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"Turkey ... a model of modernity and moderation for other Muslims to follow"

Reader comment on item: Goodbye Ankara
in response to reader comment: Reply to Manohar

Submitted by Ianus (Poland), Sep 8, 2011 at 11:41

"Gazi Mustafa Kemal's (Ataturk) declaration dated February 2nd 1923 was proclaimed in Izmir: 'Our country has some elements who gave the proof of their fidelity to the motherland. Among them I have to quote the Jewish element; up to now the Jews have lived in happiness and from now they will rejoice and will be happy.' "

The quote above decorates the website of no lesser institution than Israel's embassy in Ankara.
I am sure that those who found and placed it proudly on the embassy's page were respectable persons with little propensity toward the surrealist, the grotesque or the sarcastic. I don't doubt their good will and faith at all. But one's good will and faith are poor safeguards against the notorious perversity and vagaries of life, especially in politics. Isn't it a common experience for people with a bit longer memory to see today's idealistic slogans become tomorrow's cynical grins?

I don't doubt either that Dr. Pipes has opened up his heart and mind, leaving no room for double meanings and sarcasm , when he confessed :

"Turkey ... I saw it as a model of modernity and moderation for other Muslims to follow".

He adds referring to the recent expulsion of Israel's ambassador from Ankara "this small drama helps anyone still myopic about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP to understand just how much they are repositioning Turkey as a state hostile to the West."

Now having the declarations of these two gentlemen as dragomans (guides) let's compare them to the things that were done by the Turkish Republic in respect to Jews. Let's intentionally exclude the period of "Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP" indicted by Dr. Pipes for "repositioning Turkey as a state hostile to the West" and thus implying that before them the good Turkish secularists in power made sure things were as happy for the Jews as their semi-god Ataturk declared in February 1923 on the ruins of Smyrna from which the decaying bodies of Greeks and Armenians murdered by him had not been removed yet.

When Kemal proclaimed his state in 1923 there were c. 200 000 Jews there. 100 000 lived in Constantinople, 30 000 in Smyrna, 15 000 in Adrianople, some 3000 in Brusa and Gallipoli and in other towns. Today there are only 23 000 left which is a dramatic decline of 88,5% within two generations. The obvious explanation might be that the emigration of Turkish Jews to Israel after 1949 is responsible for the decline. Yet, this is not the case. According to the population census of 1927, i.e. four years after the establishment of Kemal's Republic, there were only 81 454 Jews left in Turkey, inlcuding 47 035 in Constantinople. So the worst decline happened long before the creation of Israel which Turkey -as we will see- vehemently opposed. Was it "happiness" that drove so many Jews out of Kemal's Turkey or rather its lack ? Let's see !

The Treaty of Lausanne Turkey signed in 1923 guaranteed all rights to the remaining minorities in Turkey, including 200 000 Turkish Jews. They could create their own institutions, establish schools, use their own fascinating language Ladino freely, enjoy all other civil rights etc. But the provision of the Treaty happened to run counter to the concepts and ideas cherished by the founder and dictator of the new Turkish state who wanted to unify and Turkify everything and everybody in Turkey. And he did his best to impose his political will on the minorities, especially on the Jewish minority. The rights and privileges remained but Kemal, without formally repealing them, by various clandestine and administrative means, persuasions, chicaneries, bribes and intimidation forced the minorities to either not insist on their rights or "voluntarily" give them up not to incur anger and reprisals of the authorities.

In 1925 the Turkish press published numerous governmental proclamations, declarations and requests to that effect. The government asked all the citizens to simply become "true Turks". More or less made-up declarations of fidelity and loyalty of Jews were published in press in February 1926 and numerous administrative pressures were put to bear on them to make them comply. Questions of family and marriage law were taken away from the rabbis and transferred to the Turkish state's jurisdiction. Jews were not allowed to work in state offices and bureaus. Those who had worked in state offices in the Ottoman Empire were simply fired. Jews were not recruited into the officer corps and they did their military service in labor batallions. "The Organizational Status of the Rabbinat" that had been in force since 1865 wasn't abolished but instead no head of the Turkish Jews, the Haham Bashi, was appointed and after the death of its last interim occupant H. Bezherano in 1931 it remained vacant. At the same time all the Jewish organizations and institutions had either to greatly reduce or give up their activities. They were strictly forbidden to have any contacts and relations with other Jewish organizations outside Turkey or participate in the activities of international Jewish organizations or institutions. Hence e.g. practically no Zionist movement arose among Turkish Jews. It goes without saying that servile and submissive persons were appointed to become leaders of the Jewish institutions in Turkey.

