Interdependence Day Istanbul 2009

“Art, Religion, and the City in the Developing World of Interdependence”

(Istanbul – September 10th – 12th, 2009)


The year 2009 was the seventh time that the Annual Interdependence Day Forum and Celebration was held, with Istanbul, Turkey as this year’s hosting city. Initiated by Dr. Benjamin Barber (best-selling author, Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, and President of CivWorld at Demos), the event was first held in Philadelphia on the 12th September 2003. Neither the choice of date nor the venue were coincidental: the timing commemorates the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks, a tragedy which acutely drove home the reality of global interdependence; the location is where the Declaration of Independence was first signed. As all participating delegates of the forum sign the Declaration of Interdependence, Philadelphia seemed the most suitable location to introduce this tradition.

Istanbul was a particularly interesting choice of city for the 2009 Interdependence Day Forum and Celebration. Situated as it is, and with a history representing both a secular Kemalist tradition, (which arose with the end of the Ottoman empire), and a Muslim society with an active religious tradition (as can be seen in the victory of the new political party), this city is thought of as a bridge between the East and the West; between predominantly Muslim and non-Muslim countries. This role is actually reflected in the city’s own geography, which is divided into the European and the Asian side. Many hence look to Turkey as a potential mediator, and beyond this, as a unique example of a democratic Muslim majority country. Considering the tensions, and even anxieties that still persist with regards to the fight against terrorism and relations with Muslim countries, healthy contact with countries such as Turkey is particularly necessary.

This year’s Interdependence Day, spanning the 9th to the 13th of September, saw approximately 100 international delegates coming together to discuss solutions to global issues such as climate change, economic development with particular focus given to women’s roles, and the opportunities for cooperation provided by new technologies. Besides the parallel panel discussions and plenary panels that tackled these topics, the forum also featured celebratory events.


Mustafa Akyol (Science Research Foundation)
Camille Alleyne (NASA, Crew Module Systems Engineering, Integration and Test Manager (USA)
Dr. Deniz Arıboğan (President of Bahçesehir University, Turkey)
Rosemary Arnott (British Council, Director Black Sea & Turkey)
Pierre-Alain Avoyer (Mercuria Energy Trading S.A., Vice President)
Sherry Ayittey (Ghana’s Minister of Environment, Science & Technology)
Joan Bafaloukus-Bulgarini (Foundation for International Educational & Cultural Exchange, Executive Director)
David Baile (International Society for the Performing Arts, Chief Operating Officer)
Dr Benjamin Barber (CivWorld; Demos; Walt Whitman Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University)
Leah Barber (Choreographer, educator, and artist)
Selahattin Beyazit (Beyazit Group, Chairman)
Giancarlo Bosetti (RESET Foundation, Director)
Dr. Zeynep Celik (Architectural Historian, Curator)
Dr. Eric Corijn (Director of the Centre for Urban Research at the Free University of Brussels)
Kevin Cunningham (3LD Art & Technology Center, Director)
Jacqueline Davis (New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Director)
Mark Donfried (Founder & Director Institute for Cultural Diplomacy)
James Early (Smithsonian Institute, Director of Cultural Heritage Policy)
Edward Elgar (Edward Elgar Publishing)
Martin Frick (Global Humanitarian Forum, Director)
Francesca Giannotti (Diaminds Strategic Communications, Managing Director)
Guy Gypens (Kaai Theater, Artistic Director)
Umran Inan (Koc University, Rector)
Micheline Ishay (University of Denver, Professor of International Affairs)
Michele James-Deramo, (Virginia Tech University, Dialogue Facilitator)
Ambassador Raminder Singh Jassal (Indian Ambassador to Turkey)
Smita Tiwari Jassal (Professor and scholar of International Studies and Women’s Rights)
Martin Kaplan (Global Philanthropist)
Fuat Keyman (Koc University, Professor)
Jakob Koellhofer (Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut, Director)
Rob La Frenais (The Arts Catalyst, Curator)
Celeste Lo Turco (RESET Foundation, administrator)
Katrin MacMillan(Humanitarian, scholar, and activist)
Omer Madra (350.Org, environmental organization, Acik Radyo)
Cem Mansur (Conductor)
Miklos Marschall (Transparency International, Executive Director)
Casey Meade (Projectile Arts)
Antanas Mockus (Mayor of Bogota)
Ahmad Moussali (American University in Beirut, Professor)
Daniel Nazareth (Musical director and composer)
Claus Offe (Hertie School of Governance, Professor)
Olara Otunnu (Former Under-Secretary to the United Nations)
Lord Bikhu Parekh (Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Westminster)
Hari Pathik (Nepalese educator)
Zeyba Rahman (Muslim Voices)
Prof. Tariq Ramadan (Islamic Scholar)
Miles Rappoport (Demos President)
Daphne Romy (Sidi Bel-Abbes University, Algeria)
Imam Dr. Abduljalil Sajid (Chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony)
Atam Sandhu (Developing Markets Associates Ltd., Managing Director)
Jochen Sandig (Radial System V Theater, Director)
Youssef Sawani (Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, Executive Director)
Bernd Scherer (Haus Der Kulturen der Welt, Intendant Director)
Reverend Osagyefo Sekou (Senior Minister of Lemuel Haynes Congregational Church)
Graham Sheffield (Barbican, Executive Director; British Council)
Faouzi Skali (Association Fes)
Tavis Smiley (Television and radio broadcaster, the Tavis Smiley Show)
Naema Tahir (International lawyer and author)
Gorgun Taner (Biannial, Director)
Hakan Tasci (TUSKON, US Representative)
Emad Tinawi (The Monitor Group, Vice President)
Not Vital (Artist)
Pera Wells (United Nations, Secretary-General of World Federation of United Nations Associations)
Cornel West (Public intellectual and Professor, Princeton University)
Eileen Woods (Haring Woods Associates, Creative Development Director; Gunpowder Park)
Michael Woods (Haring Woods Associates; Gunpowder Park)
Abdullah Yilmaz (Ayrinti Yayinlari, Basim Dagitim)


