“Facing the Climate” Exhibition in Washington, DC

Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend the “Grand Opening of 2014 Theme Program: Going Glocal” at the Swedish Embassy in Washington, DC (also known as the House of Sweden). The event was particularly important for me as Sweden also unveiled Facing the Climate – a cartoon exhibit that includes the works of Swedish and international artists on climate issues. Also, Facing the Climate is one of the projects I study in my dissertation. It was a “geeky” and a “happy” moment when I finally saw the project that I have been interviewing, reading, and writing about for the past two year in person.

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Where is the Undersecretary?

Update: With Stengel in the office, I updated the graph and the data. I also added three dates for Richard Stengel’s tenure in the office based on the shortest, average, and longest tenures Undersecretaries before him had. Here, I am not trying to forecast when he is going to leave his post. Rather, I plan to use these dates to make arguments about vacancies and high rate of turnover in R.

Let me share a short post about the vacancy data about the Undersecretary for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy position. Everybody who works in or studies public diplomacy knows that the position has seen high rates of turn over and has been vacant quite often. I was playing around with the vacancy data and created this timeline visual.

Here is the data I used as a table.

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How not to Conduct Digital Diplomacy: @IDFSpokesperson and IDF Blog

As a ‘scholar-in-training’, I try to focus my writing (and even thinking) on my dissertation topic and do my best to stay away from ‘distractions’ mainly due to two reasons. Firstly, I want to get my PhD sooner rather than later. Secondly, I want to brand myself through my dissertation research and related writings. Middle Eastern politics, for instance, is a subject I would not touch with a ten foot pole. Yet, after witnessing Pillar of Defense (or #pillarofdefense for the purposes of this blog post), I decided to write on how not to conduct digital diplomacy and underline IDF’s mistakes in message formation and medium selection.

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What is PD again? Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy Meeting

Image from Heritage.org

On Thursday, I attended the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy’s public meeting with a couple of colleagues from AU. Both Lena and Laura blogged about their impressions. And right now, I feel obliged to do the same. The transcript of the meeting will be available online soon (Follow @mountainrunner for more information), so I’ll keep my post considerably short.

First of all, this was Matt Armstrong‘s first public appearance as the Executive Director of the Commission (Congratulations once again Matt, and nice to finally meet you in person!). He has been a prominent figure in strategic communication within both academia and blogosphere. He talked about some planned changes in how the Commission works. Apparently, the Commission will be more open, and will initiate dialogues with think-tanks, universities, and other interested parties. (They will also be publishing white papers!)

I realized the practitioners and scholars of public diplomacy have one thing in common: no one knows what is really going on. Betsy Whitaker from the R, in her presentation, mentioned that other agencies and departments have public diplomacy budgets but the R is not sure what they are doing or even whether the budgets are still spent on public diplomacy attempts (or moved to public affairs). Well, both practitioners and scholars know public diplomacy is important, we have to do/study public diplomacy – and we do. But, please, don’t ask about the details, it gets fuzzy.

The second presentation was from BBG. In Jeff Tremble’s presentation, BBG seemed much better than I thought they were. I mean, my personal interaction with BBG is limited to VoA Turkish. To be honest, VoA Turkish does not have high quality programs. But BBG seems to be aware of what is going on and is capable of using several technologies to reach out to as many people as possible. For some reason, during the entire presentation, I questioned whether BBG is actually doing a great job or just knows how to deliver great presentations… I still do not have a clear answer. But US seems to be doing its best to reach ‘populations deprived of free flow of information’ through BBG.

Yet, I am quite optimistic about the future of American public diplomacy. Even though, during the last decade, the Commission and BBG pretty much talked about the same things (budget, inter-agency cooperation etc), I believe Matt Armstrong is an invaluable addition to the US bureaucracy. The R is aware of its shortcomings, (and the shortcomings of public diplomacy FSOs), and is creating new institutions and programs to increase its effectiveness. BBG is devising region-specific policies, and increasing its technical capabilities. If for nothing else, US is one of the few countries that publicly discuss what to do about public diplomacy, and right now has Matt Armstrong working for the government!

Diplomacy from the Block: J.Lo Not Performing in Cyprus

Jennifer Lopez was supposed to perform in Cyprus (TRNC) on July 24th to celebrate the grand opening of a hotel…also the 36th anniversary of Turkish Peace Operation on the island (also known as Turkish invasion of the island – Please click here for a historical introduction). Recently, she canceled her trip with a statement* on her official website. The statement was not welcomed by the Turkish audience. As of today, she also posted another statement**, apologizing from people that she might have offended. We will see if she is going to apologize once again from people who will be offended by her apology. (This sounds like a ‘welcome to the world of diplomacy’ party for J.Lo).