Jewish schools were placed under strict state control. The Turkish Ministry of Education demanded that teaching be conducted only in Turkish (instead of French and Hebrew) and their curricula and syllabi should follow faithfully the Ministry's guidelines and recommendations. Lessons on Jewish history and traditions were cancelled, learning Hebrew was reduced to the level allowing just reading prayers, which led to closing all Talmud schools in Turkey as unnecessary.

The Turkish demands didn't stop there though. They targeted even the language Turkish Jews spoke at home -Ladino. The Jews were confronted daily with demands that they should speak even at their homes to their children Turkish which was seen as a sign of loyalty to the Turkish state. I.e. speaking the mother tongue at home was considered as a sign of disloyalty and aroused political suspicions! And indeed under pressure from the Turkish majority the Jewish organizations started spreading among their members the notorious slogan "Citizen, speak Turkish!". They organized Turkish lessons and courses for both young and old Jews. The other way of eliminating Ladino from private homes was, paradoxically enough, a reform of its alphabet in the 1920-ies - a much less advertised "reform" than the universally praised reform of writing Turkish in Latin letters. Now Ladino was written in a modified Hebrew alphabet called "Rashi". Replacing it with Latin letters produced a very negative result. Young Turkish Jews could no longer read anything written by their ancestors, even fathers or grandfathers, and so gradually lost one of the pillars of their identity. With the Latin alphabet imposed by the state preserving the Ladino heritage became very difficult. And indeed very few people today can read the language in the old alphabet. It was, of course, intended to be so as the statistical data show. When in 1927 84% of Jews considered Ladino their native language, in 1955 only 64% did. The effect was reinforced by the law on family names imposed by Kemal and a growing tendency among the minorities to give children Turkish first names to avoid being recognized and discriminated against. It tended to gradually undermined the Jewish identity and roots among Turkish Jews.

Understanding the aims of the new political course of the Turkish authorities the submissive leaders of the Jewish community not only didn't oppose it but on the contrary hurried to fawn on them and contribute more than their due to achieving them. So the Jewish leadership turned to Ankara with a request to directly subordinate Jewish community schools to Turkey's Ministry of Education , i.e. to make them Turkish schools. But Ankara refused to do so and not out of respect for its Jewish minority's rights. Rifat Bali in an interview refers to a 1946 US intelligence document on Turkey where this remarkable event is described. His words are by all means worth quoting in full :

"an American Intelligence report prepared in 1946, is quite interesting. It is 'how can we Turkify the Jewish future generation, the young people? The only way is to turn our schools into Maarif Vekaleti ("schools run by the Ministry of Education" I. ) schools or to close them down. To turn them into such schools with all the conversion expenses supported by the Jewish leadership.' So they went to Ankara to propose this but were refused. And the only explanation given by the anonymous Jewish leader about why Ankara refused is that according to him the Turks wanted the Jews to remain Jews and not assimilate into Turkishness so that they could be identified. The idea was, 'We don't need them to be Turkified, we need to be able to identify them so that, eventually, we can squeeze them financially.'

Despite all the progress of Turkification of the Jewish minority , in the Turkish press of the 20-ies anti-Semitic campaigns never died out. The Jews were accused alternately of having collaborated with the Greeks and British in 1919-1922 against the Turks or of having grown fat by exploiting poor Turks in the countryside, of despising the Turkish language and Turkish culture , of having stolen property left by Armenians and Greeks. All of the above chicaneries and poisoned atmosphere in Kemal's republic contributed a lot to the decision made by many Jews to rather emigrate from Kemal's Turkey and its "happiness" and look for freedom and happiness somewhere else and as quickly as possible. In 1924 some 30 Jewish families from Silivria on the Marmara Coast had to leave their houses as Kemal's government decided to settle Turks from the Balkans in their homes. C. 2000 Jews left Smyrna for Argentina, 3000 more for Chile. Jews fled Turkey also to Uruguay , Cuba, South Africa, Egypt. In some places the number of Jews was reduced by one-third and in others , e.g. in Aydin, not a single Jew remained. The statistics of 1927 adduced earlier speaks volumes.

