Archive for Turkey

Dilek Kurban, MIA ’04, IF ’04, co-authors working paper on Turkish Civil Society

You often hear of our Seeples doing amazing things in the world and pursuing additional research. This week a 2004 graduate co-authored a paper about how Turkey’s civil society can help the country “confront deep political and social problems.” Dilek Kurban, MIA ’04, IF ’04, worked on the paper — “Trends in Turkish Civil Society” — with the Center for American Progress, the Istanbul Policy Center, and the Istituto Affari Internazionali. (Kurban’s currently a fellow at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and member of the European Network of Independent Experts in the nondiscrimination field.) Here’s the working paper’s introduction:

Turkey today is riven by internal polarization and is increasingly estranged from the West. The country faces serious social, economic, and political challenges—particularly a deep division between supporters and opponents of the current government and its more religious, nationalist, and populist agenda. The governing party has undermined checks and balances and consolidated power in a disturbing way, and has aggressively pursued its political agenda with little attempt to seek consensus or include stakeholders from across Turkey’s diverse society.

In this environment, with formal politics relegated to relative insignificance by the majoritarianism of the current government, civil society becomes increasingly important. Civil society offers one of the few remaining checks—however weak—on government overreach. Civil society activists can help address pressing social problems and provide reservoirs of knowledge that can be tapped when political conditions improve. Participation in civil society groups can bridge Turkey’s deep ethnic, religious, and social divisions, and such activity has been shown to help reduce societal tensions and increase ethnic tolerance. Finally, civil society groups provide connective tissue to Europe and the West at a time when such connections have been frayed. For all of these reasons, Turkish civil society deserves support from those who believe in a participatory, democratic future for the country.

This report describes the importance of Turkish civil society and provides historical, political, economic, and legal context for its operation. It addresses the ongoing purge of some civic actors and examines the polarization that continues to divide civil society groups (CSOs) despite their shared predicament. Looking at the major challenges facing Turkey as a whole, the report offers examples of how CSOs can contribute to solutions across the board. Finally, it offers recommendations for how best to support Turkish civil society.

Read the entire paper at AmericanProgress.org.

[Photo via Pixabay | CC0 Public Domain]

What I Did This Summer: Entry #5

Kristoffer Tangri is a second year MIA student concentrating in International Security Policy.  I asked him to share about what he did during the summer break and he wrote the following and sent along the pictures as well.

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It is 86 degrees Fahrenheit with an early morning breeze and the sun is rising over an endless sea of sand and granite rocks. Wadi Rum, a vast desert valley in southwest Jordan awakes to a magnificent spectacle of colors that already captivated T. E. Lawrence. While most SIPA students are off in search of work experience, I decided to travel the Middle East instead: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey in two months. The Middle East has always fascinated me, its rich culture and history but also its current political, economic and security situation. This blog entry is too short to share all the many impressions and observations of my trip but can give a short introduction into this unique part of the world.

My first stop of the summer was Istanbul, Turkey’s grand city at the Bosporus and former capital of the Ottoman Empire. The city lives its history and at every corner you find magnificent remainders of its Roman and Ottoman eras. The Hagia Sophia, arguably Istanbul’s most superb landmark, was build as a patriarchal basilica in the 6th century and later turned into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire. In the 1930s, it was made a public museum under the secular movement of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The Hagia Sophia now stands in Turkey’s most modern and secular city.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque also known as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

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My next stop was Amman, the capital of Jordan, a city that has been around for several thousand years but has only grown into a real metropolis over the last decades, partly due to the economic rise of Jordan but also due to the influx of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. Jordan, unlike its neighbors Lebanon and Syria, has diplomatic relations with Israel and has an important partnership with the United States. You can see American made police cars everywhere and Israeli tourist frequently come to visit one of the many historical and religious sites of the nation. Petra, the lost city, is without a doubt the highlight of the country. Tucked away in a valley hidden behind great mountains, the Western world has been unaware for centuries of the two thousand year old world heritage side’s location until it was rediscovered in 1812 by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.

Petra, a city mainly carved into stone, was once erected as the capital of the Nabataeans and is now Jordan’s most important source of tourist income. Other highlights in Jordan include a trip to the Red Sea at Aqaba, the Dead Sea, the Jordan river and of course Wadi Rum.

The ancient city of Petra, Jordan

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The ancient city of Petra, Jordan

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From Jordan I traveled onwards to Damascus, the capital of Syria. I stayed three weeks in Syria and enrolled in a summer school on Middle East politics, financed by the German and Syrian governments with German and Syrian students. Syria is a country with a highly ambivalent global reputation. Some people will think of the wonderful old town of Damascus with one of Islam’s oldest and most holy mosques, the Ummayad Mosque. They will speak of friendly people, the desert city of Palmyra, famous Crusader castles and the food in Aleppo. Other people will be reminded of George Bush’s “Axis of Evil” remarks in 2002, comment on the political system in the country and speak about Syria’s involvement in Lebanon and Iraq and the fact that Syria does not accept the existence of the state of Israel.

I travelled to Syria to learn more about both sides. I had the opportunity to meet foreign diplomats and Syrian government officials and went on several field trips, for example to a Palestinian Refugee camp or Queneitra at the Golan Heights. Sentiments against Israel and to some extend the United States are still widespread but people are fairly open minded and religious tolerance is rooted deep within the countries politics and society. Syria has mainly avoided civil unrest and religious conflicts within their own territory (with the major exception of Hama in 1982), but did get involved more heavily in their neighboring countries.

Visiting the Syrian parliament and meeting the president of the parliament with a delegation of students

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Israel-Syrian border at the Golan Heights in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force Zone

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Lebanon was the last stop of my Middle East trip and it was somewhat different than I had expected. Syria is still a more traditional society with very affordable living costs and people rarely speak English. Lebanon and especially Beirut, on the contrary, are highly modern, people speak fluent French or English and the prices in some parts of Beirut were even higher than in New York. Lebanon seemed to me like a surreal place. Only three years ago the country has been at war with Israel and less than two decades ago the bloody civil war ended.

Yet, besides the highly sectarian political system and its history and the fact that you have to pass dozens of military checkpoints with tanks while travelling through the country, Lebanon has established itself as a safe and welcoming tourist and party location. When going out to one of the endless clubs in Beirut you get checked frequently by police and when going to Baalbek, the ancient temple ruins in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, you will find a stage for Western rock concerts next to a Hezbollah exhibition.

The Martyrs’ Statue in downtown Beirut

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Hezbollah exhibition in Baalbek

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I had a wonderful time traveling the Middle East and have learned a lot about the region’s culture, history and politics. At SIPA I am concentrating on International Security Policy and Post-Conflict Development and my travels have helped me gain a deeper understanding of the conflicts of the Middle East region. Upon returning to Columbia I will be taking a course on Middle East history and politics and do a part time internship during my fourth semester. SIPA is very flexible with your internship requirement and many students do it part-time to replace or in addition to the summer internship.

Thank you very much, Kristoffer

Kemal Dervis to Teach at SIPA

Kemal Dervis will teach a two semester course on global economic governance at SIPA, following the conclusion of his tenure as head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Dervis will co-teach with José Antonio Ocampo and will be a fellow of the Committee on Global Thought during the 2009 – 2010 academic year. Prior to his appointment with the UNDP, Dervis was a member of the Turkish Parliament (2002 – 2005), Minister of Economic Affairs of Turkey (2001 – 2002) and Vice-President of the World Bank (1996 – 2001).

Photo credit to UNDP.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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