Interview: Yaprak Özer
Harmonie Toros an academician and specialist on Conflict Resolution. In my opinion, more aptly Conflict Solver. Talking with Toros on a deep and private subject for an average of 45 minutes is enough for now only to open the veil.
Toros is the granddaughter of Taha Toros, one of Turkey’s leading intellectuals. She conveys with pride and humor that she learned how to gain skill in dialogue management in her relations through childhood dialogues with her grandfather. Toros started her career as a journalist and worked in the Istanbul and Ankara offices of the Associated Press. Then moved to various other parts of the world.
She left journalism as a career path behind and pursued her ambitions in international affairs and namely conflict resolution, she is a lecturer in the Department of International Relations at the University of Kent. I should underline that she has an international reputation at hottest conflict zones in the world like the Philippines, Somalia and Northern Ireland. Turkey is also included in this list not only because it is in the middle of diverse conflicts but her family roots. The Turkish Police Service and NATO are among the ongoing work of Toros.
Moving from the role of journalism to the role of conflict solver may seem strange at first, as I think about it, I have come to the conclusion that I can see what a fine line there is; and there I began with my questions;
The world is in a constant conflict and dialogue process at the same time… What does it tell us?
When and where two parties are not symmetrical, one is powerful the other is less specific dynamics of the conflict appear. From my perspective conflict is not negative in the sense that if we had not had conflict we would not be where we are. All the processes start with conflict. It does not necessarily mean violent conflict. Conflict can be resolved with no violence. It is not how to reduce conflict it is how to reduce violence.
I have to admit this is a very positive approach. We as ordinary people tend to see the conflict side not the opportunity. What is the definition of negotiation, should there be a winner in every negotiation?
We are constantly negotiating our relations with other people even when we are not doing it knowingly. Often you are negotiating relationship and the value of the person and the relationship. The amount of time given to the other person. How valuable is my time to you and how valuable is your time to me. These are constant negotiations. It does not have to be acrimonious; what is in the best interest of the parties… There are differences in conflicts management. We will fight it out until one of us wins. This is considered to be the classic scenario. A new approach has been developed in Harvard in the 1980’s, and it is called the win-win scenario, looks at the interests and what parties need in this process. I love win win… However, often times it is simplified because there is so many relations of power.
Is bargaining negotiation?
Instead of saying negotiation is bargaining, I would say bargaining is a form of negotiations. Covered Bazaar in İstanbul is an excellent example . If you are a foreigner everyone will set you as a potential customer. In time of the relationship with you, they will decide if the relationship is short term or long term. Worst kind of bargaining short term, when they want to maximize their profit. If they conclude that you may come back ,they may make friends, reducing their margin of profit, you are happy and go back. This is win-win.
Who are negotiators, what skill do they need?
Usually politicians are naturally good and natural-born negotiators. They know how to read people. Empathy is an essential part of negotiation. Empathy does not necessarily mean you are a good person. It is about being good with understanding the other, understanding their feelings. Empathy can work both ways. If you look at major international negotiators they tend to be trained as negotiators.
Turkey’s role as mediator between Russia and Ukraine while on the other hand Turkey’s problematic role with her neighbors… is it a paradoxical situation?
A twin track depends on what position you take. Turkey is always in the middle position, incredible potential as go between. Turkey has always had aspiration fort that role. At the same aspiration to become a regional power. You cannot be both. You can’t be Norway. A major role in the conflict and a role as mediator. Contradiction.
What do you read in the current international picture for Turkey?
When it comes in context like Russia and Ukraine as a technical negotiator, at least for now. Turkey has a privileged relationship with Russian government. But this is a very specific context. In other parts, Turkey is such an active player that a mediator role becomes complicated.
Everything is in a constant change are we missing anything in the international affairs?
Twenty years of obsession with terrorism I think we have come to an end. I think we have had enough. Honestly terrorism had tremendous affects in the lives of millions … With Ukraine and Russian war, with great power politics, war between states, cyber impact of “cyberterrorism” on the lives and climate change being far more interesting threat than terror are replacing terrorism.
I have spent the last 20 years of my as conflict negotiator, I do not understand the way states treat terrorism when 60-70 people are killed and on the other hand for example in Great Britain 7 thousand men commit suicide year basis and not being considered as threat.
What is terrorism who is terrorist?
Terror definition has to involve violence civil disobedience is not terrorism. It has to be political. Terrorism is not economic. Target is not the person who is hurt rather than audience around it. If you want to induce fear you do not care who is on the bus, what matters is the impact on the people around. Cyber is taking over. It has profound effect on public.
How fearful should we become about Cyber?
We are increasingly becoming fearful. Fear is intensifying. We have had attacks on hospitals, public buildings etc had repercussions.
Security is capturing peoples imaginations. When you are feared you are powerful. When you have your population fear something you are also powerful. The link between security and imagination is powerful. Unfortunately climate change has not captured imaginations, and it is not in the way people want to behave; like recycling.
How do you negotiate with cyber terror? Not negotiating… would that be an option?
What is your best alternative for not negotiating? In the past there have been countries who refused to negotiate on certain instances for example with child kidnappers as in Italy, when in 80s the government banned negotiations. The difficulty is that these laws never work. There is always a way to negotiate. The question is how do you negotiate?
In cyber terrorism, you don’t know who you are dealing with, no face to face contact, you do not negotiate with the same person, time zones are difficult, no rapport can be built, the person you are dealing cannot make executive decisions… to name a few!