In August 1927 a horrendous crime shook Constantinople. A young innocent Jewish girl , Elza Niego , was sadistically murdered by a Turk, Osman Bey, because she refused to marry him - something mortally offensive to the Turkish mind which expects total submission from dhimmis and is taught by Kemal to chant "What happiness it is be a Turk!" ( Note : not "a Turkish Jew" !!!). This was by far not the first or last act of violence against Jews but its exceptional sadism provoked otherwise so quiet and passive Jews to stage demonstrations in the streets at the girl's funeral and defy so dreaded Kemalist police in the city. They could no longer stand it.

But more or less peaceful solution of the Jewish problem in Turkey by dint of emigration and gradual Turkification was not enough for Kemal. In 1934 the remilitarization of the straits by Turkey was to be negotiated and as the Turkish Joint Staff considered the Jews living in the region unreliable and a potential fifth column it insisted on removing them from the strategically important area. Contrary to his 1923 statement , advertised by Israel's embassy, Kemal agreed with that assessment. The the Jews were after all generally considered exploiters of the local Turks and as not Turkified enough to rely on. As removing 15 000 Jews from around the straits peacefully was not feasible and would require too much time and costs, one returned to an old and proven cheap Ottoman idea of using violence to make the Jews abandon the places where they were thought to be a hindrance to the Turkish state. A month before the violence broke out Ibrahim Tali, General inspector of Thrace, made a long tour in the region and submitted a report to Ankara where he stressed "We do have a Jewish problem in Thrace".

This "Jewish problem" awaited a solution and it came soon. At first the Turks boycotted Jewish shops. Then local newspapers started publishing articles and rumours well known from the previous decade and enriched with new Nazi rhetoric. The local activists of the Repulican Party (the only legal party in Kemal's one-party republic) took up the slogans and staged a classical pogrom with beatings, rapes, lootings and wanton destruction of Jewish property. As a result some 15 000 Jews fled in panic from Thrace and the Straits which were made "judenfrei" - to use a contemporary phrase. After half a year Prime Minister Inönü visited the towns and villages involved in the pogrom but didn't care to apologize or mention recompensation for the Jewish sufferers, nay he didn't even trouble himself to talk to any Jews on what had happened. Small wonder that during the rest of 1934 and in 1935 around 2000 Jews from Thrace left Turkey for Palestine.

True, in the 30-ies Jewish refugees from Germany arrived at Turkey. But the Turks accepted only those with money to pay for 'bakshishlar' (bribes) and the "Struma" incident demonstrates very clearly what motivated the Turks while accepting one kind of refugees and sending back others to certain death.

As the war approached and Turkey's relation with Nazi Germany improved the Turks increased pressure on their Jews. On November, 11th, 1942 the notorious "Varlık Vergisi" or 'property tax' law was passed. Land, buildings, businesses, industrial enterprises and almost everybody belonging to minority including a cab driver or a hat maker, were to pay a property tax which was calculated by special administrative commissions on a case-by-case, mostly quite arbitrary, basis. Even though due to profitable trade with Nazi Germany Turkey's gold reserves increased five times during the war, the official reason for the tax was that the State Treasury was "empty". In reality the idea was to ruin the minorities and Turkify the economy. Accordingly, the law discriminated the citizens making minorities pay much higher taxes than Moslems.The tax was set at such arbitrary rates - Greek Orthodox at 156% of annual income, Jewish at 179 % , and Armenian at 232 %-compared to the 4.96 percent annual income tax paid by Moslem Turks. The decision made by commission was not revocable and 30 days were given to pay the enormous tax which in many cases exceeded the value of the property. It was rightly named a new jizya. The varlik vergesi effectively stripped the Jewish community of much its wealth. Thousands of Jewish businesses were ruined, their property –including furniture and other equipment -was confiscated and sold for almost nothing at auctions. Almost overnight a huge amount of Jewish property and businesses went into Muslim hands and was thus "Turkified".

Taxpayers who didn't settle their debts within one month were compelled to labor until they completely settled it. This meant in many cases that they would have to work for a century or two to pay their "debt" to the Turkish state. So able-bodied men from ruined families were arrested and sent to Eastern Anatolia to forced labour camps. All in all a few thousand Jews were sent to them and in the severe winter of 1942-1943 many of them remained for ever there. Rumours were spread that after the capture of Stalingrad also the Turkish Jews would be exterminated. But with the change on the Eastern Front also the Turkih policy towards the Jews changed. The varlik vergisi law was repealed in March 1944. Confiscations and arrests ceased.Forced labour camp inmates were released, their "tax debts" were nullified and in 1946 the government of R. Peker allowed the Jews to serve in the Turkish army. A Jewish deputy was elected to the Turkish Parliament. In 1953 the government allowed the Jews to elect again their Haham Bashi or religious head.

