Thank you, my name is Ibrahim Dogus, I am the founder and Director of the Centre for Turkey Studies, or CEFTUS – and once again it is my pleasure to welcome you to our gala dinner and community achievement awards.
This is now our eighth annual awards and dinner.
I see one or two faces who were there at the very beginning.
Whether you are a CEFTUS veteran or whether this is your very first event, you are very welcome and I know you will have a great evening.
It has been another busy year for CEFTUS. We had brilliant events with Cengiz Candar, Barbaros Sansal, Elif Safak, Ece Temelkuran, Yasar Yakis, Cihangir Islam, and many others. We have continued to provide a platform for discussion and debate amongst those with an interest in Turkey and the wider region.
CEFTUS is anchored 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.
What is special about CEFTUS is that we can bring together commentators, academics, authors, politicians, community leaders from different shades of opinion and different backgrounds, and we can create a space, a platform, for the calm exchange of views and sharing of ideas.
In the place of bombast we bring rational discussion.In the place of invective we bring respectful debate.
I like to think we serve as a model for other countries and regions where there are fierce disputes and hotly disputed issues.
It is certainly our conviction that nothing is solved by insults and ill-informed commentary. Ignorance leads to distrust and distrust leads to conflict.
At CEFTUS, we play our part at bringing people together, not driving them apart.
Of course, none of this work would be possible without your generous support. We don’t receive funds from any Government or institution, we raise our funds ourselves, thanks to generous supporters and events such as this. Thank you for supporting our work!
I know you will all want to join me in thanking all the staff of CEFTUS – thank you for all that you do. And I would like to thank our sponsors Just Eat and congratulate Andrew Kenny and Matt Bushby on their new roles, Cobra Beer and congratulate Lord Karan Bilimoria on his new roles as the President of CBI, Alton and Co for their continuous support.
I would like to mention our charity partner this evening. I am delighted that this year we are supporting Show Racism the Red Card. Show Racism the Red Card is the leading anti-racist charity, using the high-profile and celebrity status of top footballers to educate people, especially young people, about the evils of racism, and how to tackle it. Since 1996 they have done fantastic work, but as we have seen from recent events, their work is still needed now more than ever. So we are delighted to be supporting them this evening.
Part of this evening’s event is the award for achievement in the community. I won’t give the game away by saying who has won, but the awards represent an important moment to recognise the contribution of people from Turkish, Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot communities, from every background, to British society – people contributing to the worlds of business, politics, the arts and local government, working hard to make their community a better place, and fighting prejudice and disadvantage.
This has been a tough year – Brexit has created uncertainty about Britain’s place in the world and stirred up dark forces of xenophobia and racism. And on the international stage, our hearts have been broken by conflict between the Turkish Government and its neighbours and its own citizens.
Once again, Amnesty International reports that ‘an ongoing state of emergency set a backdrop for violations of human rights’ where ‘dissent was ruthlessly suppressed with journalists, political activists and human rights defenders amongst those targeted.’
I don’t think there has been a year in recent decades when Turkey has been in the news so prominently.
And yet we know that Turkey is capable of being so much better than this – Turkey could and should be a powerful economic powerhouse, and a paragon of democracy in the region.
These things are not impossible to imagine and can happen if there are good faith and good will to make them happen.
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 unite us all. 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 believe in a secular, democratic Turkey, with 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 like the Kurds.
We believe that Turkey has a pivotal role to play 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, and that is Turkey’s tragedy.
None of us want a Turkey sliding into internal repression and external aggression.
We demand to see the prison gates open for those whose only crime is speaking out against the Government.
And we demand peace talks with the Kurdish people, so we can end decades of conflict. Turkey must withdraw its forces from Syria and start building positive relations with the Northern Syrian Democratic Administration.
We need a peaceful settlement on Cyprus, one which works for everyone on that beautiful island.
And of course Britain can and should play a role in all of these areas: 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, for historical reasons, is well placed to use its influence on all these issues.
So many Turkish, Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot people 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 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.
We now have A 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, buses, 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.
Finally, friends, we live in turbulent times.
Wherever we look, from the USA, to the South America, 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.
And finally, there is one person I’d like to thank above all and that’s my lovely my, Raife – thank you for all your perseverance and support.
Thank you for listening, and have a great evening.