A Great Success in Difficult Conditions
The speakers included Uri Avnery, Israeli peace activist, ex-member of the Knesset and founder of Gush Shalom; Kevin Ovenden from the Stop the War Coalition in Britain; Michael McPhearson who fought in the first Gulf War as an artillery officer and is a member of Military Families Speak Out and Bring Them Home Now in the US; and several high-profile Turkish speakers.
The Conference took place on the weekend of the biggest and longest snow storm in Istanbul for 30 years! The snow started on the Thursday before the Conference, paralysed the city almost completely, and did not stop until the day after the Conference. There were 50,000 people who spent Thursday night in their cars as they could not reach their homes, there were 600 road accidents and 1500 reported to hospitals with broken bones.
Bilgi University, where the Conference was to take place, was closed down on Friday, together with all schools and colleges in the city. The venue had to be changed on Friday afternoon, 18 hours before the Conference was due to begin, and it was held at a hotel in Istanbul’s central square.
In these circumstances and against all odds, the Conference was a great success: 150 turned up, everything went according to plan, all speakers and simultaneous interpreters (and Turkey’s two main news channels, CNN-Turk and NTV) made it to the hotel.
The first session, “Global Peace, Global Justice – How to Win Peace in 2004”, was chaired by Mehmet Ali Alabora, one of the country’s most popular soap opera actors and a spokesman of the Coalition. It was addressed by McPhearson, Ovenden, ballerina Zeynep Tanbay, Istanbul chair of the Islamic Human Rights Association Ahmet Mercan, and Coalition activist Hakan Tahmaz.
The second session in the afternoon, “End the Occupation of Iraq – The US’s Policies in the Middle East”, was chaired by Coalition activist Yildiz Onen and addressed by Uri Avnery, journalist Ragip Duran, university lecturer Ayse Altinay, and Coalition activist Roni Margulies.
All the international speakers stressed what an important victory it had been for the global anti-war movement when the campaign in Turkey succeeded in stopping the Turkish government first from allowing US troops to use Turkish territory for the invasion of Iraq and then from sending Turkish troops to Iraq.
Much of the discussion centered around the next concrete steps for the anti-war movement both in Turkey and internationally. First, the international demonstrations on 20 March against the occupation of Iraq and, second, the campaign against the NATO Summit to be held in Istanbul at the end of June. George W Bush is expected to attend the summit, and a campaign has already started under the general heading “Bush, Do Not Come, We-do-not-want-you”. The call for an international demonstration in Istanbul against Bush and NATO, already issued at the European Social Forum in Paris, was repeated.
The Conference was followed in the evening by a dinner for the speakers and Coalition activists, hosted by the Chamber of Mechanical Engineers, one of the Coalition’s many sponsors.
As one speaker said, the Global Peace and Justice Coalition was the only body in Istanbul which functioned normally and fully on a weekend when everything else in the city came to a standstill!
Global Peace and Justice Coalition of Turkey