ISTANBUL - As the Alliance of Civilizations forum in Istanbul ended with a three-page statement, organizers were satisfied with the outcome, identifying the meeting as a success. In their eyes, however, the criteria for success was the number of participants.
For many journalists and observers, however, the summit fell short of paving the way to conflict resolution and lacked framework for accomplishing its tasks.
The alliance was initiated in 2005 to improve relations between conflicting sides and help the Western and Islamic worlds learn more about each other.
But even this claim has been wrongly formulated, according to experts. Cengiz Aktar, academic and a columnist for Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, said the panel put Islam and the West on two different sides, which was very problematic. "Although the terminology was ’West and East’ before, now it became Islam, a religion, and West, a geographical region. This is very unfortunate for the forum," said Aktar.
Kadri Gürsel, daily Milliyet columnist, criticized juxtaposing Turkey, as the Islamic counterpart against Spain. Turkey is not a good choice to represent the Islamic world, said Gürsel. "This project has two sides; one is Christianity, and it is definitely well represented by a country like Spain, a catholic country established after removing all non-Christian elements from its lands," Gürsel told the Daily News.
He said on the other side, Islam could not be represented by Turkey, which is trying to be a member of the EU and refrains from being referred to as an Islamic state despite having a Muslim majority population.
The substance of the forum was also subject to criticism. Although it aimed to encourage dialog among conflicting regions such as Palestine and Iraq, it did not have the power to do that, according to Cemal Uşak, the director of the Intercultural Dialog Platform, an Istanbul-based group including many religious community members.
"The source of these problems is political and only politicians can solve them. There is an attempt to solve those problems through dialog between cultures and religions. However, religions, cultures and civilizations do not conflict. It is the states that conflict," said Uşak.
The forum sponsors, believe that there is a misunderstanding about the mission of the Alliance of Civilizations. Jorge Sampaio, former president of Portugal, and a high representative for the alliance, said: "The alliance does not aim to decide or resolve political problems. It is addressing cultural divides within a political purpose by addressing those divides in contribution to the possible formulation of preventive diplomacy, or formulation of alternatives in terms of people-to-people diplomacy." Upon this purpose, Sampaio said the first forum took place in Madrid, was one thing and Istanbul was another.