I will just try to summarize four important points with regard to J.Lo (not) performing in Cyprus from my own perspective:

- The Cyprus conflict is a part of daily life. Especially in online media, we managed to see how deeply embedded the conflict is to our daily lives. One blog post had “Cyprus, Diaspora, Greece, turkey” as tags; there were reports about the event all over the media – talking about 1974 operation, Greek diaspora, lobbies in Washington DC, even a senator was named as a party to the cancellation. Turkish media presented one side of the story, and the Greek media the other. Turks tried to host the event, Greeks tried to get it canceled. It was no longer a J.Lo concert, it was a question of legitimacy. Can a singer perform in an ‘occupied’ territory? Is TRNC an ‘occupied’ territory? Even a concert of a famous (and not really that political) singer became part of the conflict.

- Celebrity spectacle increases relevancy. Well, Cyprus is an important place for Turks, Greeks, and Brits. IR scholars are all aware of the situation, but at the end of the day, we are talking about an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It might be difficult for several people to even point out the island on a map. But, as the J.Lo incident showed us once again, when a celebrity gets involved in a conflict, the issue becomes relevant, especially to young people all around the world. It might be possible to (ab)use this awareness in communication campaigns.

- Grassroots movements are crucially important. J.Lo, supposedly canceled her concert after receiving a few thousand e-mails from her fans. After seeing several comments on her website, she removed her initial statement and apologized from people. Internet seems to continue empowering individuals. It also facilitates the process of becoming an active citizen.

- Do we still not care what the newspapers say about us as long as they spell our names right? Turkey, and to an extent TRNC, have been explicitly and implicitly accused of violating human rights and being invaders during the last few days by J.Lo and the media. I am pretty sure this image is not desirable for the aforementioned countries. Then again, it is true that several people heard TRNC, and maybe Turkey, for the first time in their lives. It is important to get media coverage, but there seems to be a need for a communication strategy to benefit from the coverage.

In short, appearance of celebrities means ‘news’, moreover celebrities attract the attention of young people. With a solid communication strategy, parties can use these short spans of time to ameliorate the situation and to resolve their conflicts. Unfortunately, in the case of J.Lo and Cyprus, the main motive of the parties was to present their sides of the stories and to exacerbate the situation.

* Jennifer Lopez would never knowingly support any state, country, institution or regime that was associated with any form of human rights abuse. After a full review of the relevant circumstances in Cyprus, it was the decision of her advisors to withdraw from the appearance. This was a team decision that reflects our sensitivity to the political realities of the region.
(Small note about the first statement. Lopez decided to remove it from her website after the initial reaction. I am pretty sure she has a very very large PR budget, and still the action to communicate with negative comments was to simply remove them. Are we going to pretend that the first statement was never made? what about those comments? They are all over the internet, so I guess one should face negative comments rather than hide them.)

** This whole situation makes me so sad. The statement that was issued by my representatives was done without my knowledge or consent. It is my personal policy not to comment on political issues between countries. I love my fans all over the world. I want to sincerely apologize if anyone was hurt or offended in any way. Again, I am truly sorry.
(Another small note: Statement issued without knowledge or consent? Blaming the ‘other’ guy?…J.Lo, if the PR agency bills you for this communication attempt, you should not pay them even a penny.)

Thoughts after Eurovision

First of all, congratulations to Germany and Lena for winning Eurovision 2010. I already started to get excited for Eurovision 2011 in Germany. As I said in an earlier post, Eurovision presents a snapshot of European politics in less than three hours. The songs started to get more ‘global’, there are more songs in English and less local instruments. But still, it is possible to see how Eurovision can be a public diplomacy project, how it can get people together – or not. This is why I decided to write about my ideas, especially about Turkey, Greece, and Armenia in Eurovision. I am still amazed by how these nations can be culturally so similar and have so many political problems at the same time.

Let me organize my arguments in three categories: lyrics, similarities in music/culture, and voting politics. Armenia’s song was called ‘Apricot Stone’. Given the political context of Eurovision, Turkey claimed that “the song hinted at 1915 events”. Turco-Armenian relations are already bad enough, we definitely do not need a song, or misinterpretation of a song to aggravate the situation. As the song was mentioning Armenian motherland, many Turks were confused about its intentions. Even the Turkish commentator suggested that Eva should drop her apricots stones in her country, not in someone else’s. Eva’s manager try to explain the main idea beyond the lyrics, but I frankly don’t think he is a credible source for Turkish people.


Manga’s song was ‘We could be the same’. (By the way, also congratulations to Manga – they became 2nd). Their lyrics were also worth mentioning: ‘I can see that this could be fate/I can love you more than they hate/Doesn’t matter who they will blame/We can beat them at their own game’. I am glad that I am not the only one who thought these words had to do something with Turkey – EU relations. I mean, come on! We entered the contest with another rock(ish) band! Manga, as well, claimed that their lyrics did not have political aims – then again, it is very difficult to believe them, given the setting in their official video clip.

