The professor of political science reflects on being an invited panelist at the Leaders of Change Summit, held in Istanbul in mid-March.
Setting the scene. The summit organizers intended to highlight Turkey’s emergence as a major power in the region and to strengthen its bid to join the European Union. The conference began with a film showing an eagle leading the world to converge on Istanbul, beautifully pictured and presenting the city as a modern European oasis welcoming people of all backgrounds and religious faiths. The summit contained two world-famous plenary speakers, Al Gore, former vice-president of the United States, and Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations.
State of affairs. The panel I was on was titled “Leadership in the Modern Age: Why it has to be international.” The premise is code for “powerful nations-states should give up some of their power to newer emerging states or international organizations, or both.” Alone on my panel, which included former prime minister of the Netherlands Wim Kok, I took a contrary position.
In translation. I began my remarks by saying in Turkish: “Tekrar Istanbula geldigim icin cok mutluyum “ (“I am glad to be back in Istanbul”). And I closed in Turkish :“Davetinizi memnuniyette karsiliyurum” (“I appreciate this invitation.”). My Turkish-American Wheaton student assistant Leila Artam taught me the Turkish and acted as cultural coach.
Wheaton connection. The operational power behind the choosing and managing of the invitees was Hale Unlu, Wheaton ’03. The great-niece of a former Turkish prime minister who was also President. Ms. Unlu’s official title was “Speaker Relations and Programme Coordinator.” She is a very loyal Wheaton International Relations graduate with strong command skills and a big future herself in Turkish politics.
Pluralistic society. No other Middle Eastern Muslim country would sponsor a panel with two rabbis, two Greek Orthodox clerics, and one Roman Catholic prelate. These clerics seemed to love each other’s company. We witnessed them as cheerful, affectionate dinner companions that night. In any other Middle Eastern Muslim country they would be stopped at the border. So Turkey proves that its long history of religious tolerance is intact.