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Address by H.E. Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Turkey at the Opening Session of the Alliance of Civilizations’ First South East Europe Ministerial Conference, 14 December 2009, Sarajevo

President Komsiç,
Speaker of the Parliamentary Assembly Zivkoviç,
President Sampaio,
Minister Alkalaj,
State Secretary Garrido,
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great privilege for me to address the Alliance of Civilizations’ First South East Europe Ministerial Conference. Allow me to begin by thanking the authorities of Bosnia-Herzegovina for hosting this significant Conference and for extending their traditional warm hospitality. The high level of participation today gives me every confidence that our deliberations will provide a major impetus for further progress in the work of the Alliance in South East Europe.

I believe that, with this Conference, we have arrived at another important stage in the development of the Alliance. As you all know, the Alliance has grown steadily as a UN initiative in a short period of time, so that 88 countries and 16 international organizations are now represented in its Group of Friends. The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the Alliance, on 10 November 2009, with the co-sponsorship of no fewer than 96 countries.

You may recall that the Istanbul Forum in April 2009 recommended the development of regional strategies to enhance the reach of the Alliance. I am pleased that our first ever regional strategy has been devised for the South East Europe. The draft strategy before us today will help to deliver the global values of the Alliance at a regional level. Sarajevo with multi-religious and multiethnic character is the right place for such an event.

And perhaps no region deserves such a strategy as much as the Balkans. This is a region of immense history, rich culture and, I believe, a great common future. Naturally, one cannot forget the tragedies of the recent past. Indeed, we should bear in mind the sufferings of the last two decades, in order to ensure that they are never allowed to happen again. However, we cannot live with these tragedies in mind forever. We must move on and the Balkans has moved on. Several initiatives on fruitful regional cooperation have been under way for some time. Our Conference today is yet another example of this political will.

I also wish to reassure my Ministerial colleagues that this region of ours is not on the periphery anymore. Globalization has ensured that the Balkans are now at the epicenter, at the crossroads of the vital lines of communication and interaction. All too often in the past, the Balkans have been the victims of international rivalries and outside intervention. I believe that South East Europe has the necessary human resources, cultural heritage and vision to become a centre of attraction in its own right, able to decide its own fate.

My country participated fully in the preparation of the Sarajevo Document and the Regional Strategy for South East Europe and will make every effort to ensure their proper implementation. For Turkey, the region is of special importance, not only because of the past, but also the present.

However, Turkey is also committed to this regional endeavor because of our strong attachment to the aims and principles of the Alliance. The global challenge of polarization, extremism and exclusion cannot be ignored. Neither can it be tackled by any one country or group of countries. The scale of the cultural and political problems we are facing requires us to join hands in order to promote dialogue and respect for diversity.

I have to say that my country is disappointed that an important religious symbol, that of a minaret, has been subjected to a referendum in Switzerland. It is a mistake to put a fundamental religious right to a popular vote and I hope that this mistake will be rectified. The spread of human rights and fundamental freedoms may not have been possible, had countries chosen to put specific freedoms to referenda.
It might be useful to recall that the Franciscan Catholic Monastery in Fojnica, some 57 kilometers from here, holds the original copy of an edict issued by the Ottoman Sultan on 28 May 1463. This edict protects the religious rights of Bosnian Christians and the sanctity of their churches. It is one of the oldest documents on religious freedom.
President Sampaio,
Distinguished colleagues,

It might be appropriate to conclude my statement, by recalling a popular Bosnian saying about coffee and cigarettes, even though I have never smoked myself. I will first convey it in Bosniak:

“Kahva bez sigare,
Camiya bez minare”.

I will also provide an English translation, for the benefit of our non-Bosnian speaking colleagues:

“No coffee without cigarette,
No mosque without minaret”.

I hope that the spirit of Sarajevo with mosque, church and synagogue on the same street and in the same neighborhood will lead us to a real cultural and religious dialogue. Our initiative, the Alliance of Civilizations, shares this spirit of Sarajevo.

Thank you for your kind attention.