Topkapi Palace
Cemal Reşit Rey Hall Concert Hall: Koc University
Rahmi M. Koç Museum Saint Irene Church
Bahçeşehir University

Day 1:  September 10th

The events of Interdependence Day began at Koç University, which is situated on the outskirts of Istanbul in wooded hills overlooking the Black Sea. The first topic of discussion - treated first in two main parallel panels, as well as one for the Youth Summit, and then discussed in a plenary session - was ‘Women, Islam and Development.’ Olara Otunnu was originally planned to introduce the topic, but due to unforeseen illness he was unable to speak. Lord Bikhu Parekh thus spoke instead, although his seamless and stimulating keynote showed no hint of the fact that he had had little chance to prepare it. The ensuing panel discussions underlined the need for critical, analytical thinking and the contextualization of future initiatives. One of the theoretical questions that arose for instance, was whether one should decouple religion and patriarchy? Regardless of whether or not one decides to however, delegates recommended that future discussions of the topic should not be overly problem oriented. As such, it was proposed that although women are clearly still oppressed, and this should be recognized, we should not remain focused on this, but rather look for solutions. Indeed, the descriptions of women-led development projects suggested that when women are given such opportunities, they tend to be successful. It is furthermore true that a society as a whole benefits from the improvement of women’s situation, as this is one of the key mechanisms in combating poverty. It was hence proposed that bettering the position of women is a goal that everyone profits from, regardless of his or her gender or cultural heritage. To this end, attempts should be made to provide constructive recommendations that target this goal. Moreover, justifications that allocate blame on cultural constructs such as religious tradition should be challenged.

The second topic of the day, discussed in the same format as the first, was economic development. Martin Frick gave the keynote speech during a lunchtime buffet provided by Koç University, and inspiringly spoke of the need to prioritize climate change before the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The two panels that followed focused on new approaches to economic development (paying particular attention to the issues of microcredit and remittances), and the relationship between economic development and climate change. It was clear from both panel discussions that all present believed there to be a need for greater dialogue with those that received aid; that being interdependent meant a voice was to be heard, even if it had little financial power. As such, the panel discussion on new approaches to economic development argued that remittances should become more visible. Furthermore, while micro-finance was praised for being an indication that financially poorer people were being deemed “credit worthy,” it was argued that there is nonetheless an acute need to shift the discourse surrounding international economic development away from the view that it is “helping” the poor through economic aid, to the view that the aim is to work with them to find the most effective results in economic cooperation.

