Legion D'Honneur to Oya Eczacibaşı

"Untiring champions of friendship"

Oya Eczacıbaşı and Görgün Taner receive the Legion d’Honneur

Oya Eczacıbaşı, Chair of the İstanbul Museum of Modern Art, and Görgün Taner, General Manager of the İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, have been awarded one of France’s highest distinctions, the "Chevalier dans l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur" (French Legion of Honor). The medals were presented by the outgoing ambassador of France, Bernard Emié, at a ceremony at İstanbul Modern on 3 April 2011.

In his speech, Ambassador Emié declared that it was an immense pleasure to be in İstanbul Modern, "a symbolic space in Turkey’s capital of culture dedicated to contemporary creativity and modernity", to pay tribute to "two important actors in Turkey’s cultural life and untiring champions of friendship between France and Turkey who played a decisive role in the huge success of The Season of Turkey in France."

Addressing Oya Eczacıbaşı and her role in the founding of İstanbul Modern – an "école", in his words, for the privately funded museums that followed – Ambassador Emié said, "The determination with which you achieved what we all enjoy today is highly admirable. You hunted down a space to establish a large privately-funded contemporary art museum to exhibit modern and contemporary Turkish art from the end of the 19th century onward. A peerless negotiator, you succeeded in engaging the support of Prime Minister Erdoğan, who, in 2004, proposed that you renovate a maritime warehouse at Karaköy pier, the former port of the city."

As he pinned on Oya Eczacıbaşı’s medal, Ambassador Emié said to her, "On the recommendation of the Minister of State and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs as well as my own, the President of France would like to honor you as a Turkish woman of great influence, entrepreneur, generous and enlightened patron, and indispensable intermediary of Franco-Turkish friendship, to which we are deeply devoted.

Noting Oya Eczacıbaşı’s special ties with France as a result of her middle school studies in Strasbourg, Ambassador Emié added, "You maintain this special bond through the exhibition of works by French artists and the great hospitality you show our ministers, deputies of parliament, journalists and businessmen. Your comprehensive knowledge of the cultural environments of Turkey and France has enabled you to create over time a close and irreplaceable partnership between France and this major international cultural institution, which represents the vitality and creative power of a metropolis inhabited by more than 14 million people.

Ambassador Emié continued, "Your personal effort to promote a bold and contemporary museum agenda in Turkey has set the stage for greater participation and rivalry in this area between your country’s leading families. In founding İstanbul Modern, you have launched cooperation with the finest international institutions, above all French institutions."

Ambassador Emié mentioned İstanbul Modern’s long cooperation with the Centre George Pompidou, its exhibitions of French artists, the exhibition at L’Orangerie du Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris of Photographs of Galata inaugurated by Gerard Larcher, President of the Senate, and Passages, the exhibition of work by Sarkis at the Centre Pompidou opened by the Minister of Culture and Communication Frederic Mitterand. He also noted that it was on Oya Eczacıbaşı’s initiative that İstanbul Modern joined the İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts as one of the main partners of The Season of Turkey in France.

Turning to Görgün Taner’s long record of partnership with the cultural and cooperation services of the Embassy of France in Turkey, Ambassador Emié said, "The culmination of this partnership was The Season of Turkey in France, the largest cultural event ever organized by Turkey in another country." Noting that Görgün Taner’s influential network of relationships in France served him well as Commissioner General of Turkey’s organizational team, Ambassador Emié stated that the success of The Season of Turkey "demonstrated the vitality of the bonds between the two countries and the tremendous interest of the French people in Turkey nurtured over five hundred years," and asked, "Can there be any better response to those who wish to reduce the richness of Franco-Turkish relations to differences in views on the question of Europe? France opened its arms and heart to your country."

Pinning the medal on Görgün Taner, Ambassador Emié explained that the award was in recognition of his "contribution to the success of The Season of Turkey in France and his service over the years to further strengthening Franco-Turkish relations".

Bridge of art between Turkey and France
In her acceptance speech, Oya Eczacıbaşı noted that İstanbul Modern’s pioneering educational program for young people, Young İstanbul Modern, had created opportunities for a continually developing relationship with the Centre George Pompidou and added, "I believe our collaboration with the Centre George Pompidou has played an important role in advancing relations between Paris and Istanbul, two global cities, strengthening our centuries-old bond and intensifying our cultural exchange."

"That we should prioritize art institutions from France as we develop our international relations did not just derive from my affinity for this country’s culture," she continued. "More important were the significance these institutions have in the art world today and their modern management models."

Pointing out that culture and the arts provide the sturdiest bridge between societies as they enable societies to identify and understand each another, Oya Eczacıbaşı acknowledged, "At this time, perhaps more than ever before, we need this kind of bridge between Turkey and France… It makes me very happy to think that our work at İstanbul Modern has contributed to our mutual relations with France. We hope that the projects we are planning for the years ahead will further increase our contribution to this process. Yet, without the support of my colleagues at İstanbul Modern and our artists, we would not have even considered the idea of using İstanbul Modern to build a bridge of art between Turkey and France. For this reason, dear colleagues, I wish to express my sincere gratitude to our artists, who are the cornerstones of our every project and initiative."

Oya Eczacıbaşı also said she was very grateful to her parents, who gave her the opportunity to study in France and instilled in her the importance of learning about this country’s society and culture, and to her friends, who continually gave her courage and support.

High value of intercultural collaboration
Görgün Taner, General Manager of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, said he was delighted to be one of the few selected for this honor despite the fact that he was unable to speak French.

Noting his longstanding focus on intercultural collaboration and joint efforts, Görgün Taner declared, "In my experience, understanding and dialogue emerge when you create opportunities to work together on a continual basis. The French Spring in Turkey and The Season of Turkey in France were two opportunities of this kind. The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts and Culture France worked with great determination and dedication on both projects under very difficult conditions. I sincerely thank the young and dynamic Season team – some of whom are here today – who worked day and night to make this event a success …We are gradually seeing the cultural impact of both events. The foundations we laid and momentum we gained have fueled collaboration between cultural institutions. We will continue to see gratifying results from these collaborative initiatives between Turkey and France in the years ahead," he said.

Görgün Taner extended his gratitude to the ambassador for honoring him with this recognition, to the institutions and people who nominated him, and to all his friends and family who worked with him as a team during the Season of Turkey event, and concluded, "I hope that, as a result of these awards, cultural and art initiatives will be recognized a little more and thus gain priority for people and institutions."

Legion d’Honneur
The Legion d’Honneur is an order of merit established on 19 May 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte when he was First Consul to commend outstanding achievements. It is the highest French decoration and is awarded for distinguished work in the service of France and universal values.