The Tenth Biannual Meeting of the International Dialogue Initiative (IDI) was held in Ankara, Turkey from October 4 to October 6, 2013. The IDI was again hosted by Dr. Kadir Ҫevik and the Hotel Midi in central Ankara’s Ҫankaya District. This was the IDI’s fourth meeting in Ankara.
Departing from past practice, the IDI organized its Tenth Biannual Meeting around specific project analysis rather than country reports, while continuing to devote substantial time to issues of Middle East unrest. Four distinct projects were presented to the group by members. Additionally, members received a briefing on the present and possible future state of the Turkish administration from IDI member Ibrahim Kalın, currently serving as Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister of Turkey. Finally, IDI members enjoyeda dinner hosted by Ankara businessman Vedat Yakupoğlu, a longtime supporter of the IDI.
What follows herein is NOT a full report of IDI discussions, but rather a synopsis of key observations
Reconvening after several months, IDI members briefed one another on their individual political and personal developments, caught up on the wellbeing of members who were unable to attend, and welcomed attending guests to the group. Developments of note included Dr. Gerard Fromm’s election as President of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations (ISPSO), Lord John Alderdice’s progress towards development of a Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Oxford University, Dr. Robi Friedman’s follow-up work with Dr. Regine Scholz on their 2012 conference, entitled Away From the Gates of Auschwitz, and Prof. Deniz Ulke Ariboğan’s work on the Turkish “Wisemen” democracy project.
Thereafter, the group took up analyses of several specific and ongoing projects by individual IDI members or subgroups. The process represented an evolution of IDI work into real-time consultation and engagement.
Day One Presentations
Obolonsky: Evolving Dynamics in Police/Protest Situations
IDI member Sasha Obolonsky began the tenth biannual meeting with a presentation on the evolving nature of protest and police response, formed around the question of how leaders relate to and interact with populations. Focusing on the “Occupy” protests of Zuccoti Park in New;York City, the Freedom Plaza protests in Washington DC, the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul and ongoing protests in Moscow, Mr. Obolonsky described accordion-like patterns of protest, response, and negotiation between the public and the authority structures. These patterns were mirrored on social media, which many of the protests used as an organizational tool. He noted the “double-loyalty” issues faced by police in responding to protests; the police’s professional “loyalty” to the state is challenged by their moral “loyalty” to the protests, a loyalty that protesters try to revive. This phenomenon was seen explicitly in the Occupy protests, in which the blue-collar police force was asked to quell protests against white-collar Wall Street. And, of course, where the loyalty of the police and the military lay in Cairo has been hugely significant in the outcome of those protests.
Mr. Obolonsky noted that in each case, the larger population evinced strong support for the protesters. Similarly, in each case, the protesters affirmatively wanted to be arrested.They “occupied” public spaces and did not flee. The resultant discord created a traumatic experience for both protesters and police, as police were compelled to use force to clear protesters. Finally, Mr. Obolonsky suggested that in each case, the protesters were “smarter than those in government.”
One IDI member noted that, at least in the United States, there had long been cooperation between police and behavioural scientists in the areas of mass population control, hostage negotiation and the like, and while that cooperation had waxed and waned, it had given rise to moments of real creativity on the side of law enforcement in its dealing with protests.
Another IDI member noted that, in the IDI subgroup’s recent intervention in Northern Ireland, the first contribution made within a large group of community leaders was made by the individual representing the police. That contribution had centered on the police’s feelings of frustration and inner conflict that they couldn’t lead people out of their crises; they were not authorized to do so. This IDI member noted that the protests under examination occurred in putatively “democratic” states. What did it mean to protest against an already “representative” government? Comparisons between the “standing man” of Gezi Park, the iconic “standing man” of Tiananmen Square and the “occupiers” of Zuccoti were highlighted.
The split in Turkey and across the Middle East was discussed, among other things, reflecting confusion or instability of large group identity. A cynicism is felt within Turkey over proposed Constitutional changes that seem to favor Kurdish citizens. Syria is in chaos, and in Egypt, the ascendance and then marginalization of the Muslim Brotherhood, following a democratic election, is greatly disorienting. Societal confusion of this magnitude often leads governments to “hijack” religion in the service of splitting “believers” from “others.”
Subdiscussion on Developments in Iran
Mr. Obolonsky’s presentation on protest/response led to an impromptu presentation by an IDI member on developments of note in Iran and between Iran and its long-time antagonists. Iran had seen significant protests in recent years, often centering around elections. Specifically, the IDI member presented on the recent election of Mr. Rouhani, his statements acknowledging the Holocaust, his appearance at the United Nations, and the historic telephone call between Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Obama.