Similarly, in the panel discussion on climate change, Sherry Ayittey made the point that it was high time economically richer countries realized the predicament those who are economically less developed find themselves in: namely, that even though developing countries have not contributed to the problem of climate change to nearly the same degree, they are the ones who are paying for its consequences. There is therefore an urgent want for adequate dialogue here as well, especially considering that green technology can vastly help development. A further important recommendation made by Martin Frick, was that civil society should attempt to change the focus of politicians and encourage them to work for a systematic change, rather than focusing the topic on individual action. Indeed, Frick pointed out that the manner in which the media has thus far framed climate change issues has actually been counterproductive, as it has diverted the focus away from the human aspect. It should have however, been focusing on this angle in order to make the topic more relevant to people.

A further perspective, suggested by members of the Youth Summit, was that at this point the required action was no longer to simply foster commitment to fighting climate change; instead, they proposed that many members of the younger generation feel they had been repeatedly disappointed by empty promises made by politicians, and that this has led to them becoming cynical. As such, Youth Summit members argued that perhaps the first step in mobilizing civil society to fight climate change would actually have to be overcoming this cynicism. Methodologically speaking, one of the questions raised on how to best tackle climate change, was how to reconcile having contextualized, multi-pronged country-specific approaches, which might arguably be the most effective, with making this fight a global one, and with not continuously being blocked by the sovereignty of governments.

The final topic of the day, preceded by a keynote speech by Prof. Tariq Ramadan, and discussed entirely under the structure of a plenary panel, was the special position and experience of Turkey. It is beyond doubt that Turkey has seen many, deep-reaching developments in its history. It was suggested by Turkish delegates that with the introduction of the term “moderate Turkey,” many members of country’s population began to feel unsettled by a sense of ontological insecurity. Furthermore, it was suggested that there is presently a lack of self-criticism in Turkey, and that this is hindering advancements. Despite these reservations however, the ending discussion converged towards the view that the future of Turkey would dictate that of the entire surrounding region. Beyond this, there was a sense that there was a global attraction to Turkey, which might be explained by the fact that this country appears to have the ability to reconcile democracy, free market, and secularism with Islam.

A question that was posed during the discussion, which remained open, was how Europe might react if Turkey were to become one of its member states? This question is particularly interesting, as it contains the deeper query: how can Europe become simultaneously more sensitive to differences and reveal the contradictions it carries within itself?

Day 2: September 11th

Day two began at the Rahmi M. Koç Museum, Turkey's first major museum dedicated to the history of transportation, industry, and communications. Appropriately, the panels that day explored the emergence of global cities and new technologies and their potential to act as catalysts for a strengthened democratic governance and greater interdependence. Tavis Smiley gave a powerful keynote speech largely addressing the media, in which he argued that we must ensure that new technologies help us to democratize and unite the world, rather than continuing to only cater to the concerns of the state and large corporations. Since we are witnessing a paradigm shift in the media, Smiley argued that we must take advantage of this opportunity and develop a new, more democratic technological architecture, in which people have the skills as well as the access to new forms of knowledge production and communication technologies.

The general topic of the day was “New Technology and the Global City,” with parallel panels dealing respectively with changing forms of technology and with the consequences of heightened urbanization. The first panel discussion focused on the democratic potential of new communication technologies (from blogs to podcasts to Twitter). Benjamin Barber noted that there is a noticeable gap of civic culture in new media. He pointed out that the overwhelming majority of Internet traffic revolves around commodity consumption, pornography, and various forms of social networking, rather than around civic practices, such as education. Moreover, although there is a greater variety in terms of the kinds of new technology available, this does not necessarily entail easier access to or more participation in these domains. Panelists concluded that we should focus our attentions towards new communication technologies that not only delight and instruct, but that can be utilized in a way that is concordant with democratic values.

