spearhead Efforts at Intercultural Understanding;  New Initiatives Use Technology to Break Down Cultural, Religious Barriers
Istanbul – Concrete progress toward a global agenda for intercultural dialogue was made at the Istanbul Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations as grassroots advocates join forces with heads of state and high-ranking religious and cultural leaders.

“The Alliance Forum is not only about dialogue. It is about dialogue that delivers. It is about concrete, practical projects that make a real difference to the lives of people” said High Representative President Jorge Sampaio.

“The world will not be able to pull out of the current global crisis through economic measures alone. For those measures to be effective in the long term, they need to be complemented by efforts to strengthen the social fabric and build trust and understanding among communities and nations,” said President Sampaio.

The key outcomes of the Forum include the launch of a number of new initiatives:

  1. A Global Youth Movement for the Alliance of Civilizations composed of youth organizations and individuals who make the objectives of the Alliance a central part of their daily lives through concrete projects and personal commitments.
  2. Dialogue Café, a highly innovative technological project aimed at creating a global collective of ordinary citizens, who will explore common interests across divides, and will be encouraged to collaborate on common projects. The project, led by CISCO, will be the first example of a true global public-private partnership, involving the business sector, foundations, universities and, we hope, local public authorities as well.
  3. “Restore Trust, Rebuild Bridges”, a cluster of Euro-Mediterranean projects, led by the Alliance and the Anna Lindh Foundation, to be developed by a number of partners, aimed at restoring trust and rebuilding bridges in that region in the wake of the Gaza crisis.
  4. An initial showcasing of the Alliance Fellowship Program to facilitate meaningful exchanges of young leaders from a number of countries and establish working relationships between them.
  5. Plural +, a youth film festival focused on migration themes to be launched in partnership with the International Organization for Migration.
  6. Doing Business in a Multi-cultural World – Challenges and Opportunities, a joint report of the Alliance of Civilizations and the UN Global Compact showcasing a range of best practices and case studies for companies to use in responding to the diversity of today’s business environments.
  7. The launch of Mapping Media Education Policies around the World, a joint publication by the Alliance and UNESCO on media education policies.
  8. A joint rapid response media framework developed with the Anna Lindh Foundation and the European Commission to serve the needs of journalists working across the Mediterranean region. This initiative will provide user-friendly access to information and expertise in the context of crises with cultural dimensions as well as a support mechanism to bring together international journalists, editors and relevant experts for media dialogue.
  9. The Alliance Research Network, which was launched with 12 universities from across the world.
  10. The launch of the Education about Religions and Beliefs Clearinghouse with 12 partners from around the world.

In addition, the Forum featured:

  • Announcement of new National Plans and regional strategies for intercultural dialogue by governments and multilateral organizations to advance AoC objectives in their respective countries and region – this is the case of several countries including Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Montenegro, Portugal, Russian Federation, Qatar and Slovenia. Regional Strategies for East-European countries, the Euro-Mediterranean region and the Ibero-American countries have also been announced With regards to the East-European Strategy, an International Conference in Sarajevo to take place in the second half of this year has been announced. Concerning the Euro-Mediterranean Regional Strategy, a set of initiatives will be carried out in order to prepare its adoption in a meeting to be hosted by Egypt.
  • Establishment of a new set of partnership agreements which will enable the AoC to leverage networks and competitive advantages of partners in the implementation of its programs. We have signed 7 agreements – with the International Organization of Migration, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Ibero-American General Secretariat, the Anna Lindh Foundation, l’Organisation de la Francophonie, the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries and the Union Latine.

The Alliance Forum is unique in several ways:

  1. It is the one global event that brings together the key players who are involved in promoting intercultural cooperation to galvanize them into action.
  2. The Alliance Forum is not only about dialogue. It is about dialogue that delivers. It is about concrete, practical projects that make a real difference to the lives of people on the ground.
  3. The Alliance Forum is also about innovation. The event will showcase the most original, inspiring and imaginative projects aimed at building understanding and trust among diverse communities and cultures. These projects will be showcased in a special session, the Marketplace of Ideas, in which a number of grassroots organizations will have the opportunity to present the results of their work and provide inspiration to others.
  4. Finally, the Forum highlights the role of the Alliance as a global matchmaker. It connects innovative, groundbreaking grassroots initiatives with policy makers and potential funders who can help scale up these projects and give them global prominence.

Note to Editors
For more information about the Alliance of Civilizations, please visit the Alliance of Civilizations Web site:

For information about the Alliance of Civilizations, please contact: Emmanuel Kattan (tel: +1 917 238 2043; or Daanish Masood (tel: +1 917 847 3084;

The Secretary-General
Address to Second Alliance of Civilizations Forum
Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoðan, President of the Government [José Luis] Rodríguez Zapatero, High Representative [Jorge] Sampaio, Distinguished heads of State and Government, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is exciting to be here. To look out at all of you, is to see a very powerful coalition for progress.

Diplomats, Presidents, Prime Ministers, and religious leaders.

Scholars and CEOs.

Young people and civil society leaders.

All of you working together under the very great, inclusive, cross-cultural umbrella of the Alliance of Civilizations.

