Today the United Kingdom and Turkey look back together at a devastating day in our long shared history. On this day ten years ago, car bombs were detonated outside both the British Consulate General and the headquarters of HSBC in Istanbul. Thirty two people were killed and 400 hundreds-injured, most of them Turkish citizens living or working nearby.
As we look back, I would like to thank the Turkish people and the Turkish authorities for their immediate response to the attacks. On 20 November each year since the attack, staff from our Consulate General, neighbours and shopkeepers in the Beyoğlu area lay a memorial wreath and hold a minute’s silence in memory of its victims. We are hugely grateful for the support and sympathy of the community in which we work in Istanbul.
To mark the tenth anniversary of the bomb attack, the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is in Istanbul today with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoğlu, to attend a commemorative ceremony alongside families, friends and colleagues of those killed and injured in the indiscriminate terrorist attack of 2003.
The Ministers will also meet separately to share views on how the terrorist threat has evolved over the past decade and how we worked together against it.The UK has a strong partnership with Turkey on a range of issues, including counter-terrorism. We both have long and bitter experience of dealing with both domestic and international threats. The United Kingdom has welcomed the courage the Turkish Government has shown in launching a peace process with the PKK. We stand ready to help the Turkish Government in any way we can, drawing on our own experience in Northern Ireland.
As we celebrate the fact that the ceasefire with the PKK in Turkey is being maintained, another substantial threat to our collective security has grown as a result of the conflict in Syria. Thousands of foreign nationals – including a significant number from the United Kingdom - have joined groups affiliated to Al Qaeda there. We are deeply concerned about the potential for these individuals to return to Turkey and other countries in order to carry out attacks.
Turkey has already paid a heavy price for the conflict in Syria. The terrorist attack on the border town of Reyhanlı in Hatay province in May, which killed fifty three civilians was a tragic illustration of the way in which the violence in Syria is spreading beyond the country’s borders. It was also a reminder of the importance of NATO Allies working together to tackle the threat to our collective security from terrorism.
Ten years on from the worst terrorist attacks in Istanbul’s history, the threat from extremist violence sadly remains. But I believe the UK and Turkey are countries made great by our determination to stand up for what we believe in, to reject terrorism and violence as a means of pursuing political aims and to engage with the world to strengthen democracy, prosperity and security. That gives me cause for optimism on a day when we look back with such sadness at the human cost of terrorism.