Interestingly, the IDI member reported relative stability and coherence within Iran during and after the recent elections. He reported that the government’s serious effort to attend to the effect of the sanctions had resulted in an atmosphere in which more moderate voices were strengthening. Concessions to West were possible. Old guard and extremists still held power, but potential for progress existed. This member believes that “the call” between Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani was only possible within the context of an Iranian desire to make a deal regarding nuclear weapons and US recognition of Iran as a “player” within a fragmented Middle East.
Notably, this suggestion of Iranian willingness to deal met with some skepticism from some IDI members. An Israeli IDI member noted that he believed Iran was buying time to further its nuclear ambitions. He “did not envy the Iranian people,” who were caught, in his opinion, between hammer and anvil and should look to their neighbors for guidance.Others questioned the extent to which Mr. Rouhani represented a departure from past policies. Ultimately, Dr. Volkan intervened in this somewhat reactive process and noted that we should take seriously both the optimism and the information of the IDI’s only Iranian member. The phone call, Dr. Volkan noted, was indeed significant. “When you talk, you don’t kill.” Dr. Volkan also noted the danger of “speaking as one’s enemy”, in the sense of assuming, erroneously, that one can accurately express the perspective of one’s antagonist The Iranian IDI member asked “How does Iran convince the US and Israel that it does not have a bomb?” Perhaps via protocols, or perhaps by pushing for a nuclear-free zone? He noted that the relationship between Hamas and Iran had broken down around support for Syria and President Assad.
Lord Alderdice summed up the presentation by reflecting that in each of the Middle Eastern countries, there was no longer an acceptance that the elected government represented the people. Within the countries, such a schism was somewhat less problematic than it was internationally, because it is increasingly unclear with whom the international community should be engaged. He noted that a rift between Shia and Sunni was increasing, and was being fuelled by Syria and U.S.-Iran relations. Were such political issues resolved, he felt that the religious rift might lose its intensity.
Several members of the IDI believe that within the next ten years, the Middle East is likely to see a re-drawing of state lines around religious divisions as the “Arab Spring” states emerge from (or descend further into) chaotic transitions.
Lord Alderdice’s comments brought us back to Mr. Obolonsky’s presentation. Substantive protests in putatively democratic countries reflect the degree to which governments in power are felt to have lost their representative function for the people. Protests are a form of de-authorization of the government. This often leads governments to fall back on power as a substitute for authority. But, on the side of the protesters, there is often a vacuum of authority and major difficulty authorizing and coalescing around its own leadership.
Kalın: The Current Administration’s Present and Future in Turkey
The IDI was then joined by long-time IDI member Dr. Ibrahim Kalın, current Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister of Turkey, who presented on the present and possible future of the Turkish administration. Dr. Kalın’s presentation offered an insider’s perspective into governance challenges facing the region and an informative perspective on recent developments in Turkish civil society.
Dr. Kalın noted that the Middle East was confronting significant challenges to governability. Weak political structures in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Libya diminished chances for democratic institutions to take hold. Turkey had hoped that Libya would succeed in transitioning to a democracy because it was a small, wealthy country but it has seen tribal allegiances resurface and take prominence. Tunisia’s three-party coalition government was similarly struggling.
Dr. Kalın lamented the failure of the international community to unite and find a solution to these divisive tendencies, the response to Syrian turmoil being an example. He noted that there was no global strategy for dealing with refugees and displaced persons fleeing Syria. Turkey was spending over $2 billion dollars addressing Syrian refugee issues but getting little international support.
Dr. Kalın noted that events in Egypt, which holds a special and important place in the Arab world, had repercussions for the future of democracy in the region. The ouster of the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood was recognized in Turkey as a coup, and Turkey was disappointed when Western countries did not also call it a coup. Dr. Kalın said that the question posed by the Arab Spring is not “Is the Arab world ready for democracy?” Rather, the question is “Is the West ready for a democratic Arab world?”
Dr. Kalın noted that in Turkey, the Prime Minister had just announced a 28 point package of democratic reforms and had pushed back on his commitment to democracy in response to challenges after the protests in Gezi Park. He noted that the Turkish Constitution, drafted by the military in 1982, had lost its connection to the people.
Issues within Turkey included issues of nationality – i.e. “Who is a Turk?” – which ties into the ongoing Kurdish issue, still the largest issue facing the country domestically.
