ISTANBUL (MindaNews / 14 August) — Istanbul was a most appropriate meeting ground for the coming together of peace researchers and scholars from all over the globe on the occasion of the 50th year anniversary of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) and its commemoration of First World War Centenary. Depending on where one is coming from, Istanbul sits as the gateway to Africa, Asia, and Europe. It has over the centuries retained its reputation as a vibrant melting pot of the world’s cultures, religions, and knowledge.
Founded in 1964, IPRA aims to advance interdisciplinary research into the conditions of peace and the causes of war and violence. Its world-wide cooperation to assist the advancement of peace research promotes studies and teaching relating to the pursuit of world peace, facilitates contacts between scholars, and encourages international dissemination of research results and significant development of peace research.
Fifty years is testament to IPRA’s longevity, founded on its consistent ability to attract topnotch multi-disciplinary researches. Submissions are rigorously vetted over months of deliberation by the various IPRA commissions. Those who do get invited are encouraged to further refine their papers for presentation. The 2014 IPRA conference taking place in historic Istanbul this week is the only academic conference I’ve attended where about 75% of the more than 500 delegates goes by a legitimately acquired title of Professor Doctor.
This weekend, I endured 36 hours’ travel to get to Istanbul at dawn on Monday. I’d have gladly endured two months’ travel to get here for this. In fact, I was the first one in at the registration. That’s because my hotel reservation was for 2 p.m. yet.
At the Ataturk airport, I had hooked up with fellow traveler Vaughn John, convenor of the Peace Education Commission, who had come in from the University of Natal in South Africa. We took the airport shuttle to Taksim Square and shared a taxi to the Hilton Bomonti. Registering early, we missed the bedlam that was to come with the arrival of so many delegates at 9 a.m. The long line snaked out to the entrance. I entertained myself with taking pictures of the long line of people trying to be peaceful about having to wait. We whiled away the time laughing with University of New England author Helen Ware and two of her colleagues, who were pretty easygoing about administrative foul-ups involving missing paypal remittances and bank transfers.
Like, so long as you can find my name before it’s time for that lunch I paid for, that’s fine.
A Lumad face beams at me. I beamed back with a “Maayong buntag.”
Ah, I got it right. The overture earned me a torrent of excited Bisaya in a patented George Mason U accent. Al Fuertes, convenor of the Conflict Resolution and Peace Building Commission, used to teach at the Silliman University in Dumaguete. But as he hails from Surigao, he was pretty much excited to find a fellow Mindanawon. We swapped gossip about common friends – Karl Gaspar and Marge Alvarez, among others. It took me a while to place Al Fuertes as the “Fuertes, A.B.” whom I would often cite in my papers on his validation of storytelling as a tool for trauma recovery in the grassroots. Soon we had other friendly folk sharing our table.
The opening program started over an hour late, but it was well worth the wait to hear the great Johan Galtung talk about the ten founding fathers and how they came together in 1964. He said he was the only founding father left, but was comforted by the fact that his confreres had been in their 80s and 90s when they died. And so he enjoins everyone to do peace studies in order to live a long life.
Galtung is a mathematician, sociologist and political scientist, and no serious paper on peace studies in the last 50 years has come out without at least one reference to his work. By all indications, the other founding fathers were just as multi-disciplinary in their scholarship and application. Some were psychologists or economists. No philosophers though. I guess that just says that peace is not abstract. It is something we strive for in order to live. It takes the methodologies and the research ethics of the sciences to work peace.
The multi-disciplinary underpinning at the roots of IPRA has allowed it to thrive where other organizations with more narrow disciplinal orientations have gone moribund. At this year’s conference, the youngest presenter is a 16-year-old who won the most recent USIS peace essay writing contest. At least seventy years separates this young man in age from the founding father and, like the distribution in a normal curve, the rest of us fall somewhere in between. We come from all over; one could easily mistake this gathering for a United Nations convention. Many among them are already working on the paper that they would be submitting for presentation at the 2016 IPRA in Sierra Leone.
I shamelessly rubbernecked during plenaries to try and find 1994 UN Peace Laureate Toh Swee Hin who had taught at the Mindanao Peace Institute Ely Acosta dragged me to attend in 2003. I looked for Jake Lynch who had convened the 2010 IPRA conference in Sydney. Nope, I’m having no luck finding them yet.
In the last three days, I’ve sat through very interesting number crunching on the political economy of arms procurement presented by Aude Fleurant of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. I’ve found myself nodding to University of Hawaii Professor Emeritus George Kent on his argument for the need to factor in an analysis of social relations in the efforts to end hunger. I marveled at the iterative qualitative data processing applied by Albie Sharpe on over 200 stories he drew in Sri Lanka. But perhaps the most thought-provoking presentation I sat through was the one given by Leeds Metropolitan University’s Steve Wright who essayed for us emerging technologies with sublethal war applications, now on trial run in some places as border patrol mechanisms. He also talked about drones and cellphone signals and how their combination opens up the possibility of impersonal killing from a vast distance.
I began today (August 13), the third conference day, listening to H.E. Ms. Grace Asirwatham talk about disarmament and strategic nonviolent action, referring to the efforts of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which she heads. The OPCD won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize for its work in the elimination of chemical weapons.
I end today with my presentation on community security in the grassroots of Mindanao. We had a lively discussion after, with many stragglers coming from other panel sessions joining us at the Security and Disarmament Commission meeting room. It pleases me to have done my part in bringing Mindanao into the consciousness of peace experts. While our conflicted conditions are so real to us, Mindanao seems to be very much under-represented in the global peace research theater. This is where peaceworkers could benefit from learning about peace applications being used elsewhere and collaborating with colleagues. People won’t mind that we learn from them when they too could learn from us.
(And so, no, I don’t agree for universities to fund people to go out and attend conferences just to listen in. That’s just like sending them out to see a very expensive movie. Universities should fund their faculty members who go out to present papers at academic conferences. They after all are the ones who are likely to go on producing more conference-grade papers, much to the advantage of the school that employs them. Am I glad my cluster head, my dean, and the AVP think so, too. They made it possible for me to be here in four hops. Two hops by Malaysian Air, by the way. Knock on wood.)
Two more days.
It’s a good thing I took quarters in the university area here in Sisli, about three kilometers from the Hilton Bomonti. The walk to and from the conference brings me clear across the busy center to take my chances dodging crazy traffic, well past the skyline where Trump does not tower (there are higher buildings than Trump Tower – the Marriott, for one), past abandoned buildings and bustling flea markets, mosques, fashionista window display, fish on ice by the sidewalk, cafés, bakeries, fruit stalls, and stray cats along the cobbled side streets.
I ogle. It’s the thing to do in Istanbul where there’s so much to see and so little time.
[Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Gail Ilagan, PhD, is chair of the Department of Psychology of the Ateneo de Davao University and and Director of its Center of Psychological Extension Research Services (COPERS). She is also vice chair of the Mindanao News and Information Center Service Cooperative]