In the meantime, the second panel discussion focused on cities. Many of the panelists agreed that the new urban landscape is the site where the building blocks of global governance, such as new media, trade, and labor migration, emerge as part of a world-wide network. Dr. Eric Corijn argued that we must re-organize civil society by focusing more upon urban spaces. He called this re-structuring a “re-working of the mental map” with respect to the issue of global cities. Dr. Corijn described the city as a space of flows in which globalization occurs from below, forming weak triangular ties (rather than the strong nationalistic and hierarchical ties promoted by the state). Jakob Köllhofer also added that cities are hungry for “fresh air,” not only ecologically-speaking but also in terms of a demand for heightened creativity and new ideas. Meanwhile, Miles Rappoport responded that he was wary of what he deemed to be disregarding the nation state in favor of the city, since in his view the city is unable to deal with certain issues (for instance, national security and combating the predatory elements of corporations) in the way that governments can. He also stressed that the world of flows excludes large parts of the population by pushing them into an area of irrelevance. Ultimately, however, throughout the discussion it was clear that the city can function as a site of innovation, creativity, and a wide assortment of linkages in our increasingly globalized world.

The second topic of the day, “Art and Culture,” included two panels that both dealt with how artistic and cultural production fit into the discussion about global interdependence. The first panel, made up entirely of artists, focused on art in public spaces and the impact of their combination.  Dr. Zeynep Celik, focusing on Istanbul, pointed out that the Hagia Sophia and other public historical buildings are highly informative about the intersection between culture, art, religion, and power structures.  Sebastian, a renowned Mexican artist, added that a work of public art is necessarily democratic, open, and interdisciplinary by nature.  Indeed, public art can be enjoyed by members of various classes, ethnicities, and nationalities. Public spaces thus enable different cultures to meet and share the pleasure of artistic consumption.  It was also pointed out that public spaces must be protected from various threatening forces, including privatization and occupation, if they are to retain their democratic potential.

The final panel of the day investigated the ways in which cultural diplomacy can facilitate intercultural dialogue through the medium of the arts. While it is an increasingly important instrument of global relations, the panel found that cultural diplomacy is rather a challenging concept to define universally. Some delegates defined it according to formalist views and maintained that cultural diplomacy can occur only between states. On the other hand, others pointed out that cultural diplomacy is as old as human contact itself and occurs rather at a person-to-person level. One of the delegates argued that changing demographics are also impacting the notion of cultural diplomacy as internal exchanges between various cultures - rather than purely state-oriented exchanges - are becoming more and more frequent. In either case, panelists agreed that art functions as an effective form of communication across various cultures. In addition, the panel touched upon the role of the individual artists in cultural diplomacy and suggested that the obstacles artists face in traversing national boundaries, hinders them from being able to foster intercultural understanding in many countries. Indeed, one of the panelists even mentioned “artist visas,” which would be a solution to stringent travel restrictions for artists.  Another recommendation was to encourage greater funding of international artist exchanges. Considering that governments are aware of how important artists are to the nation (indeed, the US government even has a hip hop diplomat), the panel recommended utilizing this knowledge in order to receive higher funding for their international projects.

Following these discussions on art, the second day of the event winded down in the spectacular fourth century Saint Irene Church, situated next to the Hagia Sophia, with a memorial concert and performance featuring international artists. The evening included a preview of an opera composed by Daniel Nazareth about Leonardo DaVinci’s plan to build a bridge across the Bosphorous. It was performed for the Interdependence Day participants by the Turkish State Opera and Chorus. Highlights of the evening also included a speech by the Archbishop of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, as well as the Imam Dr. Abduljalil Sajid, Chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK.

Day 3: September 12th

The third and final day of the Interdependence Day event opened in the auditorium of the Bahçeşehir University with the Rector of the University, Dr. Deniz Arıboğan, delivering the introductory speech.  In her lecture, she talked about the need for new visionaries to emerge, as the paradigms of world politics are shifting. She also argued that the realities of the world challenge - such as conflicts between cultures and states, as well as the divisions between people - must be constantly kept in mind, otherwise Interdependence Day risks becoming what she called “a comfort between stretches of war.”

