Ladies and gentlemen, I really am delighted to be here today for this most important occasion, in a city and a country for which I have developed great affection over the years, having visited not only Istanbul but also the Aegean shore, the South Coast, and several of the cities of Central Anatolia which I visited some fourteen years ago.
It is more than 4 years now since the fire which the Ambassador mentioned destroyed the interior fabric of this building. And it is almost a year since we heard the horrific news of the two bomb attacks on the Consulate General and HSBC on 20th November, just 5 days after similar atrocities had been perpetrated against two of Istanbul's Synagogues.
I do extend my deepest possible sympathies to all those who lost loved ones and relatives in those attacks, I extend my deepest sympathies. Far from sowing division between us, those who planned these murderous attacks simply brought us together – Briton and Turk, Muslim, Jew and Christian.
I was very glad to have the chance to meet the families of those who died in the attack on the British Consulate when they came to London last month for a memorial service. Here in Istanbul, last night and today, I am glad also to have had the opportunity to meet those who were injured or traumatised by the terrible experience that they have endured.
But Ladies and Gentlemen, today, we are looking forward once more, as I suspect those who lost their lives almost a year ago would have wished us to do. We are re-opening this remarkable building, the history of which Lord John Scott has just described so elegantly and amazingly. In a few respects it isn't quite finished. Better, in my view, perhaps to get the details right than to settle for second best.
But I hope you will still have a chance to see in a few minutes the great care which has been taken to restore Pera House to its former glory, even if – inevitably – some concessions have had to be made to the requirements of security at the expense of the original design. I can only pay tribute to those who have worked so hard and so skillfully to recreate a building of which we can all be proud.
It has always seemed to me that the spirit of a city is reflected as much in its buildings as in the people who live in it. But while the buildings reflect the spirit of the place, they also themselves affect the people who inhabit them. Here in Istanbul, the Ayasofia, now almost 1500 years old, has meant as much over its long life to the Byzantine Christians who built it, the Ottoman Muslims who converted it into a Mosque, and the thousands of visitors of every conceivable faith and nationality who now enjoy it as a museum.
It is a spectacular example of how, over the centuries, different peoples, cultures, religions and even civilisations have come together in this great city, and lived alongside and learnt from each other. It was no coincidence that the Sephardic Jews made their new home in Istanbul when they had to leave Spain at the end of the 15th Century.
As we look ahead today at a new era of British diplomatic and consular activity here in Istanbul, we also see Turkey moving towards taking its place in the European Union. There will be those both here and elsewhere in Europe who fear that their values, beliefs and standards may somehow be diluted in the fusion of East and West, of Islam and Christianity.
I understand those fears, and I hope that the UK can play a special part in helping to allay them. The essence of Turkish culture needs to be preserved inside the European Union, not homogenized by the harmonization of technical institutions and laws. We have much common heritage to help ensure this. Like the United Kingdom, Turkey once had a vast empire.
Like the United Kingdom, you have been spared the complete collapse of your system of government and institutions which twice afflicted most of Europe in the past 60 years, leaving many countries with no choice but to start again from scratch.
Like the United Kingdom, you have developed, over the years, systems and institutions which reflect your particular characteristics and needs. And so, like the people of the United Kingdom, some of you find making the changes required for membership of the European Union a challenging and at times bewildering process.
But the opportunity facing Turkey now is an extraordinary one. You are in a position to demonstrate, once and for all, that secular democracy does not have to come at the expense of Islamic values and social justice; and that accepting Turkish cultural and social values within Europe does not mean that democracy and the rule of law are under threat. Largely thanks to the vision of Kemal Ataturk, it seems to me that the people of Turkey – perhaps more than any other – have found a way of showing that Islam and democracy can happily co-exist.
For many years, the United Kingdom has been one of Turkey's most steadfast supporters - in Europe and more widely. I know we will continue to provide that support in the years to come. We shall be even better able to do so with this splendid building back in business.
It now gives me great pleasure to declare it open.