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Turkish leader meets ship rescuer kin, Iran airlift passenger

Kyodo

Visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Japanese people connected with two crucial events in Japan-Turkey relations in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Erdogan listened to the stories of descendants of Japanese who rescued Turkish sailors in a maritime disaster in 1890, along with a Japanese man ferried out of a war zone by a Turkish pilot nearly a century later.

When the Ottoman navy frigate Ertugrul sank off the coast of Wakayama Prefecture in September 1890, people from the coastal town of Kushimoto rescued 69 sailors, while 587 died.

Erdogan described the accident as the most important event in the two countries’ shared history.

“The good thing to come out of this great tragedy is the warmth shown to Turks by the people of Kushimoto, which has remained strong in our memories all these years,” he said.

Tokuhiro Horiguchi, 61, a great-grandson of the first rescuer to reach the sailors, told Erdogan he is sure the townspeople were only doing what came naturally.

“We are just thankful that the story of the rescue has been kept alive among Turkish people and has served as a cornerstone to our peoples’ friendship for over 120 years,” Horiguchi said.

At the same meeting, former automotive engineer Junichi Numata, 71, who was among 215 Japanese rescued from Tehran by a Turkish Airlines aircraft in 1985 just before airstrikes during the Iran-Iraq War, told Erdogan he could not thank the Turkish people enough for saving his life.

The aircraft, piloted by Orhan Suyolcu, who died last February, was sent to pick up the Japanese citizens just hours before a deadline given by Baghdad for foreigners to leave the city before the commencement of airstrikes.

“When I was told neither Japanese nor European aircraft could rescue us in time, I thought we were stranded, and then the Turkish aircraft arrived like something out of a dream,” Numata said.

Erdogan also spoke with the mayors of Kushimoto and Shimonoseki, Istanbul’s sister city in Yamaguchi Prefecture, saying he is looking forward to news of events planned to mark the 125th anniversary of the Ertugrul sea disaster next year.