Abant Platform Brings Together Intellectuals from France and Turkey


Organized by JWF’s Abant Platform, the second “Turkey-France Conversations,” the first of which was held in Paris in 2006, began yesterday at the Istanbul Hilton. During the two days of meetings, participants discussed important issues concerning the media, economics, identity problems, education, secularism, politics, and history.

Turkish-French relations date back 500 years ago. Our goal [for this event] is to take the relations out of the current context spoiled by sentimental approaches and reveal what the real importance of the ties between the two countries is.

Professor Niyazi Oktem

Alarge number of academics, journalists and representatives of nongovernmental organizations from both countries were in attendance. Opening speeches were delivered by Professor Niyazi Oktem, a member of the administrative board of the Abant Platform; Professor Mete Tuncay; and Jean-Louis Schlegel, editor in chief of the French magazine Esprit.

During the first panel discussion, titled, “History, Yesterday and Today: Rights and Wrongs,” Galatasaray University’s Kenan Gursoy, Professor Jean Pierre Azema from the School of Political Sciences in Paris, Le Monde Editor in Chief Sophie Gherardi, journalist-author Orhan Kologlu, and Professor Zafer Toprak from Bogazici University addressed the audience.

Professor Azema said that both parties had to reveal everything in their respective archives to overcome the crisis over the alleged Armenian genocide by the Ottoman state, a claim that is a source of tension between Turkey and France. “People should get together to carry out detailed studies on the subject. Lists should be made based on documents and archives. And countries should contribute to the mutual studies,” Azema noted.

Le Monde’s Gherardi discussed French newspapers’ coverage of Turkey by giving examples from her own newspaper. “Turkey is an interesting country. It has been of interest to France for a long time. Le Monde has closely followed the political instabilities, problems, elections, military coups, and the course of the Kurdish problem in Turkey in detail. Modern Turkey is, in fact, not being subjected to unfair treatment,” Gherardi noted.

Gherardi stressed that the Turkish economy was regularly covered by Le Monde. “There is a certain amount of enthusiasm for Turkey. People sympathize with this rapidly developing economy. We even envy Turkey. France has been living under a weak economic regime for 15 years,” she said.

She further noted that there were now positive articles published by French newspapers, particularly by Le Monde, on Turkey’s EU membership process. “The sympathy for Turkey is very visible in the columns. The comments made on Turkey’s EU process almost always recall the promises made and not kept by the EU,” Gherardi said. “Such columns confess that the EU did not remain loyal to its commitments, [acting] in a hypocritical way. Le Monde, too, supports Turkey’s full membership. A Turkey close to France is being looked at with deep sympathy.”

Gherardi recalled that there were also some news reports and columns in which French journalists gave Turkey advice. “They tell Turkey what to do: ‘If you want to join the EU and elevate [yourselves] to the level of the democratic nations, of whom we are the representative, do this and that,’” she said.

Profesor Oktem, a member of the Abant Platform board, said the meeting was meant to foster relations between France and Turkey. He said important people from both nations had attended the meeting, which was organized with support from the French Embassy. “Turkish-French relations date back 500 years ago. Our goal is to take the relations out of the current context spoiled by sentimental approaches and reveal what the real importance of the ties between the two countries is.”

Source: Modified from Today’s Zaman, April 14th, 2007

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