When I first listened to Greece’s song, it sounded so familiar. I mean, Turkey pretty much has same instruments but there was something more. Then I remembered, we had a very similar song in 1977 (I am no music expert, but if a rhythm reminded me of a 1977 song, there should be a similarity.). Living under the same authority for centuries and still living in the same region, it is not surprising to find similarities between songs.


I also learned about the importance of apricots for Armenians! Shocking story, apricots are pretty important for Turks, too. We are the leading producer (and I do have an apricot tree in my backyard). I was amazed by the beautiful duduk melodies by Gasparyan – I listened to that part over and over again. And yet another shocking story, we have the same instrument. Gasparyan had (maybe still has) quite a large audience in Turkey, especially after his joint work with Erkan Ogur in 2001.

Voting is the most political part of Eurovision. Turkey gave 12 points to Azerbaijan (one nation, two states), Greece to Cyprus, Cyprus back to Greece (I am sure it was particularly difficult this year for Greece to give 12 points to Cyprus), Armenia to Georgia. No points came to Turkey from Armenia, Greece, or Cyprus.

To summarize my thoughts, we can react to these similarities and differences in two different ways. Firstly, we can take the voting road. We can claim how Greeks steals Turkish rhythms, how Turks portray a fabricated image, how Armenia blames Turkey, etc. etc. We can use Eurovision as a platform to continue nationalist struggles and blame each other for stealing our own symbols.

Or, we can just realized that all these symbols, rhythms, instruments belong to all of us, living in the same region. At least, I hope we will realize this fact. Let’s see what happens in the 56th Eurovision Song Content next year in Germany.

PS: Seriously, Greece – 12 points to that song? Come on!

This blog post is also posted on http://placebranding.ning.com/.

Study Abroad and Culture

I was silent for around two weeks. I was preparing for International Academy of Business Disciplines Annual Convention in Las Vegas. I presented two papers, one project, and co-chaired four sessions. In addition to all this academic work, I tried to support IABD Press project. Shortly, I had quite a busy schedule during the conference.

One of the papers I presented was on the impacts of Fulbright Program entitled “More than a Touristic Visit: Scholar Exchanges as a Communication Method in Public Diplomacy”. I introduced a three-level schema for intercultural encounters. The first level is tourism. Tourists, indeed, see a new country/culture, and go through a highly fabricated and controlled experience. But still, they go through an intercultural experience and they will have something to say about the country. The second level is exchange program participants. Scholars spend longer periods of time in a different country and go through a less controlled experience. After they return back to their home countries, they are considered as information sources about the host countries. The third (and for me the highest) level is the cultural ambassadors. People might start arguing for their host countries and might advocate their rights. We discussed how tourists and/or exchange program participants can be transformed into cultural ambassadors.

Given the international characteristic of the association and backgrounds of participants, we started discussing personal experiences and the importance of study abroad experience (Two people from the audience, both American, became cultural ambassadors of two different countries after their study/teach/live abroad experiences). Dr. Bonita Neff talked about her university – Valparaiso University -, and its commitment to increase the number of international exchange programs. I was amazed by the number of opportunities available for students to go abroad. I am not going to reinvent the wheel but I would like to recap some of the most important obstacles we discussed for intercultural discussions:

- Dominance of American data: We realized that most of the research we were doing was based on American data. For instance, I was discussing scholar exchanges through Fulbright program. Another presentation discussed face-ism through 2008 Presidential elections. The last presentation was on celebrity diplomacy, and of course, discussed mainly American celebrities. The volume and quality of data about the US is more than satisfactory, and we do not feel the need to look at other countries unless we are willing to do a comparative study.

- Dominance of American literature: Even the resources we cited were mainly from the US. Practically speaking, data and journals – maybe unintentionally – cause the scholars to focus solely on the United States.

- Cluster Study Abroad: When students are sent abroad by their colleges and universities to study abroad, they tend to travel in clusters, either with students from their own countries or from similar cultures. Therefore, even after spending a semester abroad, students have no idea about the host culture.

- Plain laziness: Many people just don’t want to take the risk of moving abroad (usually overseas in the case of the United States). So, they choose to stay in their home country and do not interact with other cultures (well, maybe occasional interaction when they want to eat ‘authentic’ food).

In short, go abroad & live abroad. You don’t need to come back as a cultural ambassador, but your intercultural experience will broaden your horizon.

PS 1: This is a photo of me, getting the Global Communication Award at IABD (hopefully, I will get another award for this weird handshake next year.)
Frankly speaking, I am proud to be part of such a diverse organization. This was my second year at IABD, I am looking forward to the convention in New Orleans next year! For further information about IABD, please visit http://www.iabd.org/. You can reach the press project for IABD 2009, St. Louis at http://www.iabdpress.org/ and for IABD 2010, Las Vegas at http://www.iabd2010.com/.

This blog post is also posted on http://cc608.blogspot.com/ and http://placebranding.ning.com/.

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