Jewish Community of Turkey Opens Primary School in Van

Following the devastating earthquake in Van, Turkey in October 2011, the Jewish Community of Turkey has built a new primary school in the city.

The earthquake struck the city of Van in Eastern Turkey on Sunday, 23 October 2011, at 13:41 local time, at a destructive magnitude 7.1 on the Richter scale. According to Disasters and Emergency Situations Directorate of Turkey the earthquake killed 604 and injured 4,152. At least 11,232 buildings sustained damage in the region, 6,017 of which were designated uninhabitable, including 89 schools.

After the earthquake, the Jewish Community organized a joint effort to help the disaster victims with goods such as blankets, clothing, and water. The Jewish Community of Turkey also constructed a school with 6 classrooms in Van's Kıratlı Village. The American Jewish Joint Distribution and American Jewish Committee (AJC) have also contributed in this construction.

The primary school is named after Selahattin Ülkümen, one of the Righteous among the Nations. Selahattin Ülkümen was a Turkish Diplomat and Consul General in Rhodes during the WWII, who assisted many local Jews to escape the Holocaust. In 1989 Israel recognized him as among the Righteous Among the Nations and listed his name at Yad Vashem.

The school's inauguration was held on 5 June 2012, with the participation of a delegation consisting of the prominent members of Jewish Community of Turkey, an official from American Jewish Joint Distribution Community, Ambassador Kaan Esener representing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and local governors.

Other Turkish diplomats who saved Jews during the Holocaust will be honored on a special board inside the school. They are Necdet Kent, Turkey's Consul General in Marseilles, France; Behic Erkin, Turkey's ambassador to Paris; and Namik Kemal Yolga, Vice Consul at the Turkish Embassy in Paris.

During the inauguration, Van's Governor Karaloğlu stressed that this aid is very important and thanked the Jewish Community of Turkey.

During the speeches Ambassador Esener said that it is very meaningful that the school is named after Ülkümen and this is a source of pride for the ministry.

The Head of the Turkish Jewish Community Herman indicated that "by naming this school after Ülkümen, we wanted to express our thanks to him once again."

The Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu sent a message to the Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva and the Head of Jewish Community Sami Herman on the occasion of the inauguration of the Selahattin Ülkümen Primary School. The message indicated:

"I have been moved by the decision to name the school after Selahattin Ülkümen, the model human being and diplomat, who had received the title of 'The Righteous among the Nations' and rescued the Turkish Jews during the Second World War.

I am confident that Van will be quickly recover from this tragedy with your contributions and the youth that will graduate from the Selahattin Ülkümen Primary School and the other schools in Van will significantly contribute to the bright future of our country."