Following Dr. Arıboğan’s speech, the topic of discussion was “Democracy, Interdependence and the Prospect for Western/Middle Eastern Peace.” The main focus was on the prospect for democracy, peace, and reconciliation in the Middle East, with a special emphasis on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In addition, the region’s relations with the West were also treated. The discussion began with the role of external nations in the peace process of the Middle East, with particular attention paid to the U.S. and to Merkel’s Germany, for whom some panelists argued Israeli security is a top priority. Questions about whether the E.U. should become a stronger player in the region were also raised. Looking specifically at the Israel/Palestine situation, many panelists argued for increasing levels of integration, both economically and at the political level, in order to move away from questions of strict territoriality. In addition, Lord Bhikhu Parekh spoke about how modernity’s development of the economic market and the solidification of national boundaries created an anxiety over difference, unleashing a need to invent a clear enemy. With respect to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict Lord Parekh noted that the two-state solution is not as simple as it sounds, since both parties are trapped in mutual fear and “historical memory,” which makes it difficult for them to see the other’s perspective. He thus suggested that a world conference on the regional conflict might help to bring more objectivity to the situation, though he added that no conflict could be solved by external help alone. The panel was enriched by the experiences and insights of two Youth Summit delegates, one from Palestine and the other from Israel. They pointed out that there is a lack of trust on both sides of the border and a sense among the youth that “there is no one to speak to on the other side.” However, they were hopeful that an increase in cultural contact between Israeli and Palestinian youth would provide a means for improving relations between the two sides.

The discussion then moved towards Turkey’s role in the Middle East peace process. One of the speakers argued that Turkey is in a particularly advantageous position to act as a mediator for the region. This is not only because of its level of modernization and democracy but also because it provides both a geographical and a cultural linkage point between the East and the West. It was also noted that the Middle East has many axes that need to be addressed. In other words, it is not only the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that should be thoroughly analyzed, but also the role of Iran, the reconstruction of Iraq, and so on. The idea that the Middle East or Muslim nations more generally are naturally inhospitable to democracy was also refuted, citing Turkey as an example of an effective democratic Muslim-majority nation. However, despite Turkey’s increasingly important role as a mediator, this role was also presented as problematic as its commitment to secularism potentially polarizes or alienates other Middle Eastern nations. Ultimately, panelists agreed that the various and multilayered Middle Eastern conflicts can only be solved from within, beginning with facilitating greater economic, political, and cultural integration and interdependence in the region.


Interdependence Day seeks to attain actual changes and as such, discussions of future improvements are key to its progression. With this objective in mind, Olara Otunnu, who spoke on the final day, listed three areas that he feels need sharper attention. The first one was public education. Education is one of the most powerful tools in reducing poverty and stereotypes, and therefore has great value. Otunnu’s message was hence all the more alarming, as he warned that especially in poorer countries, public education is collapsing. He thus underlined the acute need to improve the quality of and access to education for ordinary children. The second suggestion Otunnu made was that there should be a clearer identification of global norms. These serve as powerful tools of interdependence, and are hence arguably worth enforcing. A prerequisite for this happening however, is that there first needs to be a stronger consensus solidifying these norms (especially if they are to trump politics). The final point that Otunnu spoke of was the major spiritual and religious resurgence that he believes is happening across the globe. This is of great concern to him and he thus recommended that everyone make greater efforts to adequately recognize, address and deliberate the implications of this development.

While the aforementioned recommendations were principally thematic in their focus, there were also several practical suggestions offered in the meeting between the Youth Summit and selected delegates. This took place following the forum at the Kalyon Hotel. The delegates who met with the Youth Summit notably included Dr. Benjamin Barber, Mark Donfried and Martin Frick. The ensuing discussions underscored the need for tangible action and tractable progress; concrete goals worth fighting for and information on how this might be done.  The fight against climate change for instance, emerged as one of the key concerns, and it was suggested that an example of a commendable achievement would be if the next Interdependence Day were carbon neutral. The meeting concluded with the argument that in order to mobilize civic society’s interest for the concept of Interdependence Day, greater usage should be made of modern technologies possibilities’ to facilitate access to and information about the forum.