Dr. Kalın noted that the Palestinian issue remains relevant to the region and diagnostic of relations with the West. Turkey supports Palestinian reconciliation and questions where Western leadership is on it. He noted that Turkey continues to apply for membership within the EU, but is beginning to face negotiation fatigue. Serious negotiations began on Turkish membership in 2005. Despite what he felt to be the unfairness in the membership process, economic and bilateral political relationships continue to make EU membership desirable to Turkey. Dr. Kalın noted that there were two views of what the EU represented within the EU – the Anglo-Scandinavian view, in which the EU represented an economic platform, and the Franco-German view, in which the EU represented an identity. Turkey’s Prime Minister has said that for Turks, EU membership is a “civilizational” issue based on shared values, but is Turkey’s membership being held up because powerful elements of the EU do not agree with that? Indeed, is the major emotional obstacle the difficulty of integrating an Islamic country into the secular/Christian West? From an economic standpoint, Turkey feels that membership is still preferable. But time is running short.
Dr. Kalın believes that the Kurds are temporarily content with democratic reforms in Turkey and semi-autonomy in northern Iraq. The PKK has been quiet for nine months. He believes that Syria will probably not break up. He would like to see Mr. Rouhani’s charm offensive backed up with policy changes in Iran. Turkey will work with Iran to facilitate change and acceptance within the region. Historically, Turkey and Iran have had good relations, despite current disagreement over Syria.
In closing, Dr. Kalın noted that Turkey will hold three sets of elections within the next two years, including regional and general elections. He believes that Prime Minister Erdoğan is likely to replace Mr. Gül as President and vice versa, and that the AKP will retain power in the face of a very divided opposition.
Day Two Presentations
Husseini: Implications of a “One-State Reality” for Palestinians and Israelis
IDI member Hiba Husseini opened day two with a presentation on a paper she was writing, with her American colleague Joyce Utz, on the legal and political implications of Palestinian acceptance of a “one-state reality” within Israel. Ms. Husseini’s thesis was that the current political stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians challenges the feasibility of a two-state “solution.” If such a “solution” becomes irreversibly blocked, what formulation of a one-state reality might emerge, and what would the implications be for Palestinian rights within that one state?
Ms. Husseini and Ms. Utz (who joined the IDI members during Ms. Husseini’s presentation) noted that the international community is invested in a two-state solution, but the costs of that investment continue to rise with no solution taking hold. They examined multiple models of one-state formulation, including binationalism (wherein a sovereign state is composed of two distinct nations, e.g., the United Kingdom) and consociationalism (wherein a sovereign state maintains stability despite deep internal divisions along ethnic, religious or other lines, with no group becoming large enough to function as a controlling majority), in order to ascertain what model might best bridge cleavages between Israelis and Palestinians. Ultimately, only a “two-state solution” would be satisfactory to all parties. Ms. Husseini stressed that the study was designed to inform, and to suggest what effect the unsatisfactory status quo might have on the parties if it becomes irreversible, e.g. if the contested land masses are “eaten away” by settlements.
If the Palestinians took the position that “we are occupied, we give up,” and disbanded the Palestinian Authority, what are the unintended consequences of that for Israel? One potential consequence, should Palestinian rights be honored, would be to afford Palestinians the right to vote within Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu has suggested that the birth rates among Israelis and Palestinians could result in a Palestinian majority in the foreseeable future. IDI members encouraged Ms. Husseini and Ms. Utz to enlist an Israeli co-author to help ensure that their work would be seen as “neutral” by an Israeli audience. They noted that the continuation of the “two-state fantasy” had an element of masochism in it, and yet it’s a fantasy that multiple parties on both sides were heavily invested in.
IDI members also focused on a number of psycho-political issues implicated in Ms. Husseini’s work, including the issue, as Dr. Shapiro framed it, of whether the Palestinians were being unconsciously used to stand for all un-integrated or devalued groups in Israel (Orthodox Jews, Israeli Arabs, etc.). This frame of reference hypothesizes that unwanted aspects of one’s own identity may be projected into another group, whose psychological job it is to represent that negative identity and keep it safely separate from the original group. If so, how could Ms. Husseini’s report integrate this hypothesis so that it might be better heard on all sides? Would there be resistance amongst Palestinians to such an interpretation? What does Israel represent psychologically for them? Is there, at some level on both sides, a privileged position having to do with who has been the “most victimized”? And relatedly, how much of the negotiation impasse is due to the masochistic competition around who has suffered the most (Palestinians or Jews)? This set of questions addresses the narcissistic level of both parties’ identities, the level of the wounded self in need of recognition if it is to move forward. Is the way through this competitive dynamic some form of shared grief for what both have lost? And, if so, are there particular symbols or rituals that could be mobilized for such a mourning process?Who might be the appropriate conveners for such an intervention?
