I am the founder and director of CEFTUS – the Centre for Turkey studies.
And I am also the deputy Mayor of Lambeth council and a councillor here in Lambeth.
I have just seven minutes to say a few words about CEFTUS.
Seven years ago, we founded CEFTUS, thanks to the generosity and hard work of many of the people here tonight.
It was built on a simple idea: to create a non-partisan platform for discussion about the social, political, cultural and economic future of Turkey; and to promote the UK’s Turkish, Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot communities to opinion-formers, policy-makers, and political leaders.
I look around, and I see some old friends and familiar faces: Altan Kemal, Mustafa Topkaya, Ali Matur, Onder Sahan, Huseyin Ucar, Ibrahim Ahmet, Ergun Binbay, Dervis Aslan, and many other friends.
Guys, I don’t know if seven years ago we dared to dream how successful we would be.
CEFTUS taps into a genuine desire for a meeting place for academics, business people, community leaders, commentators, where thorny issues can be discussed without animosity or rancour.
This year has been no different – another twelve months of packed seminars, lively discussions and high-level meetings.
You can see from the annual reports on your chairs how busy we’ve been, and how wisely and well we’ve used our budget on worthwhile activities.
And all of it funded by the generosity of our friends and supporters.
And our generous sponsors such as Just East, Cobra Beer, Holland Bazaar and Altan and Co.
We receive no grants from any governments.
All of our activities, and our full-time staff, are funded by people like yourselves here tonight.
And we are extremely grateful for all that you do.
Let’s thank our staff Merve, Niall, Liri, Ayla.
I am especially proud that CEFTUS is a Living Wage Employer.
That means everyone who works for us, in whatever capacity, is paid a living wage for what they do.
I think it is important that we send a signal across the not-for-profit sector, and beyond, that everyone deserves a living wage.
I hope you agree.
I announced that CEFTUS is a Living Wage Employer at this year’s British Kebab Awards.
The Kebab Awards are now a firm favourite in the calendar, celebrating our cuisine and hard-working people who make it happen.
The Kebab Awards also raise funds for CEFTUS.
I’m delighted to welcome the Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, and his wife Laura who are good friends of CEFTUS.
Jeremy and Laura, you are both very welcome.
I first met Jeremy when I was just 17.
I was at sixth form, and the local NUT branch organised a meeting on Turkey and the Kurds.
And I was asked to speak at the meeting, which was a terrifying prospect.
I was brand new into the UK, and just still learning English.
And then I found out the other speaker was the local MP Jeremy Corbyn!
Anyway, he went out of his way to be supportive and kind on that occasion, and he’s been supportive ever since of me, of CEFTUS, of human rights in Turkey, and of the Kurdish and Turkish people.
During my travels to Turkey, you know it was really difficult in 1990s and early 2000s, I would leave a copy of my passport with Jeremy’s office, knowing that he is the one person I can really trust who would help if I got into any trouble with the authorities!
Jeremy, you are a great friend of CEFTUS and our communities and thank you for your ongoing support.
Right, I’ve thanked you our guests, I’ve thanked our sponsors, I’ve thanked our staff, I’ve thanked the Leader of Opposition, but there’s one person I’d like to thank above all.
And that’s my wife and off course our son Mirzan – thank you for all your perseverance and support.
I said just now that CEFTUS is non-partisan.
We don’t support one side or another in the political divide.
But there are some principles that should transcend party politics.
We believe in a secular, democratic Turkey, with a strong civil society, a free press, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and human rights for all.
We believe in equality between all citizens in Turkey, men and women, and protection for religious and ethnic minorities.
We believe that Turkey has a pivotal role to play on the world stage, and especially with its neighbours and the wider region.
Turkey should be an exemplar of economic growth, political stability and peaceful co-existence in the region.
Instead, as we all know, the opposite is the case.
All of us should be concerned at the worsening economic situation, with slowing productivity and rising unemployment, especially amongst the young people.
We should be concerned when Turkish government forces detain opponents without trial, when journalists, trade unionists, elected representatives and human rights campaigners are rounded up and put in prison.
We should be concerned when Turkish armed forces are engaged in dangerous military adventures inside neighbouring countries’ borders.
We all want a Turkey which is economically strong, democratic and a good neighbour, not a Turkey sliding into internal repression and external aggression.
As a start, we need to see the prison gates open for those whose only crime is dissent,
And peaceful talks to open with the Kurdish people, so that the door can close on decades of conflict.
We need a lasting, peaceful settlement on Cyprus, one which works for everyone on that beautiful island.
Let me say to the Parliamentarians with us tonight: Britain can and should play a role in brokering all of these steps forward: putting pressure on the Turkish government to release political prisoners, to get round the table with the Kurds, and to resolve the conflict over Cyprus.
Britain is well placed to use its influence in all of these areas.
There are so many of us who want Turkey to succeed.
It is a country that has given so much to the world.
So many Turkish and Kurdish people from Turkey have contributed to the countries where they have settled in the diaspora.
Here in the UK, our contribution to the economy is worth billions.
We continue to celebrate the contribution of Turkish and Kurdish communities in the UK.
Our story is the story of all immigrant and refugee communities.
We are the people who travel across oceans and continents to start a new life.
We work hard.
We strive to succeed.
We want to contribute to our local community and to our adopted home.
We start by waiting on tables and washing dishes, but soon we build our businesses, create jobs, pay our taxes, and send our kids to college.
There’s a Conservative Kurdish Member of Parliament.
A Liberal Democrat Turkish Cypriot Member of the House of Lords.
A Kurdish academic from Cambridge University won the Nobel Prize for Mathematics.
We are doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers, councillors, entrepreneurs, parents, and citizens.
And yes, we are driving taxis, cutting hair, and carving kebabs too.
We are not afraid of hard work.
And I have bad news for the Daily Mail, and anyone else who complains about immigrants – we are here to stay.
This is our home.
Tonight, our community awards will recognise some of the brilliant, talented people from our communities who make such a contribution to all walks of British life.
Finally, friends, we live in turbulent times.
Wherever we look, from the USA, to the EU, to Russia, to the Middle East, to Africa, and to Asia, we see a world in turmoil.
A global economy in flux.
A political system struggling to cope with the demands of global citizens.
I don’t know what the future will hold.
But I do know that it will require serious people with calm heads.
It will need honest, open dialogue.
It will need places where we can meet as equals and explore our ideas and our ideals.
CEFTUS is one such place, needed now more than ever,
So thank you for all your support.