19th Karlsruhe Dialogues – Speakers

Istanbul 2010, a City of Culture…

Esra Nilgün Mirze


Esra Nilgün Mirze

Esra Nilgün Mirze is founder and chairperson of the 41° 29° Istanbul Association for Art and Design. She received the 2010 European Culture Award presented by Kultur Forum Europa, and is bearer of the Silver Cross presented by the State of Hungary.

After having graduated from TED Ankara College in 1973, she took up her studies at Istanbul University. She received her BA and MA from the English Literature Department at the Faculty of Letters, and worked as a lecturer at Istanbul University until 1989. She then joined the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) as a press and public relations director from 1989 to 2003, and as corporate communications director from 2003 to 2006, in addition to organising and promoting international projects. From 2006 to 2010 Mirze served as an advisor to the chair of the foundation.

In 2000 she was one of the five NGO representatives who initiated the ‘Istanbul 2010 – European Capital of Culture’ project. She had the function of general coordinator until 2006, and also served as the vice president of the steering committee. After the establishment of the ‘Istanbul 2010 – European Capital of Culture’ Agency she worked as the international relations director until the end of 2010.

Mirze served as the head of the Turkish Network of the Anna Lindh Foundation on behalf of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV). She is founder and board member of the Heybeliada Association for Musical Sciences, which was founded in collaboration with Bosphorus, a Greek NGO. Mirze also worked as an advisor for cultural affairs for the Municipality of Beyoglu, and as a lecturer on cultural policies at Istanbul Culture University.



1. What contribution to the quality of life and vibrancy of a city can civil society make through active citizen participation?

The culture of a city is its voice, and so is civil society. The goal of civil society is to create consciousness at all levels of social activity; to shape and influence the perception of the citizens; to create consciousness and awareness – not only at a local, but also at a global level. In other words: civil society opens the path for the required mental transition from ‘monophony’ to ‘polyphony’, and gradually to ‘harmony’, which I call ‘the culture of living together’. When each voice freely finds an expression, then we can speak about a vibrant life at all levels of creative and social spheres.

2. In how far do cities have a responsibility for the coexistence of cultures and the emergence of a collective identity?

To start with, I guess I personally have a problem with the term ‘coexistence’, because it suggests that it is possible for two things to coexist in any space forever, without any kind of interaction. So I have serious doubts about setting ‘coexistence’ as a goal for any development that would be considered as an achievement towards a collective identity in a global world.

Furthermore, I also think that the term ‘collective identity’ needs further definition; its context needs further explanation. What is our point of reference in using the term? Is it in a narrow, local sense? Is it in a wider sense that transcends borders? The answer will vary depending on the level of ‘collective consciousness’ of the societies in question; which I believe is highly relevant to the employed cultural policies.

In brief, yes, the cities can assume responsibility towards creating a ‘collective consciousness’ for the culture of living together based on mutual understanding and respect as long as they can employ cultural policies that enable and secure governance with maximum citizen participation.

3. “If Mayors Ruled the World” (Benjamin R. Barber) … How could they solve problems due to national blockades of international politics putting them into perspective and promoting new forms of intercultural understanding?

Based on my personal experience, if only they knew what they do not know – then they would perhaps be able to find some remedy for such issues.