I welcome you and I salute your forward-thinking participation.

I especially want to thank Prime Minister Erdoðan and President of the Government Rodríguez Zapatero for their outstanding leadership of the Alliance, as well as my High Representative, President Sampaio, who has personally done so much for the cause of mutual understanding throughout the world.

Just over two years ago, here in Istanbul, the Alliance’s High-Level Group launched its landmark report.

Among its insights and analysis was this fundamental point: “All societies are bound together in their humanity and interdependent in their quest for stability, prosperity and peaceful co-existence”.

That point must always be our touchstone. But it is especially important now, as the world struggles with multiple crises.

Economic and financial turmoil are tearing at the fabric of societies. Too many people are jobless, hungry and angry. Many are looking for scapegoats. They blame the Other. The Other community. The Other religion. The Other faith. The Other group.

This is extremely dangerous and even deadly. Unfair blame leads to unjust punishment. Even a child could be murdered on the excuse that it would only grow up to be “one of them”. We have been this way before, too many times.

All too often, the United Nations must deal with fires after they break out. Through the Alliance of Civilizations, we can stamp out the sparks before they catch. This is the real purpose and the real philosophy behind the Alliance of Civilizations.

This is critical, because no amount of blue helmets, ceasefires or human rights monitors can bring lasting peace without a genuine spirit of cooperation among different communities, different faiths, different groups.

So we urgently need the Alliance. The Alliance has struck a chord around the world. Now we need you to take it to the next level, to the grassroots.

You are here to meet and talk. More than that, you are signing new agreements, launching new networks, funding worthy projects. This is partnership in action.

Your efforts will do more than prevent problems. They will generate solutions.

Bridging divides helps keep the peace. It also gives the economy a boost by making societies more stable for investors. That is why the Alliance is working with the UN Global Compact to help corporations foster tolerance. Businesses know that in today’s globalized world, they have to be able to compete in multicultural environments.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since the Alliance is built on powerful ideas, this would seem an appropriate occasion on which to share with you the words of a few modern thinkers.

One said, “The world changes, but tensions and stereotypes from the past remain. In order to shake up these preconceived notions, nothing works better than individuals meeting face to face.” This means dialogue.

Another observed that, “Wherever you come from, whoever you are, you strive for a better life, well-being and peace.”

Still another noted that people are linked by “the same day-to-day problems, the same challenges, the same desire to make progress towards a better world.”

Who are these three wise philosophers?

One is an organizer from the United States.

Another is a teacher from Algeria.

The third leads an indigenous women’s organization in Chad, in Africa.

They are all young, and they all come together through an on-line magazine supported by the Alliance which lets their voices be heard.

That project and others like it are just one of many featured at this Forum’s Marketplace of Ideas. I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to learn about these initiatives, all of which are making a tangible difference in communities around the world.

I also commend to you several other Alliance initiatives. These include a set of online tools that are helping open young minds to other religious traditions. A Media Fund that is promoting mainstream films that challenge cultural stereotypes. A fellowship programme that helps young leaders create new models of collaboration. And a film festival on migration and integration.

The Alliance has also developed a Rapid Response Media Mechanism, which connects journalists with a wide range of international experts. When events and controversies threaten to split societies, the voices of these experts can help broaden the range of views being heard. Often, extremists and others seek to dominate the debate and stir the cauldron. And as we know, it is the most polarizing voices that are perceived to offer the most gripping viewing or listening experiences. At such times, our Alliance experts serve as invaluable moderating influences.


Since our last Forum in Spain, two members of the Alliance’s High-Level Group passed away. Although Mohamed Charfi, Tunisia’s former Minister of Education, and Ali Alatas, Indonesia’s former Foreign Minister, are no longer with us, I believe their legacy still endures.

Mr. Charfi once pointed out that, “For the great majority, we have the same principles. Politics and history have acted so that we have drifted apart, but in fact, we are very close.”

And Mr. Alatas once said, “This is my fervent hope: that the Alliance of Civilizations will succeed in inspiring and persuading the rest of the international community to do [what is] urgently required to move to a more harmonious and peaceful world.”

They knew, and we know, that today’s world of strife is like a powder keg. In such a volatile environment, we need to do everything we can to keep differences, rivalries, hatred and ignorance from erupting into violence.

But even that, vital as it is, is not enough.

The explosive nature of our world is not only a product of communal tensions. The world is aboil with grave, unresolved challenges, from poverty and climate change to repression and injustice. Any one of these is cause enough for instability we could well reach critical junctures on all at once. If we are to have any hope of addressing them, we need to be able to put our best feet forward.

The Alliance gives us a chance. A chance to consign identity-based divisiveness to the past – something we should have done long ago. A chance to recognize our common humanity before it is too late.

All of you assembled here come from diverse backgrounds and represent different interests. But you share the same spirit of good will. You share a conviction that what unites us is so basic, and so powerful, that it should easily overwhelm what divides us.

Spreading understanding of this fundamental truth is more critical than ever.

I look forward to continuing to work with you in that quest, for the sake of people everywhere who yearn for a world of coexistence and peace and harmonious relations.

Thank you. Teþekkür ederim.

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