“ Cultural Diplomacy and Art as Bridge Builder, Attitude Changer and Problem Solver”, the Speech by H. E. Ambassador Çeviköz at the London Art as Cultural Diplomacy Conference 2013

Londra Büyükelçiliği 28.08.2013


(London; August 23rd 2013)

Madam Chair,

Right Honourable Mrs. Hennicot,

Distinguished participants,

Ladies and gentlemen.

First of all, I would like to thank the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy for inviting me to participate in this outstanding event. It is indeed a great honour and privilege for me to be here with you today in this platform.

Relations between my country and the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy have been remarkable especially in recent years with the events taking place in Turkey and on Turkey. Among others, ICD has been organising annual “Germany meets Turkey” Forums since 2008. “The Ankara Conference on Peace-building & Conflict Resolution” and “Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy in the Mediterranean” were organized respectively in April 2012 and May 2013 in Turkey. Therefore, taking part in this conference means a lot to me.

Today, I would like to speak about the role of cultural diplomacy and arts as a component of the former, in building blocks among different countries and societies. In this regard, I will share my ideas with you on three aspects of cultural diplomacy:

bridge builder,

attitude changer

problem solver.

Since I am serving in the UK as the Turkish Ambassador, I hope you will understand if I refer more to Turkey-UK relations when I dwell on our activities within the three aspects of cultural diplomacy that I have mentioned.

Culture and art have always been an integral part of diplomacy, even before the resident ambassadors started to be appointed to the respective countries. Rulers have been exchanging gifts, which illustrate the culture, art and values of their homelands, since the old times. Resident ambassadors have been carrying this tradition along, as a way to show who they represent and build lasting relationships. Allow me to give examples from our own bilateral diplomatic history. This year, we celebrate the 430th anniversary of the arrival of the first ambassador from England to the Ottoman Court. We also celebrate the 220th anniversary of the first Turkish resident ambassador coming to London to be accredited to St. James’ court.

I will be quoting pieces from a book by Dr. Emre Araci about “Yusuf Agah Efendi: The first Turkish Ambassador in 18th century London”, which give us an idea about how culture was significantly noticed in diplomacy several centuries ago. In the following quote, the book describes the gift of the British sovereign to the Ottoman Court:

“Some rather unusual gifts were sent from London to Istanbul at the time to help good relations and secure even more trading privileges. Among the State Papers of Queen Elizabeth I one such gift was described as “a great and curious present going to the great Turk which no doubt will be talked of, and be very scandalous among other nations, especially the Germans”, (Stanley Mayes, An Organ for the Sultan, London, 1956). The scandalously “curious present” was a mechanical pipe organ built by one of England’s finest organ builders, Thomas Dallam, commissioned and paid for by the Levant Company as a gift for Sultan Mehmed III.

Beautifully decorated, with figurines and precious stones, even including a moving statuette of the queen and a mechanical clock, the organ was an engineering masterpiece of its time, clearly built to impress. Dallam personally transported the dismantled instrument to Istanbul in 1599 and set it up at Topkapı Palace and even played it before the Sultan much to his fear, as he was warned never to turn his back to the Grand Signior. He survived the experience, but sadly the organ did not, as it was destroyed in the reign of Ahmed I. However a fine specimen of one of Dallam’s great organs, fortunately survives today in the magnificent chapel of King’s College in Cambridge and gives us an idea as to what the instrument for the Turkish court might have looked like.

Sadly, I do not have a record of what the first Turkish ambassador brought to St. James’ court as a gift. Nevertheless, I have some remarks again from the same book to cite, which show that the Turkish ambassador had created some curiosity at the new cultural environment that he arrived in:

“The Ambassador’s daily habits and even his dietary arrangements were also the focus of much speculation and curiosity. Everyone in London wondered about the daily life and the goings on at the Royal Hotel: “He has been very irregular in the time of his meals. His hour of rising is likewise very uncertain, sometimes much earlier than at others. His breakfast is sometimes coffee, but more frequently punch and cheese, the latter of which he is very fond of. His dinners in general consist of very plain food; and seldom, if ever, will he dine without soup… (Hampshire Chronicle, 13 January 1794)”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Modern ages introduced new actors, such as international corporations, NGOs and individuals to the diplomacy arena. In an ever globalizing world and with the empowerment of new actors, today, culture and art have a more vital role to play in international relations. We are now living in times where showing people how good you are, is more effective than just telling.

