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A crowd of many cultures hails the CEFTUS awards winners

“As a member of the Sikh community it was an honour to be invited to the CEFTUS awards. The ambience of the raffle was thrilling as everybody wanted the top two prizes. The guest list was worthy of a celebrity function” (Harry Virdee, City Sikhs)

By Joshua Neicho

On Sunday 8th October, the Centre for Turkey Studies (CEFTUS) hosted its sixth anniversary gala at the Westminster Park Plaza Hotel in Waterloo, to mark achievements over the past year towards its objective of building bridges between Turkey and the UK. At the event, CEFTUS’s annual Turkish, Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot Community Achievement Awards were announced in recognition of outstanding work in a host of categories, including business, law, politics and education.On Sunday 8th October, the Centre for Turkey Studies (CEFTUS) hosted its sixth anniversary gala at the Westminster Park Plaza Hotel in Waterloo, to mark achievements over the past year towards its objective of building bridges between Turkey and the UK. At the event, CEFTUS’s annual Turkish, Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot Community Achievement Awards were announced in recognition of outstanding work in a host of categories, including business, law, politics and education.

While the capital’s Turkish and Kurdish community is primarily concentrated in north London, Lambeth is its spiritual home south of the river. Turkish Cypriots settled there in the 1970s and the first Kurdish community association in London was founded in Stannary Street, near the Oval.

This year’s awards brought together more than 700 guests from diverse communities to celebrate the success of Turks, Kurds and Cypriots in the UK as three peoples united in their common Turkish identity.

Following a buzzing drinks reception, guests feasted on a three-course Turkish meal of mezze, kebabs and miniature desserts and were entertained by performances from the Turkish rock band Legacy II Galaxy and singer-songwriter Olcay Bayir, from the Kurdish region of southern Turkey. A raffle at the end of the evening raised £1,800 for good causes.

The CEFTUS story CEFTUS is an independent, non-partisan thinktank, set up in 2011 with the support of Nick Clegg while he was Deputy Prime Minister. It hosts experts, politicians and other opinion-formers at speaker events, round-table discussions, debates and dinners. It promotes open dialogue across the political spectrum on issues around Turkey and its relationship with the UK.

In his speech welcoming guests to the gala, CEFTUS’s founder Ibrahim Dogus described the unique role played by the thinktank in bringing together senior figures from all political parties in Turkey.

‘Turkey should be a peaceful, stable, democratic and secular country with free and fair elections, the rule of law, protection of minorities and freedom of expression,” he said. ‘It breaks our hearts when we see the political opposition and journalists locked up in prisons, peaceful demonstrations broken up by force, human rights violated, and military violence used against citizens of Turkey.’ He continued, ‘Right now, Turkey falls short of where we would want it to be. And that’s why we’re here. Because we know that through dialogue and campaigning and scrutiny and pressure, things can and will improve.’

Star-studded guestlist

The event was very well attended by politicians across political parties, including MPs Sir David Amess – who thanked CEFTUS for all its activity to promote a healthier debate around Turkey – Marsha de Cordova, Afzal Khan, John Spellar, Barry McElduff, Kate Osamor and Graham Stringer; Lord Paul, Lord Dholakia, Lord Bilimoria, Lord Glasman, Lord Bird, Lord Dykes, Lord Suri and Lord McInnes; and Claude Moraes MEP. Several mayors were in attendance – Marcia Cameron of Lambeth, Philip Glanville of Hackney, Christine Hamilton of Enfield, Linda Huggett of Redbridge and Bhagwanji Chohan of Brent. Ambassadors or their representatives from countries including Senegal, Sudan, Laos, Venezuela, Angola, Republic of Congo, Honduras and Bahrain were present, and the Counsellor for Strategic and Security Affairs from the French Embassy. Also among guests were prominent business people, including from gala sponsors Cobra Beer, JustEat and Alton & Co., lawyers, trade unionists, journalists and policy experts.

Political figures from Turkey who attended included Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP Gaye Usluer and Altan Tan of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Veteran journalist, Middle East expert and former advisor to the Turkish government Cengiz Candar was awarded the CEFTUS Appreciation Award and introduced as a ‘seeker of truth’ for his reporting from war zones such as Bosnia. Candar said he’d watched CEFTUS grow from ‘scratch’ into a ‘wonderful success story’, galvanising UK political leaders and intellectuals. Other special guests included former Justice and Development Party (AKP) MP and law professor Osman Can, and former US Ambassador to Turkey James F Jeffrey.

Honouring migrant communities

In his speech, Dogus emphasised the huge importance of migrants to the UK’s economy and society: ‘With the rise of racist incidents since the EU referendum, we need to celebrate the role of migrant communities now more than ever. That we are home to so many people across the globe gives the UK a web of connections and influence across the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. Migrants add tens of billions of pounds to the UK economy every year, they make us stronger and enrich our lives.’

Presenters and guests at the awards echoed these sentiments.

‘Throughout my time in Parliament, I have forged strong links with the local Turkish communities,’ Sir David Amess noted. ‘The vibrancy and cultural diversity that they bring to the area benefit everyone whether it be through local restaurants, shops or community events. Most notably, the continued support that local charitable projects have received from Turkish communities has been remarkable.’

Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords Lord Dholakia said, ‘I am pleased that entrepreneurs were recognised. This is the best way to identify role models who can be inspirations.’ He added, ‘The event also gave us an opportunity to network with community organisations and people who have made a vast contribution to political and social life in this country. We salute them for their achievements’.

Crossbench peer Lord Bilimoria, chairman and founder of Cobra Beer said, ‘It’s wonderful that we have a celebration of the contribution 450,000 people from the Turkish, Cypriot and Kurdish communities make to the UK. As a fellow entrepreneur, I was proud to present the Businessman of the Year award. Because it’s entrepreneurship that is going to see this country, this industry, battle through the challenges that we have.’

Labour London Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark Florence Eshalomi remarked: ‘Like many other inner London boroughs, Lambeth continues to be open and welcoming to everyone that chooses to make the area their home. Our Turkish, Kurdish and Turkish Cypriot communities are having an important impact on the capital.’

Lord Glasman, former adviser to Ed Miliband said, ‘The CEFTUS Community Achievement Awards is unique. I grew up with Kurds, Turks and Turkish Cypriots and it is wonderful to witness the range of their achievements.’

Les Levidow of the Campaign against Criminalising Communities said that ‘the CEFTUS Community Achievement Awards symbolise the important contributions of prominent individuals to political, cultural and enterprise activities in this country, often linked with the struggle for justice and democracy in Turkey. The annual dinner brings together different communities targeted for persecution or division by Turkey’s authoritarian regime.’

Harry Virdee of City Sikhs said, ‘As a member of the Sikh community it was an honour to be invited to the CEFTUS awards. I was both surprised and pleased at the diversity in the room. I particularly enjoyed the charity raffle – although I may not have won anything, the ambience was thrilling as everybody wanted the top two prizes’, which were tickets to the final of The X Factor and executive-level tickets to see Manchester United. He added, ‘The guest list was worthy of a celebrity function.’

CEFTUS looks forward to another year of building connections between British and Turkish thought leaders in a challenging political climate, and to hailing the next set of community award-winners in 12 mont

hs’ time.

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