By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
Turkey is a center for multiculturalism and it is the precursor of the European Union, a representative for the Catholic congregation in Turkey said.
"I suggest [European countries] to follow the example of Ottomans and Turkey" in multiculturalism, said Rinaldo Marmara, spokesman for Istanbul's Catholic Episcopal Church.
Marmara’s remarks came in London ahead of a panel on multiculturalism organized by the Union of International Democrats (UID) and the Cordoba Foundation on Monday.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Marmara underlined that the concept of multiculturalism existed in Turkey during the Byzantine era and across the Ottoman Empire after the conquest of Istanbul.
He said peoples from different countries lived within the borders of the Ottoman Empire as communities.
Marmara said: "If we take Italians for example… They had their own schools, theatres, cinemas, private houses, care homes for the old, and they even had their own courts.
"They lived autonomously in the country. This was the European Union model and it was a result of [the Ottoman] multiculturalism and hospitality."
"It was like that in the old times during the Ottoman era and it is the same now in Turkey."
Gabriel Akyuz, the priest of Forty Martyrs Church in Turkey’s southeastern Mardin city, said that the world should take their city as an example in multiculturalism.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Akyuz said he has lived in Mardin for 34 years and underlined that the city is referred by many as a place where "religions, languages, and cultures meet".
"It is indeed like that. We are very happy to live there," he said.
"The doors of our church are open all day and we host hundreds of guests there every day."
He said they often hear that people who visit Mardin talk about spreading what they see in the city to the entire country.
"Let’s make Europe a place like Mardin," Akyuz said, adding that he came to London "to give that message".
Anas Altikriti, the CEO of the Cordoba Foundation, said the question of peaceful coexistence has become a very important issue.
"[Coexistence is] not only tolerating each other’s existence but also to create something, to build something in a time that the world is extremely divided and polarized," Altikriti told Anadolu Agency.
As the co-host of Monday's panel, Cultural Pluralism – Enrichment and Social Proof for the Existence of Democratic Values, Altikriti said the event gathered participants from Turkey as the issue needed to be examined "not only from a theoretical or conceptual perspective but also from a practical perspective".
"We have success stories we have to tell," Altikriti added.
President of the UID Bulent Bilgi said the event was aimed at explaining the importance of the culture of coexistence.
"We come from a tradition which proved in the past how the coexistence and culture of coexistence existed and how different cultures and faiths lived together harmoniously," said Bilgi.
The panel held in London’s P21 Gallery also saw Ishak Ibrahimzadeh, the president of the Jewish Community of Turkey; Muhammed Akar, a former provincial chairman of Justice and Development (AK) Party in Diyarbakir, and Serkan Sezen, the vice-president of the UID.