Press Conference by United Nations Alliance of Civilizations on Upcoming Second Forum, Set for Istanbul, Turkey, 6-7 April

26 March 2009

Press Conference by United Nations Alliance of Civilizations on Upcoming Second Forum, Set for Istanbul, Turkey, 6-7 April

26 March 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference by United Nations alliance of civilizations on upcoming


second forum, set for istanbul, turkey, 6-7 april

President Barack Obama of the United States was expected to attend the Second Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, scheduled for 6-7 April in Istanbul, Turkey, Director Marc Scheuer said today.

It would be the first time for a new President of the United States to participate in any United Nations-related meeting, Mr. Scheuer said at a Headquarters press conference.

Established in 2005 on the initiative of Spain and Turkey and under United Nations auspices, the Alliance’s aim was to reduce cross-cultural tensions that threatened to inflame existing political conflicts or trigger new ones, he said.  In April 2007, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had appointed former President Jorge Sampaio of Portugal as High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations.

He said the Alliance worked with a global network of Government partners and a great number of international organizations, and the Group of Friends now numbered 100.  It included 85 States and 15 international organizations, among them the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the League of Arab States.  The Alliance also worked at the grass-roots level, promoting innovative projects in the areas of education, youth, media and migration with a view to building trust, reconciliation and mutual respect among different communities, and to working together on specific projects.

Recalling that the first Forum had taken place in Madrid in January 2008, he said the second would be opened by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain, Secretary-General Ban and Mr. Sampaio.  Heads of Government and more than 50 ministers were expected to participate.

Participating partners from the political world, civil society, religion, media and the corporate sector would focus especially on youth, he said.  The Forum was global in scope, representing different cultures, and would aim for a dialogue that would deliver concrete achievements, including innovative ways to bring together best practices in fostering a culture of understanding.

He went on to say that the big programmes launched in Madrid would be reviewed.  They included the Silatech Project to connect young people with employment opportunities in the Middle East, which had benefited from a $200 million grant from a Qatari organization.  Progress on the Media Fund ‑‑ intended to help media resist stereotyping ‑‑ and the Youth Solidarity Fund would also be reviewed.  New projects would include a cluster of new initiatives to build bridges in the post-Gaza situation and a new fellowship programme to help expose emerging leaders to different cultural environments.

He said that the Rapid Response Media Mechanism, an online resource featuring experts on intercultural issues to which the media could turn for background information in times of international tension, would be expanded to the Mediterranean and progressively to a global scale.

Asked what signal President Obama’s presence in Turkey would send ‑‑ it would be his first visit to a Muslim country as Head of State ‑‑ Mr. Scheuer said that, both for the United Nations and the Alliance, it would signal an attitude in favour of a “high dose” of openness and cautious dialogue.  It would also signal a preparedness to listen and to show respect ‑‑ one of the basic tenets of the Alliance.  It would strengthen the approach of dialogue as opposed to confrontation.

In reply to a question about the involvement of countries from regions other than Europe and the Middle East, he conceded that initially, the emphasis had been on the Western and Muslim worlds.  However, the Alliance had become increasingly global in scope as membership of the Group of Friends had increased to include some seven African and eight Latin American countries in addition to the Russian Federation, Pakistan, India and China.  The next conference would probably be held in Brazil, probably by the end of 2010.  Although Israel was not a member, there was hope of an Israeli presence in Istanbul.  The Alliance had no process for granting or denying membership.

Asked how the Alliance tried to reduce tensions, he noted that the causes of conflict often had a basis in real issues such as territory, freedom of movement and access.  If cultural differences were emphasized in such conflicts, they would be more difficult to resolve.  The purpose of the Alliance was to guide parties through the cultural differences so that they could then address the real issues.  The aim was to reduce the aspect of cultural divisions and not hide behind them.  However, the Alliance had no intention of interfering with existing conflict-resolution mechanisms.

The question of “narrative” was often important in conflict, and the parties often had a different narrative, he continued.  It was important to prevent the hearing of only one narrative and to try to get the media and publishers to present both narratives in a balanced way.

In answer to another question, he said the Alliance tried to stay clear of the debate on defamation of religion versus freedom of expression, adding that it wished to address concrete issues.

Asked to expand on the Rapid Response Media Mechanism, he said the long-term aspect of the Alliance was to prepare people for an increasingly diverse world through education.  The Rapid Response Mechanism was intended to intervene at a very early stage of developing situations that could trigger radicalization by bringing expertise to the media.  It was also open to non-media organizations.

Responding to a question about the Alliance’s attention to women, he said the debate between using the “mainstreaming approach” as opposed to special events on women was ongoing.  A number of countries had called for special attention to the issue of women.

Asked what qualifications he had to be Director of the Alliance, he said that over the past 10 years he had worked in that area, including as Head of Political Advice and Cooperation for the Council of Europe.  Many problems addressed by the Alliance had a bearing on the domestic and foreign agendas of European countries, from the Russian Federation to France and from Georgia to the United Kingdom.  The presence of large communities from different countries and religions was high on the European agenda.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.