As part of the New York Institute of Technology’s (NYIT) “The Year of Turkey,” JWF and NYIT hosted an international conference on April 28, 2014, at the NYIT Auditorium on Broadway. The conference was titled “Challenges to Democratization in the Middle East: The US, Turkey, and the Arab World.”
Democracy has not taken, and will not take, a linear pathway [in the Middle East].
Dr. Hisae Nakanishi, Doshisha University
The conference addressed issues surrounding democratic processes in the Middle East, including Turkey, over the past decade. Approximately 150 audience members heard from speakers including Dr. Hisae Nakanishi of Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan; Dr. Gail Linsenbard of NYIT; Dr. Akira Matsunaga of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF); and Kerim Balci of Turkish Review magazine. The conference was sponsored by NYIT, JWF, SPF, Peace Islands Institute (PIINY), Doshisha University, and the Turkish Cultural Center of New York.
Dr. Edward Guiliano, NYIT’s president, opened the conference with a discussion of higher education’s role in solving the world’s most complex problems, with NYIT as a model that integrates students, faculty, and research throughout the world. “We are proud of our growing partnerships with several institutions of higher learning in Turkey,” he said.
Sadri Altinok, president of the Turkish Cultural Center of New York, greeted attendees by noting that NYIT provides “a valuable contribution to world peace through education.” JWF’s UN Representative Mehmet Kilic and NYIT Provost Dr. Rahmat Shoureshi also extended greetings. Shoureshi noted that in the spirit of globalization and technology for which NYIT is well-known, the conference was being simulcast via Zoom.
Nakanishi discussed contrasting experiences of the Arab Spring in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, noting that “democracy has not taken, and will not take, a linear pathway” in the Middle East. Linsenbard examined Turkey’s situation as a democratic nation, stating that Turkey is “uniquely poised to be an exemplar of statecraft.” Regarding Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Linsenbard added, “His authoritarianism is not shared by the people, but what is shared by the people is the allegiance to Islam and very strong religious beliefs.”
Matsunaga also focused on Turkey, saying that a decline in military influence has resulted from the rise of democratic institutions. Furthermore, looking at political and religious movements in a variety of Arab and Islamic countries, Balci explored how these groups might foster democratization rather than turning to violence or autocracy.
A lively discussion followed the panel presentations, including questions and comments from an NYIT graduate student with origins in Algeria. Attracting an audience of officials, students, and academics, the conference was the fifth in a series of events concerning the culture and politics of Turkey, where NYIT has close links with three Istanbul-based universities.
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