Speech Delivered by H.E. Mr. Ali Babacan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, at the Closing Session of the Second Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, 7 April 2009 , İstanbul

High Representative Sampaio,
Minister Moratinos,
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

We have come to the end of a highly vibrant and productive Forum.

Over the course of three days, we have all had the opportunity to exchange opinions, establish new contacts and hear different points of view. Attendance at plenary sessions, working sessions, side events, breakfast working sessions and social occasions were really impressive. The standard of the debates were highly satisfactory.

The conceptual content of our discussions was indeed very rich, with a countless number of useful comments and observations. Many of you were also kind enough to offer practical advices and ideas on how to further develop the Alliance of Civilizations.

We now need a period of reflection to digest for these ideas. Countries and organizations represented in the Group of Friends will wish to cooperate with High Representative Sampaio and the Alliance Secretariat in order to chart a way forward on the implementation of the proposals which came up during the meetings in Istanbul. An implementation plan might be helpful in concentrating our minds in this respect.

Having listened to a number of interventions in the plenary sessions, participated in the High Level Brainstorming Session and attended the various social functions and side events since Sunday night, I am now in a position to share with you some of my preliminary observations.  

     My first and overriding impression is that we have reason to be confident about the future of cross-cultural relations in the 21st century. There seems to be consensus that none of our problems is insoluble. All our difficulties are of a political or socio-economic character rather than “civilizational”, so to speak. Cultural differences in themselves are not source of conflicts. The mood of the Forum was that the international community is capable of resolving even long-lasting political problems whenever there is a will.

     My second observation is, which is actually related to the first, judging by the number of countries and organizations represented in the Group of Friends, supporters of dialogue and harmony easily outnumber the proponents of cultural tension and exclusivity. Right now we have 84 countries in the group, which we call “Friends of Alliance” and 17 international organizations. This is quite a high number considering the short history actually Alliance has. There is strong confidence in the Alliance and its ability to demonstrate our collective determination to replace confrontation with cooperation.     

Thirdly, there was unanimous support for the principle of mutual respect. This includes respect for cultural differences, respect for individual choice and respect for societal will. Yesterday in the opening ceremony, My Prime Minister stressed this as a matter of fundamental importance for the 21st century.   I believe that mutual respect is perhaps best achieved on the basis of a universal commitment to the fundamental values that we all share.

     Fourthly, there was an emphasis on moving to the practical implementation stage. The Alliance is now expected to deliver more; more tangible projects, more regional cooperation and more programmes for action along the lines of national strategies for cross-cultural dialogue. I know that High Representative Sampaio has been underlining the need to be more practical for some time. We all need to reflect on how to deliver on this expectation.     

     My next point is the need to stem the tide of extremism, radicalization and polarization of perceptions. I remember making this point in Madrid last year as well. Perhaps, national leaders and senior statesmen of international prominence could do more to promote cohesion and constructive engagement.  This would make it easier for us to reach out to those segments of our societies which are skeptical about co-existence across cultural lines.

I am pleased that the Alliance’s powerbase is growing stronger. The Forum has witnessed the strategic synergy of the efforts of a huge number of partners. The development of concrete partnership projects with international organizations; the active participation of civil society networks, foundations, the corporate sector, the academic world and the faith-based movements; and the powerful contribution of women and the youth should be noted with particular enthusiasm. We wish to cultivate this support base even further.

Moreover, suggestions were also made to stress the global dimension of the Alliance and to move beyond the issue of “Islam and the West” while retaining this item high on our agenda. This might be useful in understanding and underlining the universal appeal of the Alliance and in avoiding an unnecessary emphasis on a specific set of relations. The development of greater regional collaboration might be of particular value in this respect.

     I am grateful to High Representative Sampaio, also my Spanish colleague, Minister Miguel Moratinos, and the Alliance Secretariat for their very valuable contributions to the success of this Forum in Istanbul.

I would also like to thank everyone for travelling to Istanbul to take part in this Forum, especially the many statesmen, Ministerial colleagues, academicians, political observers and journalists who have participated in various sessions and panel discussions, and thus made a conceptual contribution to the Forum’s deliberations.   

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Guests,

I am so happy to see so many happy faces today here in Istanbul. I think this Forum has proved that the Alliance of Civilizations is now a really global initiative. When we saw the interest in the Madrid Forum last year, we were really encouraged. But when we actually lived through this Forum, this Second Forum in Istanbul, we are encouraged more that the Alliance has a very important future and very important function. It is obvious that there was a really big need in today’s world for this initiative.

Finally, I am pleased that the Third Forum will be held in Brazil next year. Our Brazilian colleagues volunteered to host the Third Forum. My colleague, Foreign Minister Celso Amorim was here yesterday. He announced his willingness and readiness to host the forum next year in Brazil and after Madrid and Istanbul I think Latin America, Brazil is going to provide us an excellent venue to continue this journey, to continue this search to find the better.

Thank you for your kind attention. Thank you for being with us here in Istanbul. Thank you all for the very valuable contributions that all of you, everyone of you have made during the Forum in Istanbul.

Thank you.