IDI Team Consultation in Belfast
IDI members then heard from Co-chair Lord John Alderdice on a consultation undertaken by a subgroup of IDI members in Belfast, Northern Ireland in June 2013. At the invitation of Lord Alderdice, IDI members Vamık Volkan, Gerard Fromm, Robi Friedman and Ford Rowan met with a group of 20 representatives of Northern Ireland society, including, among others, representatives of political parties, business groups, law enforcement, clergy and athletics. The consultation took place over a two-day period at Corrymeela, an ecumenical retreat center north of Belfast.
Working with local cooperating partners headed by the Rev. Dr. Harold Good, the former president of the Methodist Church in Northern Ireland, the IDI team facilitated an ongoing discussion among the large group about shared traumas and conflictual relationships. The discussion necessarily focused on psychological issues and did not undertake an examination of related political and historical issues. The task was framed as a diagnostic effort to discover the emotional obstacles in the way of better cooperation toward the overall good of the people of Northern Ireland.
While progress in such consultations can be subtle and hard to measure, over the course of the consultation, the facilitators nonetheless observed what looked like progressive change over the course of a day and a half. Political speech, predominant in early sessions, gave way to more personal and private voices. Members increasingly spoke from their feelings. Representatives of law enforcement lamented their self-perceived inability to act as leaders. Clergy felt keenly the shame in the community. Opposition parties spoke directly to one another, as opposed to speaking at one another. Personal experiences of unresolved grief were reported. The large group coalesced around a struggle to find a leader to whom all could relate and then to identify shared traumas. One participant identified the paralyzing notion that leaders in all facets of the conflict were forced either to betray the past or betray the future. By the end of the two-day session, facilitators could sense movement by the group away from resistance and entrenched positions and towards more common ground.
IDI members left the consultation with a range of reactions. First-order reactions included how little time we had for this work; ideally we would commit to follow-up sessions, perhaps three or four over the course of a year, to maintain and further the dialogue and to help members find entry points in their work for further movement. But, while participants responded positively to the consultation both at the time and when queried shortly thereafter, there has been a more tempered response to the initial offer of another meeting, potentially attributable to either the unusual method we used, which focused on emotional obstacles, or the destabilizing effect of the work. Lord Alderdice will continue to engage and determine whether participants are amenable to a follow-up conference.
As a second-order reaction, IDI members were encouraged by their ability to consult effectively as a sub-group, the first such consultation a sub-group of IDI has attempted. Over the course of two days, the sub-group structured the consultation, worked with local partners, managed the consultation in an effective fashion, , and facilitated closure and re-entry. While the concerns about follow-up must be taken seriously and learned from, the progressive movements within the event were quite real and potentially something to build on. The consultation suggests a model for future sub-group work.
Finally, IDI members found themselves reflecting on their reactions to the consultation more broadly. One IDI member remarked that it was “like looking into the future of Israel.” Another IDI member marveled at the levels of negotiation and authorization required to come to the point of dialogue, whether it was negotiation within the IDI team, between the IDI team and local hosts, between the facilitators and the participants, or among the participants themselves. Dr. Volkan noted that the dealing with emotional obstacles enables participants to become realistic negotiators.
For a more detailed analysis of the IDI’s consultation in Northern Ireland, readers are invited to contact Lord John Alderdice (at email@example.com).
Arıboğan, Volkan and Çevik: Turkey’s Wisemen Project
IDI member Deniz Ulke Arıboğan was unfortunately unable to attend the Ankara meeting due to professional conflicts and illness, but nonetheless sent a report on her work as part of Turkey’s “Wisemen” Project. Prof. Arıboğan acted as Chair of the Marmara Region of the Wisemen Project, a formal collaboration undertaken by the Turkish Government to solicit feedback on proposed democratic changes to the national constitution and other issues of national cohesion. Dr. Aribogan’s region, Marmara, included a predominantly Kurdish population. Her report highlighted the challenges Kurdish citizens of Turkey face in coalescing around a national identity, challenges the administration has sought to address in part through the proposed set of Constitutional amendments discussed by Dr. Kalın.
This discussion closed with a discussion of the current Turkish political environment.. In the administration’s moves towards a larger role in Turkish daily life, and towards the placation of underserved constituencies, some IDI members saw hints of a creeping totalitarianism, while others saw a less threatening failure of message. All, however, saw a region in flux, with potential for major changes to occur during the coming years’ election and economic cycles.
At the close of the Tenth Biannual Meeting, IDI members reflected on the specific project analyses undertaken over the course of the weekend. Members felt strongly that the work reaffirmed the value of psycho-political consulting on specific issues of international conflict. Moreover, the engagements undertaken by IDI subgroups in Northern Ireland, the West Bank and elsewhere, and informed by the work of the large group, suggest an important model for IDI engagement going forward.