Culture, with all its elements, from arts to language and from religion to literature, is the main contributor to one’s identity and behavioral patterns. Art on the other hand is the universal language that we can all understand and communicate with. Getting to know the culture and art of people with whom we interact, is actually giving us the chance to climb into their skins and walk around in them.

In this framework, the first aspect of cultural diplomacy; bridge builder comes into the picture. Cultural exchange increases familiarity and understanding towards peoples and communities. It also enables us to develop empathy, conceive resemblances and common features that we share. Where there are differences, knowledge on identity and culture of the other party make it possible for us to sympathize with our counterpart and figure out the motives of the differences beneath the surface. Cultural diplomacy in this regard, is of critical importance in removing the barriers of stereotypes and prejudices in the hearts and minds of people.

Cultural diplomacy also paves the way for change in attitude and mindset towards a country and a nation. Once people in the country in question or the global public opinion is engaged through cultural diplomacy activities, this encourages and attracts the people to learn about your country, study or travel there as a tourist. Once your cultural values are found attractive, this will eventually lead people to respect your values if not adopt them. Culture, by employing means of mass communication in a right way, has the power to reach significant numbers of individuals and of course, influence them in favour of your country.

Cultural diplomacy, while playing an important part in furthering relations in good times, also contributes to and plays an essential role in solving the problems between countries and communities. Cultural ties maintain the dialogue channels open when political links somehow are hindered. When we diplomats as one of the traditional actors of international relations cannot operate due to the circumstances, cultural institutions and dialogue at the grass-root level might prevail and contribute to building suitable ground for the development of relations.

On the other hand, unless there is an understanding and good will between two societies to find a solution to a certain problem, peace agreements prepared and signed by leaders or diplomats, will not lead to any tangible outcome. To this end, it can be argued that cultural diplomacy is as important as traditional diplomacy in conflict resolution.

Distinguished participants,

Having said that, I will now briefly touch upon our cultural diplomacy engagements and activities.

We Turks, have been carrying a civilization, history and heritage for thousands of years. We have melted and combined different cultures, civilizations, along with our own in the same pot which is known as Anatolia. Our heritage contributes to the attractiveness of our country and offers a positive image. Our values, language, history, art, food and way of life reach a diverse audience around the globe. Preservation and development of this unique cultural depth, not only at the elite level, but also among the masses, are among our paramount objectives. In this framework, Turkey attaches significant importance to cultural diplomacy since it is an intrinsic part of public diplomacy.

Cultural diplomacy is chosen as the theme of our upcoming annual Ambassadors' Reunion Conference, which will be held in January 2014 in Ankara with the participation of all Turkish Ambassadors around the world. In the event, along with other issues, we will focus on cultural diplomacy, how to make best use of it in promoting our values, in collaboration with the NGOs, diaspora communities and artists.

With regard to cultural diplomacy as a bridge builder, I should mention Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Centres as well. The Foundation, under which these Cultural Centres operate, was established in 2007 in order to introduce Turkey, its cultural heritage, language and art to the outside world, as well as to enhance Turkey’s friendship and increase cultural exchange with other countries. In a relatively short time after its establishment, the number of Yunus Emre Cultural Centres has now reached 32 in 23 countries and more than 15 thousand people around the world learn Turkish at these centres.

