More than 15 Australian-Turkish community organisations across NSW came together to organize an Iftar at the Parliament House in Sydney on Thursday 8 June to celebrate 50 years of Turkish migration to Australia.

The Iftar was held in the Strangers Dining Room and was attended by both Federal and State MPs where the NSW Minister for Multiculturalism, The Hon Ray Williams and NSW Minister for the Veteran Affairs The Hon David Elliott spoke on its significance.

The Hon Ray Williams, NSW Minister for Multiculturalism

Other speakers at the event included Mr Paul Lynch, State Member for Liverpool; Member for Fowler, Mr Chris Hayes; Chair of the Friends of Turkey of the Parliament of New South Wales, Mr Trevor Khan and Member for Granville, Ms Julia Finn.

The Iftar was attended by a number of diplomats and the Turkish Ambassador to Australia Mr Vakur Gokdenizler spoke on close Australian Turkish relations.

The Governor General of the New South Wales, The Honourable David Hurleys had sent a message for this memorable occasion.

The Iftar provided an inclusive platform for the New South Wales Turkish community, who are marking the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first plane of Turkish migrants to Australia in 1968.

Dr Abdurrahman Asaroglu, President of the Turkish Cultural Association

The Minister for Immigration Mr Billy Snedden signed the Assisted Immigration Act with the Turkish ambassador Baha Vefa Karatay in Canberra in October 1967. The Act followed the inauguration of the Turkish Embassy in Australia. On October 14, 1968, a chartered Qantas Flight brought the first group of immigrant workers from Turkey.

Some of these first migrants who arrived on this flight were specially invited at the Iftar dinner together with some of their family members.

Dr Abdurrahman Asaroglu, President of the Turkish Cultural Association based at Gallipoli Mosque welcomed the guests present and pointed out the significance of this Parliamentary Iftar celebrating 50 years of Turkish migration to Australia. He related the history of the arrival of Turkish migrants to Australia and talked about Australia-Turkey relations and also shed light on some of the contemporary community issues.

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Dr Asaroglu’s edited speech:

In 1966, The Australian Parliament was debating an interesting and challenging topic, the invitation of Turkish migrants o Australia, when Gallipoli sentiments were still fresh in the minds of the community.

After heated arguments, for and against, an affirmative decision was made. Surprisingly, Returned Soldiers League (RSL) also supported the decision. Australia and Turkey became from foes to friends, out of the battle.

The first flight arrived in Sydney on 14 October 1968 at 5.00 pm with 168 Turkish migrants on board. Dame Annabelle Rankin, representing the Prime Minister John Gorton said:

The Australian people for many years, have admired the qualities of courage and fortitude of the Turkish people. We hope your number will grow, until we have a significant representation of Turkish people, with tradition and skills, which can contribute to Australia’s development and add flavour to our way of life.

I believe her wishes have come true. The initial journey for all migrants started from Villawood Hostel to Erskineville, Redfern, Auburn, Bonnyrigg and further to Blacktown who continued to integrate into wider Australian society with a Turkish Muslim flavour.

We are here only for two years” slogan changed to “our grandsons and daughters know what they want.”

We grew up with the melody of “we are many but we are one.” Yes we are one nation called Australia. Our heritage is our strength in cultural values that we share and cherish.

Multiculturalism was known to Anatolian multiethnic communities, where Churches, synagogues, diverse languages, folk music, and varying ways of life were practiced for centuries side by side in Turkey.

I remember, my grandfather once told me that his Usta (Supervisor in trade, who was from a Christian belief) used to remind him by saying “Son did you read your Quran today, I read my bible.”

My grandmother used to ask me to take a plate of her delicious food to our Armenian neighbour. It wasn’t until later years, I learnt that she was practicing the sayings of the prophet Mohammad (s), “we are not true believers unless we love for our neighbour what we love for ourselves”.

I met an elderly veteran who passed away quite some time ago who had served in the Korean war with allied forces. He said, “country is the place you live. Australia is my country” He was practicing a Hadith which said “love of the county is from the faith”.

We have been taught so many common values. Such as “Providing for the family is your donation”, “working is a form of worship” “he who does not respect our elders love our juniors is not from us” “Do not kill” “Do not steal” “Do not lie” “Do not take the rights of others” in other words be fair and Just and many more.

Domestic Violence was far from us because we were taught that “the paradise is under the feet of the mothers”. Women in the Islamic faith are seen to hold such high value that the religion constantly emphasises this throughout its teachings.

I remember when I first heard this saying as a child, I used to imagine my mother standing before the glorious paradise where you would find all the toys in the world. The religion teaches us to cherish, value, protect and listen to our women.

Growing up I was told by my parents not to eat outside. The reason for this was because we were not supposed to hurt the feelings of the poor and needy by displaying our food.

Last year I visited a museum in Karabuk/Turkey. One thing, I saw there, was something called “Sadaka Tasi” a Charity stone. This uniquely carved pillar like stone with a deep hole in the middle would be placed accessible to the community. The rich would place their donations in it and the needy would reach in to take as they needed and leave the rest for others.

The purpose of this device was to preserve the secrecy of the poor, thereby saving them from shame and loss of face so no one was reduced to begging.

When we came to Sydney in 1981 we lived in an apartment in Auburn. Every morning, I used to see milk bottles with money next to it. No one took them but the milkman.

I remember an elderly man taking his hat off every time he passed by us.

I believe that these were a result of the proper values education. Value of the product proves the value of the system.  If a 14-year-old goes to sacrifice for his country in Gallipoli we can produce similar 14-year-olds to sacrifice for Australia if need be.

On the contrary, if 1% of the population is Muslim and 10% of a jail population is also from Muslim background, then this does not signify an issue with the faith in which these people follow, but rather an issue of delivery in our educational system.

Providing quality education to the future generation of this country is essential to raise educated young individuals who will benefit the community.

We condemn the actions of youth who kill in the name of the Islamic faith as the teachings of Islam forbid the killing of innocent lives. Media outlets are quick to blame the source of Islam and its education as a fundamental reason behind these atrocities.

However, we strongly believe that if youth are properly educated and are given the attention they need, this will enable us as Australians to raise young educated and respectful individuals.

We can see level of respect in Ataturk as he was uttering below word product of the cultural education at the time. we are all proud of what he declared.

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives …There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us. where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well”.

We have built on this statement strong cultural and community ties between the Turkish and Australian communities and we became one.  

Turkey is making significant sacrifices for the kids of the Turkish Australian Muslim Population not to fall in the hands of extremist ideologies by sending properly educated Imams to Australia since the 1970’s.

Until now around 2 million dollars have been granted to the Turkish Australian community as a salary to their highly qualified Imams. This exercise has some shortfalls especially through language barriers.

It is now about time we open an educational institution which follows an Australian Curriculum with global cultural flavours.

Turkey is gracefully funding 13.5 million dollars’ worth of projects to achieve this goal. As abovementioned, values education is crucial to combat extremism within youth.

As a community, we are confident that the outcome will be the same as in history.  Let’s open a new chapter to this strong bond. Let’s request Australian government to value this initiative.

Let’s show the world how we can build our future and eliminate hatred by opening our hearts to embrace each other as our guide Anatolian Great Rumi beautifully stated which underlines our intentions. “Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of helplessness. come, even if you have broken your promise a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.”