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Turkey: Great Synagogue welcomes faithful after 50 years

Located in Edirne province, Europe's third-biggest synagogue has been restored after a government project lasting four years

Turkey: Great Synagogue welcomes faithful after 50 years


 Jewish worshippers in Turkey held a religious service on Thursday in the newly restored Great Synagogue in Edirne province, the first such ceremony in 46 years.

The morning prayer, during which the Ten Commandments and hymns were recited, was held by David Azuz, who also held the last prayer service 46 years ago.

An estimated 200-250 people attended the service in the synagogue which recently reopened after a four-year, $2.2 million restoration project

Jews are welcome to live in Turkey: Deputy PM Arinc

"I would like to thank those who contributed (to the re-opening of the Great Synagogue), including Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc," Azuz said.

Attending the event, Arinc said the project was an important indicator of how far freedoms of religion and conscience have come in Turkey.

"I remember the Jewish citizens – who died defending their city (Edirne against past invasions) for their Muslim Turkish neighbors – with the same gratitude as our martyrs," Arinc said.

"Inter state and inter communal relations should be viewed separately, and Turkey's ties with Jews did not begin with the creation of Israel," he said.

He recalled that when Jews fled Spain 500 years ago and many others who later fled Nazi Germany in 1930s, they accepted Turkish soil as their homeland. Since then, Arinc said, the Jewish community became an inseparable part of Turkish culture, who added value to Turkey.

He also quoted an earlier remark of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu: "Each belief and cultural group in this country is the rose of the same garden and each of them is a fundamental element of our soil." 

The deputy prime minister said Jews around the world were welcome to stay in Turkey. "The 78 million people (Turkey's population) are here to welcome you if you want to live in Turkey," he said.

He also praised Edirne province where he said Turks and Jews lived in peace and mutual tolerance for years. "Ottoman Sultan Murat I invited Romaniote Jews in Anatolia to live in Edirne after conquering it, and Jews who had to leave Hungary and France decades later found a secure place in Edirne," he said.

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.

The synagogue has a capacity of nearly 1,200 people.

It had been in use by the local Jewish population up to 1983 but later fell into neglect due to a lack of worshippers.

The Directorate General of Foundations, which undertook the restoration project, announced its completion earlier this week.

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