My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Ambassador, Members of Parliament, Honoured Guests and Friends.
My name is Ibrahim Dogus, and I am the director of the Centre for Turkey Studies, and it is my great pleasure to welcome you to this 4th annual gala dinner.
A magnificent event like this doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work.
I’d like to start by recognising some of the important people who have made it happen:
All the staff, volunteers and interns at Centre for Turkey Studies, especially
Edward Rowe and Timur Ekingen.
Our generous supporters, benefactors and donors, especially
Lord Karan Bilimoria,
and many many others whom I can’t name one by one for their generous contributions/support for this evening.
And I’d like to thank someone very special, without whose support nothing would happen, and that’s my lovely wife Raife.
We established Centre for Turkey Studies four years ago with two simple goals: to provide an independent, non-party political forum for discussion about Turkey and the region for the British people and Turkish, Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot communities, and secondly, to create a dialogue between experts from Turkey and the UK to build bridges between the two countries and their peoples.
Since then, we have marvelled at the warm reception we’ve enjoyed, at the highest levels of business and politics, from across the communities represented here today.
Centre for Turkey Studies is the only neutral platform where Turkish and Kurdish political leaders and thinkers, from across the political spectrum, can come to attend events, speak, and engage in conversation.
As you know, politics in Turkey is polarised, and at times abrasive.
Yet we manage to bring senior figures from all political parties in Turkey together for a mature debate.
In this, Centre for Turkey Studies is unique. No other organisation does what we do.
The packed meetings and seminars, and the high-level speakers we heard, are testament to the success of the Centre for Turkey Studies.
In retrospect, it seems obvious.
The United Kingdom and Turkey are allies.
Two million Britons visit Turkey every year, for holidays or business.
Britain is second only to Germany as a trading partner to Turkey.
And, we all hope, that one day soon Turkey will be able to join the UK in the European Union.
Since the UK General Election, we have sought to work with new Parliamentarians, and with the new Government and Opposition front-benches. We enjoy support from David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron.
We will also work with the London Mayoral candidates, Sadiq Khan, Zak Goldsmith and other candidates for this vital role of running our capital.
There have been Turkish and Kurdish people living in England since the 1500s. Today, as many as 400,000 people can claim Turkish, Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot origin in the UK.
There is a huge diplomatic and academic interest in Turkey.
Turkey throughout history has been at the intersection between worlds, set between three seas, the Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Black Seas.
Today, Turkey borders eight countries, including Iraq, Iran, Syria and Greece.
Given the instability of the region, you can see why Turkey matters so much; why building bridges is such important work.
This has been brought home to all of us by the refugee crisis, which serves to remind us how fragile and precious life is.
It is a desperate situation, and shows no signs of abating,
Turkey has taken in nearly two million refugees from the Syrian conflict, far more than European governments which have failed to act fast enough.
Against the backdrop of this humanitarian crisis, and escalating violence including suicide bombing in Ankara, the Turkish and Kurdish people will go to the polls on 1st November, in just a couple of days.
We all hope for a safe conduct of the elections, and for a stable transition to the 26th Parliament, after the shortest ever one, lasting only four months.
CEFTUS has no political bias – our role is to work with whichever party is in office in Turkey and in the UK. But I am sure I speak for all of us here when I say we wish for peaceful elections and a clear result.
And, importantly, we want the new government to play a positive and constructive role in achieving peace with the Kurdish people, and with its neighbours.
The new government must uphold the rule of law, the principles of democracy, and the primacy of human rights.
It must respect diversity, and protect the minority communities living within its borders.
It is a volatile and unpredictable time – but when isn’t it?
Of course, Centre for Turkey Studies will continue to provide the meeting point for politicians, journalists, business leaders, community champions and academics to monitor the situation, to debate the solutions and to allow dialogue and understanding.
Given the amount of events and seminars we produce, it is sometimes a surprise to people that we do it all with such a small staff team.
And it is sometimes a surprise to people when they learn that Centre for Turkey Studies is not funded by any government, nor by a University or any other institution.
We pay for our office, staff, flights and hotels for guest speakers, our website and marketing, all for around £50,000 a year.
We make every pound go a long way!
Tonight, we have raised £14,000 so far – and there’s a raffle and auction still to come.
So, please dig deep into your pockets. In case, you dont have cash, we take card payments too..
Tonight is a major part of our fundraising strategy.
Of course to be sustainable, we need regular donations and financial support, so I hope you and your organisation will consider becoming a partner.
We can’t do what we do without your support.
Friends, the Centre for Turkey Studies is growing. Its influence is expanding. The number of supporters is going up.
It reflects the warm relations between our nations, and also the strong interest in Turkey.
It reflects the strategic importance of Turkey, as a democratic and secular state in a region which is turbulant and unstable, as a home to both Turkish and Kurdish peoples.
It reflects the real desire of British people to understand more about Turkish and Kurdish society, its diverse communities and its vibrant politics.
In a world of conflict, we bring understanding.
In a world of disagreement, we bring dialogue.
In a world of prejudice, we break down barriers.
Enjoy your evening, and thank you.