Despite having strained relations with Israel, Turkey seeks to mend humanitarian ties. In a landmark move, the country will be represented by Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek at the upcoming Holocaust remembrance event to be held in the capital Ankara for the first time.
Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek, the second person who serves as acting president in the absence of the president, will attend the Holocaust Remembrance Day event on January 27 in the capital Ankara. The decision shows that Turkey is still looking to maintain ties with Israel, at least on a humanitarian level, in spite of a strained relationship with Tel Aviv.
Ankara has previously sent low-level diplomats to attend commemorations in the past. Çiçek will join members of Turkey’s Jewish community at the ceremony that will be held at Ankara’s Bilkent University. Before the ceremony, Çiçek will travel to Prague for an international Holocaust remembrance event that will be attended by heads of state and senior officials from around the world.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu will attend the commemoration ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest concentration camp located in Poland, where over one million Jews were killed during World War II. Çavuşoğlu will be the first Turkish foreign minister to attend the event in Poland after Abdullah Gül, who joined representatives of the international community in the first year of events in 2005.
Designated by the U.N. General Assembly in 2005, the day commemorates the victims of the Holocaust. In Turkey, the day is observed with a ceremony that has been held at the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul in recent years and was held at a private university in Istanbul last year for the first time.
A photo exhibition by Jewish-Turkish photographer Alberto Modiano, “The Symbols of the Holocaust,” a recital by Jewish-Turkish soprano Linet Şaul and pianist Jerfi Aji, as well as a recital by the Bilkent University Piano Trio will be held at the commemoration event.
In Turkey, apart from the mass slaughter of Jews, the Holocaust is known for the efforts of a Turkish diplomat, Selahattin Ülkümen, to save Jews from the clutches of the Nazi regime. Ülkümen, who was the Turkish consul-general on Rhodes in Greece, is credited with saving 42 Jewish families who were to be sent to concentration camps in Europe by confronting the officer commanding the Nazi forces that were taking over the island and convincing him to release Jewish-Turks on the island. Ülkümen issued Turkish passports to the Jews for their safe passage to Turkey.
Under the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, Turkey and Israel downgraded their relations due to Turkey’s reaction to Israel’s aggressive policies toward Palestine. Both countries seek to normalize relations, although they have set out a series of conditions for a thaw in ties.