Dialogue Between Civilizations, Moscow, 27-28 March 2006


Moscow, 27-28 March 2006

Mr. Chairman,

Your Highness,

Your Eminences,

Distinguished colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure and honour for me to address such a distinguished audience. At the outset, I would like to congratulate the government of the Russian Federation for this timely initiative.

It is timely, because many people believe that the scenario developed by Huntington in his book “The Clash of the civilisations” is almost becoming a reality. However, I still genuinely hope that this will never happen. So, the initiatives like this one will contribute to avoid the materialization of the Huntington’s assumption.

I would like to express also my sincere appreciation to the Russian government for having designated a person of very high calibre like His Excellency Mr. Primakov for this sensitive task.  Mr. Primakov’s high performance in all jobs that he assumed so far is known to everybody. I am confident that, with his customary wisdom, he will guide our work to the best possible results.

In the work that we are embarking upon, we may not be able to eliminate entirely the misgivings nourished by people for the adherents of other religions. However its negative effects may be reduced to a minimum. Therefore, all initiatives should be encouraged to reduce the misunderstanding between the civilisations and to develop harmony between different cultures.

I regret to say that the developments in this field were in the opposite direction in the recent years. The attacks carried out on the twin towers in New York, the war in Iraq and more recently the cartoon crisis added fuel to these misgivings.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and gentlemen,

The long history of the multi-ethnic society in Russia allowed the Russian Federation to inherit a rich tradition of cohabitation of various faiths.

The present Russian Federation is also composed of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Unlike in the European countries where Muslim communities are composed mainly of immigrants and foreign workers, in the Russian society about 20 million Muslim inhabitants are part and parcel of the indigenous population of the Russian Federation. Therefore, the Russian Federation has both the experience and means to contribute to the establishment of harmonious relations between the adherents of different religions.

 Coming from a country like Turkey that inherited from the Ottoman era a similar tradition of multi-ethnic and multi- religious society, I can figure out more easily the constructive role that such countries may play in bridging the gap between Muslim and Christian societies.

Mr. Chairman, Your Highness, Ladies and gentlemen,

I now move to another subject, namely the cartoon crisis. The publication of defamatory cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper and its reprint in other countries caused serious reaction throughout the Muslim world. Danish authorities used the freedom of expression as an excuse to ignore the importance of the incidence. They even did not agree to apologize for it.

 We do not challenge of course the right of expression of individuals. However, this right should not be used in a manner to ridicule the sacred values of peoples of other faiths. When it is used in this manner, it becomes difficult to contain their anger.

I believe that the crisis was mishandled in Denmark. The newspaper that published the cartoons had refused in the past the publication of another cartoon, this time depicting Virgin Mary. It refused to publish that cartoon, because it was deemed to be defamatory for the Christian religion. Therefore, it is a blatant double standard to consider a cartoon as defamatory when it hurts Christian feelings and not to care about it when it hurts the feelings of Muslims.

Having said this, I also condemn, with equal emphasis, the violence resorted to by Muslims who could not control their anger and who burned down foreign embassies in certain capitals.

Still on the subject of the cartoon crisis, we appreciated the attitude adopted by Russia in this crisis. President Putin was prompt to blame the publication of these cartoons. He said, on this occasion, that provocations should be avoided and that the freedom of expression should not be used as an excuse in such circumstances. He also said that, in case a government could not prevent such an incidence, it should at least apologize for it.

This balanced attitude of the Russian Federation was received very positively in my country. I am confident that it did not escape the attention of other countries either.

On the other hand, both President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov supported the initiative taken by the Turkish and Spanish Prime Ministers under the auspices of the Secretary General of the United Nations. You will remember that this initiative is called “The Alliance of Civilisations” and is aiming at mending the damages made to the relations between Muslim and Christian worlds. The two Prime Ministers have set up a “High Level Group”. This Group will submit its report to the Prime Ministers and will be made public afterwards..

Mr. Chairman, Your Eminences, Ladies and gentlemen,

Turkey welcomes the observer status that the Russian Federation has now obtained within the OIC, that is to say the Islamic Conference Organization. Our Russian friends here present are most probably aware of the strong support that Turkey extended to the Russian Federation to obtain this status. Turkey has always believed that Russia’s presence in the OIC, in whichever capacity it may be, would help Russia to further improve its ties with the member countries of the OIC. Furthermore, the Russian Federation will be able to contribute directly to the work of the OIC.

The acquisition of the observer status by Russia in the OIC is all the more important for me personally, because as early as 18 years ego, when late President Ozal was chairing a Standing Committee in the OIC, I had suggested to him to invite the Soviet Union to establish institutional relations with the OIC.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and gentlemen,

I conclude my remarks by congratulating once more the Russian government for the initiative that it has taken to organize this meeting and for the excellent hospitality extended to all of us in this historical capital.

I wish every success to the meeting and thank you for your attention.

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