Turkey and Azerbaijan: Strengthening Open Societies in the Region, 13 December 2012, Istanbul

Public Opinion Leaders from Azerbaijan, Sweden and Turkey discussed challenges to strengthen open societies in the region

Association for Liberal Thinking (ALT) hosted a roundtable conference in cooperation with National Independence Party (NIPA), one of the opposition parties in Azerbaijan, and the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation (JHS) of Sweden, affiliated with the Moderate Party, in the coalition government of Sweden on December 13, 2012 at the Marmara Taksim Hotel, Istanbul .

In Turkey and Azerbaijan, who share historical and cultural commonalities, it is crucial to enhance a free society within a plural, democratic system, a strong civil society and to establish the institutions of a free market economy in order to promote liberty, justice, peace and prosperity. In this regard this conference was organized to discuss solutions to common political, social and economical problems with a new glance on common history, as well as to advance opportunities for civil cooperation.

The conference was moderated by Mr. Thomas Cumhur Gür, senior advisor of JHS. Mr. Yusif Baghirzade, the Chairman of NIPA, Mr. Göran Lennmarker, Chairman of JHS and Bican Şahin, the chairman of ALT made opening speeches. Followingly, cofounder of ALT Prof. Dr. Atilla Yayla made a keynote speech emphasizing that basically there are two kinds of systems; one is based on the individual, the other is the collective. The individualist system is characterized upon the facts that the individual is free, his/her action and transfer of the resources are not subject to force, and there is existence of consent to minimal state which leads to liberal democracy and open societies.

The first session on “the Transition to Liberal Democracy: How to Oppose Authoritarianism and Promote Open Society” started with the introductions of Gerald Knaus, the president of European Stability Initiative; Political advisor and former President of think-tank Timbro Mrs. Cecilia Stegö Chilo, Mr. Yusuf Baghirzade and Coordinator of Democratization program at Institute of Strategic Thinking Mr. Murat Yılmaz. Contributions of other participants followed.

In this session, it is mentioned that there is a strategy to keep Azerbaijan in the European agenda, so as to promote a club of similar values together. And it was emphasized that open societies cannot survive if people are not supporting it. It was reminded that Azerbaijan was the first to transfer into democracy after the collapse of Soviet Union. However Azerbaijan has not been successful in establishing freedom of expression, freedom of press and civil society and overcoming bribery. Participants stated that political parties have to follow up the democratic processes in the coming elections and work for political freedoms. Some participants noted that Turkey transferred its regime into mulit party system in 1950 but had not demonstrated full will to establish liberal democracy.

Among the participants some pointed that it had been much better if Azerbaijan did not have oil and gas which made the West support authoritarian regime. Similarly, it was mentioned that stability was backed in the East but now there is neither stability nor democracy.  On the other hand, it was marked that national freedom as a popular policy ignores political freedoms. Several people reminded that it is important to make limiting the state a priority and corruption kills human capital and the sense of trust. 

Next session on “Constitutional Issues and Transitional Societies”, transformation to civil politics, establishing rule of law were put forward. Mrs. Halime Kökçe, editor at Star daily; Mr. Arzukhan Alizade, general secretary of NIPA; Ambassador Olof Ehrenkrona, Senior Advisor to the Swedish Foreign Minister and Prof. Tanel Demirel, vice chairman of ALT made introductory remarks. Speakers raised that the process of making constitution is as much important as its content, and Turkish government did not lead a PR strategy. Some participants criticized the position of the president in the Azeri constitution as a barrier before establishing rule of law. Some others reminded the line along Montesquieu, Madison, Dicey and Tocqueville to establish separation of power and constitutional democracy so as to guarantee freedom of choice and spontaneous order leading rule of law but not rule by law. And participants discussed several points for transition: Leadership factor, completing the transition process, to think for long term, transparency in the constitutional process; the importance of the approach of judges to interpret the constitution.

In the third session participants focused on “How to cope with history and nationalism in all aspects”. Former MP of Sweden and Estonia Mr. Peeter Luksep; Lawyer and Columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Mr. Lennmarker and Mr. Parviz Bagirov of Free Minds Association were the introductory speakers.

Participants spoke about various considerations of nationalism in various countries according to the legitimacy of the states and historical experience. Some argued that hostility towards aliens have close relation with fanaticism, racism and even nationalism. Therefore it is crucial to face with our mistakes of negative discrimination to be coherent in questing for freedom and democracy. It was noted that a nation is built with the same misunderstandings of history. Some others talked about the importance of education in creating problems and overcoming them. It was also raised that experiencing violence in the family can make the one hardly be objective towards the other nation.

Closing remarks of the meeting was made by Mr. Suleyman Soylu, Vice-Chairman, and the Head of Research - Development of Justice and Development Party. Mr. Soylu mentioned the changes in the globalized world and the urge of these changes towards an empathy civilization. He outlined the featuring elements of this framework as democracy, competition, security, justice, transparency, equal citizenship, innovation and expanding the domains. Mr. Soylu declared that so as to look forward, without alienation- assurance of destruction in the past is a must. When it is accepted that democracy is a process the result would be the success of education, high quality of universities, new intellectual capital, prosperity, peace, and trust in the rule of law.

This conference was conducted under the Chatham House Rule.

The Round Table Conference on

Turkey and Azerbaijan: Strengthening Open Societies in the Region

December 13, 2012 at the Marmara Taksim Hotel, Istanbul


09.30-10.00    Registration


10.00-10.15    Introduction

Mr. Yusif Baghirzade

Chairman, National Independence Party of Azerbaijan

                      Mr. Göran Lennmarker              

Chairman, Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation

            Mr. Bican Shain

Chairman, Association for Liberal Thinking


10.15-10.30    Key Note Speech

            Prof. Atilla Yayla

            Istanbul Trade University, Cofounder of ALT and Columnist in the Daily Zaman


10.30-12.00   Session I: The Transition to Liberal Democracy:

How to Oppose Authoritarianism and Promote an Open Society

            Mr. Etibar Mammadov

            Party leader, National Independence Party of Azerbaijan

            Mrs. Cecilia Stegö Chilò

            Senior Consultant, Springtime PR & Communication

            Mr. Gerald Knaus

            President and Founder, European Stability Initiative

            Dr. Murat Yilmaz

            Director of Democratization Issue, Institute for Strategic Thinking

12.00-13.30    Lunch


13.30-15.00    Session II: Constitutional Issues and Transitional Societies

            Mr. Arzukhan Alizade

            General Secretary, National Independence Party of Azerbaijan

            Ambassador Olof Ehrenkrona

            Senior Advisor to the Swedish Foreign Minister

            Prof. Tanel Demirel

Vice Chairman, Association for Liberal Thinking
Mrs. Halime Kökçe, 
Editor, Star daily


15.00-15.30    Coffee break


15.30-17.00    Session III: How to Cope with History: Nationalism in all Aspects

            Mr. Peeter Luksep

            Former Member of Parliament, Sweden

Former Member of the Congress of Estonia

            Mr. Orhan Kemal Cengiz

            Lawyer and Columnist at Today’s Zaman and Radikal Dailies

Parviz Bagihirov, 
Head of National TEMPUS Office of EC in Baku, Free Minds Association
Mrs. Hatice Ismayıl
Radio Liberty, Azerbaijan


17.00-17.30    Concluding remarks

            Mr. Süleyman Soylu

                      Director of Research, AKP            



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