On 6-7 April 2009, the second Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (AoC) was held in Istanbul, Turkey. The Forum is the world’s premier event aimed at advancing intercultural understanding. Michael Slaby participated in the Forum and reached out to the assembled global leaders, heads of international organizations, media representatives, civil society and youth groups. Here is his report:
In the opening plenary we were welcomed by Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan, the Spanish President Zapatero, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, and former President of Portugal Jorge Sampaio, who now serves as UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations. The penalists set the stage for the two-day event and made clear that the AoC aims to serve as a global platform for taking action on bridging the divides between different cultures and religions, especially between Muslim and Western societies. Ban Ki-moon explained: “All too often, the United Nations must deal with fires after they break out. Through the Alliance, we can stamp out the sparks before they catch.”
It was amazing to witness the Danish Prime Minister and soon to be NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rassmussen taking part in a panel with Mohammad Khatami of Iran and addressing Muslim leaders just two days after the Turkish government gave up their opposition to his nomination as head of the alliance.
The four focal topics the AoC addresses are education, media, migration, and youth. In Istanbul these issues were discussed in a range of working breakfasts, plenaries, and working sessions. The list of initiatives that the AoC has initiated is indeed impressive. It includes:
- A Rapid Response Media Mechanism, which connects journalists with a wide range of international experts.
- A Global Youth Employment Initiative for the Middle East, called Silatech, that started with an investment of $ 100 million from H.H. Sheika Monzah bint Nasser-el-Missned of Qatar
- A multi-million dollar AoC Media Fund focussing on normalizing images of stereotyped communities and minorities in mass media through partnerships with Major Hollywood production, distribution, and talent management companies.
- A Youth Solidarity Trust Fund aimed at providing grants to youth-led programs in the areas of intercultural and interfaith dialogue.
- A Series of AoC Online Clearinghouses beginning with the theme of Media Literacy Education. In Istanbul, AoC launched the Clearinghouse on Education about Religions and Beliefs with 12 partner organizations from around the world.
In one of the corridors I ran into the long-standing Earth Charter champion Rustem Khairov from Russia who was part of the official Russian delegation. As such, he was invited to the dinner with President Obama who joined the assembled governmental representatives in a banquet hosted by the Turkish President Gul. We agreed to stenghten efforts of seeking a stronger intersection of the Earth Charter with the Alliance of Civilizations and its large network of partners.
I also had a very deep personal encounter with a Armand Giramahoro from Burundi who came to present the activities of the Amahoro Youth Club (http://amahoroyouthclub.wordpress.com/) that organizes debating and study circles for young people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. I remember how he shared that the average annual income in his country was 148 US Dollars. We both had tears in our eyes when we then realized that the cheapest room in the Kempinski Palace Hotel in Istanbul where the conference took place would cost around 300 USD per night. It was amazing to see Armand’s sincereness in speaking out for the most poor and disempowered youth that his organization tries to reach in a series of activities for street kids. I felt happy and proud for him when he was approached by several renown and influential institutions after he gave his presentation.
Please find more information about the Alliance of Civilizations at www.unaoc.org