On the other hand, as a unique cultural diplomacy platform between Turkey and the UK, we established the Turkish British Tatlıdil Forum in 2011. Tatlıdil in Turkish means “sweet talk”. The forum aims at strengthening and institutionalizing dialogue between our countries. Tatlıdil is an annual forum, which brings together the leading figures from academic, business, political and art circles and media representatives of both countries on a single platform to discuss the current bilateral and international issues transparently in an informal setting. This year we will organize the 3rd meeting of this forum. In the coming years, I am sure that the forum will consolidate mutual understanding and trust between the different segments of the Turkish and British societies and play a role in bringing closer the peoples of the two countries.

This year Turkey participated as the guest country at the London International Book Fair which was held on 15-17 April 2013. In the framework of the Fair, a market focus cultural programme was held with the title of 'Turkey in all its Colours'. A good number of internationally recognized Turkish writers and poets participated in the event which has proven to be a great cultural diplomacy opportunity in promoting Turkish literature in the UK. Parallel to the book fair, with the participation of several designers, fashion producers and artists we also organized an event called “Istanbul Inn London” which gave us the opportunity to introduce Turkish taste in design, art and fashion to Londoners.

We, in collaboration with Turkish entrepreneurs and NGOs, are organizing concerts and festivals in the UK in order to increase awareness in the British public towards Turkish culture and arts. To this end, so far in 2013, four Turkish artists gave concerts at renowned venues throughout the UK. Two festivals, namely the Turkish Film Festival and Anatolian Culture Festival were also organized in the first half of the current year. In addition, as I am also the permanent representative of Turkey to the International Maritime Organization, we organized a Piri Reis World Map Ceremony and Reception in June this year since 2013 is the 500th anniversary of the World Map of Piri Reis, the famous Ottoman Admiral who lived in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Representatives from 170 countries, as well as press members and other invitees attended the reception.

With regard to cultural diplomacy as an attitude changer, I cannot think of a better example than the commemoration ceremonies for the centenary of the Gallipoli battles which will take place in 2015. Since the end of the First World War, a special bond has been forged between Turkey and the countries which joined the battles and fought against the Ottoman Empire. Today the new relationship between all these countries is a crystal clear demonstration of how hostilities between belligerent parties can be transformed into a long lasting friendship, dialogue and understanding through positive cultural exchange. We should not by all means forget the role of our founder M. Kemal Ataturk in this achievement when he embraced all who died in the battles by saying the following:

“Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. You mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. They have become our sons as well.”

Turkey and the UK have a shared memory from the First World War and since then have established strong ties. The UK is one of the staunch supporters of Turkey's membership to the EU. Both Turkish and British publics have positive attitudes towards one another. The number of British tourists, which is more than two and a half million every year and only second to Germany in the EU, is a clear indicator of interest in Britons towards my country. Our yearly trade volume of almost 15 billion Dollars, also gives an idea to this end.

Finally, let me say a few words about the role of cultural diplomacy in solving political problems. Emotional and intellectual ties created through cultural exchanges can play a vital role in ending disputes and prevailing over short term political disagreements. However, in order for the positive outcomes of the cultural engagements to kick in, negative public propaganda should cease to exist at all levels. It is also essential that media and social networking adopt an approach which is conducive to dialogue and mutual respect.

In this regard, I believe cultural exchanges and focusing on the common past at grass-root level, might foster a more amicable environment between any two countries. One should explore fields of common literature, architecture, cuisine and music which can help the development of mutual understanding.

To sum up, if we look at the other types of diplomacy such as coercive diplomacy, gunboat diplomacy, preventive diplomacy, I am of the opinion that cultural diplomacy has a lot to offer in terms of dialogue, empathy, understanding and establishing friendly relations between countries and communities. Therefore we need to multiply our efforts in developing lasting relationships through cultural diplomacy activities. These relationships should not only be between diplomats but also between politicians, artists, cultural leaders, academics and most importantly between the individuals of various societies. I think, each and every step taken in this direction, will contribute to our shared goal of making the world a better place for us and for our people to live in.

Thank you all very much.

* This speech was delivered by H.E. Ambassador Ünal Çeviköz at the “London Art as Cultural Diplomacy Conference 2013”, which was organized by Institute for Cultural Diplomacy on the August 21st - 24th, 2013.


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