Turkish envoy defends policy against Israel

In the lions' den: Kerem Kiratli

In the lions' den: Kerem Kiratli

A senior diplomat from Turkey's UK embassy braved a battery of questions on his country's rocky relations with Israel in one of the closing sessions of the winter Limmud conference.

Kerem Kiratli, the deputy chief of mission, stood in for his ambassador, who had been planning to attend but had been summoned to a conference in Ankara.

Israel's once-strong relations with Turkey dived after nine Turks were killed by soldiers intercepting a boat trying to break the Gaza blockade in 2010.

He said: "It is regrettable and unfortunate to see the current level of Turkish-Israeli relations. We keep the hope that they will return to their previous level - the level where they should be."

The raid on the vessel, the Mavi Marmara, in international waters, "dealt a heavy blow to our relations. For the first time in the Republic of Turkey's history, Turkish citizens got killed by a friend - not a foe - and in peacetime."

Expressions of regret from Israel were "not enough", he said. Turkey still insisted on an official apology and compensation for the victims in order to return to normal relations.

He asked whether Israel would have expected no less if its own citizens had been the victims of "this horrible act".

On more than one occasion, the envoy made it clear that Turkey's dispute was with the Israeli government.

"It has nothing to do with the Jewish people, either in Israel or elsewhere round the world," Mr Kiratli said.

When Josephine Dayan, a Turkish Jew who has lived in the UK for 10 years, suggested that Turkey's reaction was sowing hatred for Jews more widely among the population, Mr Kiratli said: "There is no reason for the Turkish people of Jewish origin or the members of the Turkish community living in Israel to be worried or uneasy."

He rejected suggestions that Turkey's reaction to Israel over the incident was more about repositioning itself strategically to seek greater influence in the Middle East.

At one point, one young woman called for an apology for Turkey for more than 1,600 Greek Cypriots listed as missing - among them her grandmother.

But Mr Kiratli suggested that the figure was "misguidance" from the Greek Cypriots, maintaining that the issue was being dealt with by a UN Commission.

Questioned also about the mass killing of Armenians in Turkey in the early 20th century, he denied that there had been a genocide, adding that Turkey had offered to set up a joint commission with Armenia to study what had happened.

    Last updated: 12:45pm, January 5 2012