First ‘Cem-Papandreu International Peace Award’ Ceremony Held in Istanbul


Photo: Hülya Karahan

The first award ceremony organized to honor Turkey’s late Foreign Minister İsmail Cem and his former counterpart Yorgo Papandreu, two statesmen who contributed immensely to building peaceful relations between Turkey and Greece, was held in Istanbul on April 16. The award will be issued annually to persons who work to cement peace and reconciliation across the world.

The ceremony commenced with a speech from Papandreu, who praised Cem as “a charismatic personality, a courageous politician, an open mind,” and recounted their joint efforts to establish communication between the neighboring states whose relations are marred with conflict and historically tense relations.

Underlining that the lack of healthy relations between the two countries “undermined the true potential” of both peoples, Papandreu said he had decided with Cem to shift their focus to areas of possible cooperation rather than fighting over well-known differences.

“I decided that there was no reason to be in the position of foreign minister if I didn’t tackle – head on – our major foreign policy issue,” he told the audience which include senior figures from Turkey’s political scene including former PM Mesut Yılmaz, former Minister Abdullatif Şener, opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy and former presidential candidate Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, in addition to officials and businessmen from both societies.

“In only a year or two we had signed over 30 agreements. After forty years of no cooperation whatsoever,” Papandreu said before awarding businessmen Sarık Tara and Theodoros Papalexopoulos, and the Greek-Turkish Forum, for being pioneers and “opening innovative ways of communication between Greece and Turkey.”

Following Papandreu’s speech, Cem’s daughter İpek Cem Taha took the floor and complimented the two diplomats’ successful efforts to build peace, underlining that “friendly relations between Turkey and Greece seem natural today,” because their work was furthered by both countries.

Taha focused her speech on the global reach needed to solve the ongoing refugee crisis in the countries’ bordering Aegean Sea, where hundreds of thousands of migrants have perished over the summer of 2016.
“Making the Aegean a sea of hope and peace is no longer possible solely with the efforts of Turkey and Greece,” she said, adding that a global effort was necessary to resolve conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, what she called “the real causes of the refugee crisis.”

“It is for this reason that we need world leaders who embrace peace as an above-politics value,” she said, quoting Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who once said, “Peace in the country, peace in the world.”
Taha also underlined that their aspiration in organizing this award was to support efforts towards peace by rewarding individuals and organizations who contribute to this end.

Turkey’s former Foreign Minister İsmail Cem İpekçi, known for his contributions to improving relations with Greece, died of lung cancer in December 2006 at the age of 67.

Cem served as foreign minister under three successive governments between 1997 and 2003, becoming the longest-serving Turkish foreign minister in recent years. His greatest achievement was forging close ties with Greece. The rapprochement culminated in a series of cooperation deals including culture, economy, combating crime and pledges to work toward tackling the more difficult territorial disputes in the Aegean. A thaw had followed a mutual outpouring of aid and sympathy in the wake of deadly earthquakes that struck both countries in 1999.