(AA) — Turkey treats all its citizens equally irrespective of their beliefs, according to Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Tanju Bilgic’s remarks came Monday after the debates on the ancient Great Synagogue in Turkey’s far northwestern Edirne province, and whether it will be put into service as a religious or cultural center after the completion of its restoration.
The Great Synagogue was constructed in 1907 in Kaleici village in Edirne on the orders of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II. It lost its ceiling and its side wall in 1997.
“Actually this question should not be addressed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the members of the Jewish community in Turkey are our citizens who enjoy equal rights and freedoms with the rest of the society,” said Bilgic.
“On the other hand, regarding the foreign policy aspects of the issue, it could be said that we cannot accept our Jewish citizens to be accused and to become the target of hatred and malice due to the policies of the Israeli government, only because they share the same religion,” Bilgic said.
Tension has run high in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in recent months following Israel’s 51-day military onslaught on the Gaza Strip, in which over 2,160 Palestinians were killed.
Tension mounted further on Oct. 30, when Israel briefly closed the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex after an extremist rabbi was shot by a Palestinian man in West Jerusalem.
Bilgic said it is unacceptable to blame our Jewish citizens for the policies of the Government of Israel.
“Both our president and prime minister have repeatedly been emphasizing that our criticisms are addressed to the Israeli government, not to the Israeli people and the Jews in general,” he said.
Turkey has had a strong culture of tolerance for more than thousand years, Bilgic said.
“Our Jewish citizens, as the rest of the Turkish citizens, enjoy equal rights and freedoms including the freedom of religion and worship,” he said.
Bilgic added that the General Directorate of Foundations, which is the institution responsible for the restoration of the synagogue, had issued a statement concerning the matter.
“This precious and historical synagogue, in which our Jewish citizens will worship and hold their rites without any concern, will serve as a temple in the future, as it did in the past,” said Bilgic.
The restoration effort was launched in 2010 for the Great Synagogue, which replaced 13 synagogues burnt down in 1905. But it fell out of use and deteriorated after 1983 due to the small number of Jewish worshippers in Edirne.