Speech by the Head of Turkish Delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, Ambassador Tunç Üğdül, at the Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony held at Ankara University
Honorable Members of Parliament,
Esteemed Chief Rabbi and Esteemed Head of Turkish Jewish Community,
We are gathering here today to commemorate the victims of the greatest crime in the history of humankind. The Holocaust is the most brutal example of how humankind could persecute himself due to racial, religious or sexual preferences. It is the brutal, systematic and cold-blooded extermination of millions of people and Jews in particular. It is one of the darkest page of human history.
It is our essential duty to narrate this most painful and darkest period of history to next generations, to show the horrific results of the hatred or maybe the fear humankind has developed against those he deems “different”, and to teach respect and tolerance against each other. We are aware of the fact that the way to fight hate crimes, xenophobia, extremism and anti-Semitism is through education.
With this understanding, Turkey has been participating as observer since 2008, in the work of IHRA, the “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance” which was formed on the basis of the main principles of the Stockholm Declaration, adopted in 1998 and is intended to teach the Holocaust to next generations and prevent its reoccurrence. Among the members of the Turkish IHRA Delegation, the chairmanship of which I took over from my distinguished colleague Ambassador Ertan Tezgör, are representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkish Jewish Community, the Ministry of National Education and the Council of Higher Education. It is an indication of the importance we attach to the education of young generations on the Holocaust as well as to fight against racism, xenophobia, extremism and anti-Semitism.
We formed a working group in 2012 with the participation of representatives from the Ministry of National Education and the Council of Higher Education and accelerated our work about the Holocaust education in Turkey. We keep our desire to further this work. Beside, we contribute to the international fund established by the
that was founded so as to commemorate this great atrocity. On this occasion, I would like to state that we increased the amount of the contribution we made to the fund in 2015. Moreover, along with some agencies and institutions such as Aladdin Project, Anne Frank House and Yad Vashem, we also continue cooperation with umbrella organizations in Europe and North America pertinent to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.
Turkey is neither a victim nor the perpetrator of the Holocaust. However, in the framework of its principled approach to the Holocaust and as being aware of its historical responsibilities, Turkey acts so as to prevent the reoccurrence of this savagery.
In 2015, an active participation at the official level was ensured in the Commemoration of the Victims of the Holocaust held on the occasion of the 70th
Anniversary of the Holocaust. Commemoration ceremonies have been held in Turkey on the date of 27 January since 2011 and it was the first time Ankara hosted last year’s commemoration ceremony on 27 January. The said ceremony was attended by the then Speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, Mr. Cemil Çiçek and the then Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr. Ömer Çelik.
Another commemoration ceremony was held on 24 February 2015 with the participation of the then Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr. Ömer Çelik for those who lost their lives on the vessel “Struma” which outbound from the Port of Constanza in Romania to Palestine with its more than 700 passengers and sank after it was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine in 1942. It also examplified Turkey’s principled attitude of facing history. Struma disaster, free from any doubt, is the most dramatic incident in our common history with the Jews who fled to Turkey from persecution throughout the history and have always been welcomed by Turkey.
In 2015, we came together not just to commemorate the sufferings but to share the joy. The Great Synagogue of Edirne which was inaugurated in 1909 as the second largest synagogue in Europe but fell into ruins in later years due to the neglect has been opened to worship in a ceremony on 26 March 2015 with the attendance of our then Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and with the participation of our Jewish community following a restoration and renovation work undertaken by the Directorate General of Foundations at the cost of 2.5 million US dollars.
Another joyful event was the celebration of the Hanukkah Festival, a highly important holiday for our Jewish citizens, on 13 December 2015 in Ortaköy Square with a ceremony organised jointly by our Turkish Jewish community and the municipality of Beşiktaş. The Hanukkah was for the first time celebrated with the broad participation of our citizens in a public square in Turkey in the said ceremony.
In addition to the aforementioned, we ensured high-level participation to the events held abroad along with the Holocaust-themed conferences, panels, film screening, concerts and exhibitions organised in Turkey throughout 2015. Our then Speaker of the Grand National Assembly Mr. Cemil Çiçek attended the forum organised with the cooperation of the European Jewish Congress, Czech and EU Parliaments in Prag on 26 January 2015 with Mr. İbrahimzadeh the Head of our Turkish Jewish Community. Furthermore, our Minister of Foreign Affairs participated in the ceremonies for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp with a delegation formed from members of our Jewish community. As a member of the delegation accompanying our Minister, I felt deeply, once again, the grief of innocent millions who died in these camps.
Another issue I would like to raise before your presence is the selfless efforts by Turkish diplomats assigned to Europe during World War II as another example of Turkey’s principled approach against this atrocity. As a Turkish diplomat, on the occasion of this meaningful ceremony, I pay tribute to my predecessors who saved Turkish Jews running away from persecution in Europe during World War II by the Nazis, from being sent to death camps at the risk of their life, who even got on to death trains that carried our citizens and dared to go with them together on these trains to death. I am grateful to them for this honourable legacy bequethed to the members of Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As the head of delegation of the only country which has a predominantly Muslim population within IHRA, I believe that we have contributed and continue to contribute significantly to IHRA, equally as IHRA does to us. In the forthcoming period, we will carry on with our efforts towards raising awareness of this issue in the society and the Holocaust education. We will continue to educate our people by organising film screenings, conferences and panels with the support of art, and academia.
The Holocaust commemoration ceremonies, where official level participation takes place since 2011, are the manifestation of our principled approach regarding this issue and our efforts to raise awareness of the Holocaust.
I would like to thank hereby to the Ankara University for its hospitality for making this ceremony possible.
I would like to clearly state that we will continue to fight with phenomena like anti-semitism, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and hate speech, which are manifestations of animosity towards the other, with all our strength and to teach young generations to respect diversity so as to leave a better and more peaceful world to future generations. This is a joint responsibility of all humankind.
I would like to conclude my remarks by saying “never again” and respectfully commemorate all victims of the Holocaust before your presence.
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