ISTANBUL // Muslim nations had agreed to establish a Turkey-based body to fight terrorism, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday as he urged the countries’ leaders to examine the root causes of the migration crisis.
Addressing the 13th summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul, Mr Erdogan stressed his belief that terrorism is the largest problem facing the Muslim world.
To effectively combat terrorism, he urged Muslim leaders to overcome their differences and join forces in the fight.
He also called for support for a Saudi-led initiative for an Islamic alliance against terrorism and to “turn it into an effective body”.
“Instead of waiting for other forces to intervene against terror incidents and other crises that occur in Muslim countries, we must produce the solution ourselves, through the Islamic alliance,” he said.
Turkey is trying to showcase its influence among the world’s estimated 1.7 billion Muslims, especially in lands once controlled by the Ottoman Empire, at the two-day OIC summit that it will chair for the next two years.
“I believe the greatest challenge we need to surmount is sectarianism. My religion is not that of Sunnis, of Shiites. My religion is Islam,” Mr Erdogan said in his opening speech.
“We should be uniting. Out of the conflicts, the tyranny, only the Muslims suffer,” he said, adding that the summit meeting could be a “turning point” for the whole Islamic world.
Mr Erdogan announced that a Turkish proposal to establish an Istanbul-based police cooperation and coordination centre had been accepted by the 57-member Islamic bloc.
The Turkish president noted that the majority of the victims of terrorism were Muslims and called it a “source of shame” that most of those who risked their lives at sea to reach Europe are Muslims.
Turkey, he said, had saved 100,000 migrants from drowning in the Aegean Sea on the way to Greece
The country also hosts 2.7 million Syrian refugees and recently entered a controversial deal with the EU aiming to curb illegal migration.
Combatting terrorism and addressing the migrant crisis are two central issues being discussed at the OIC meeting.
There is a security lockdown around the summit venue in Istanbul.
On the eve of the summit, Mr Erdogan welcomed guests with a tour of the Bosphorus aboard the luxury presidential yacht the MV Savarona, which Turkey acquired in the 1930s for the use of its first post-Ottoman president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Key guests greeted by Mr Erdogan for the first session included King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, whose countries are locked on opposing sides in the Syria and Yemen conflicts.
But Turkey’s own policies in the Middle East have been controversial, with several Muslim states objecting to the Islamic-rooted government’s backing of rebels in Syria.
In a sign of Turkey’s growing relationship with its fellow Sunni Muslim power, King Salman of Saudi stood at Mr Erdogan’s side in the traditional pre-summit photograph.
While the summit marks one of the most significant gatherings of heads of state for years in Istanbul, some high-profile leaders, such as Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi, were notable by their absence.
Relations between Egypt and Turkey soured after the Egyptian military toppled president-elect Mohammed Morsi.
The conflict in Syria was also on the summit’s agenda.
Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shukri voiced hope for a “quick political solution that meets the expectations of the Syrian people” and allows for “countering terrorism”.
* Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Wam