All seemed nearly as happy as Ataturk had promised in his old days until September 1955 when another great pogrom was staged in Constantinople and Smyrna. The main target were the Greeks but the Jews suffered heavily together with them too.The Turkish pogrom troops came in trucks equipped with lists of Greek, Armenian and Jewish addresses to target. The first wave destroyed metal doors and barriers to all churches, houses and businesses.The second wave commenced robbing and pillaging and damaging houses, apartments, churches, stores etc. The third came some time later to finish the marauding and often put fire to what remained after the pillage. Interestingly enough, during the pogrom "work" the Turks were shouting "Cleanse the fatherland of the infidels!" and "We do not want infidels' merchandise in our country." The Jews lost 500 shops, 25 homes, and one synagogue was damaged. For comparison the Armenians lost 1000 stores, 150 homes, three churches and four schools.

Now this general atmosphere of "happiness" of the Jews living in Turkey was further "increased" by the creation of Israel in 1948.Out of a sudden Turkey was confronted not just with its own Jews but with independent and potent foreign Jews having a state of their own. The relations of Turkey with Israel , long before Erdogan and the AKP appeared on the political arena, inspire as little enthusiasm as "secularist" Turkey's relations with its own Jews do.

The relations were flawed and insincere from the very beginning since in November 1947 Turkey did vote adamantly against Resolution 181, i.e. against the creation of the state of Israel. Its position and interests totally overlapped here with interests and arguments of such states as Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Yemen , Syria. I couldn't find the explicit statement of the Turkish delegation during the debates on Resolution 181 and would be grateful if somebody quoted it. At any event Turkey identified itself with statements like that of the Syrian delegate Amir Arslan who said about Resolution 181, i.e. the plan to create Israel "No plan has ever been more contrary to logic or to social, political and economic laws; no plan has ever been more absurd in its financial and economic difficulties, and in its political and administrative complications; no proposal has been adopted with more misgiving, one might even say repugnance; no plan has been defended with more propaganda and less courtesy."

Under pressure from the US Turkey allowed Jewish emigration to Israel letting some 4000 Jews leave the country. But in November 1948 it forbade it again. When this ban was abolished in 1949 some 35 000 Jews left Turkey. But they were told to use only Turkish ships which at least allowed Turkey to squeeze the leaving Jews out of some of their money. But grudgingly and under pressure from its new protector the US Turkey recognized Israel in March 1949 which is as highly advertised as the fact that Turkey did vote against Israel's creation is suppressed and unknown to a wider public. If I am not mistaken, Dr. Pipes has never mentioned it either.

At first rapprochement was favored by the US pressure and the antagonism of both countries with Syria which had old scores to settle with Turkey over Alexandrette. The mutual relations grew colder as Turkey concluded the Baghdad Pact in February 1955 with Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Great Britain. In December 1956 during the Sinai war Turkey indignantly recalled its ambassador from Israel but not to anger its American protector it badly needed against the USSR it didn't break diplomatic relations with it. After the coup in Iraq in 1958 Ben Gurion and A. Menderes signed a secret defensive treaty. During the Cyprus crisis in 1964 Turkey grew sour with President Johnson who explicitly forbade it to invade and occupy Cyprus. It looked for help among the Arab countries which looked askance at its relations with Israel. An interesting episode happened during the six-day war. On June 7,1967 the Israeli paratroopers who liberated Jerusalem rushed on to the Temple Mount, entered the court of the al-Aqsa Mosque and made a bold attempt to mount the Israeli flag on the Dome of the Mosque. Yet they were stopped there and their effort was thwarted by the "secularist" Turkish General Consul and the Israeli flag was never hoisted over this symbolic place. The episode is duly advertised by the Consulate-General of Turkey in Jerusalem on its webpage which incidentally doesn't mention Israel but "Palestine" and "Palestinian territories".

After the war Turkey called upon Israel to withdraw its troops from all the "occupied territories" and not to change the status of Jerusalem. When the Knesset had passed in 1980 the law on the new status of Jerusalem declaring it the "eternal and indivisible" capital, Turkey slammed the door upon Israel and closed its Consulate General in Jerusalem as a sign of protest and again recalled its ambassador from Israel. Up to 1986 Turkey's diplomatic affairs were run by a second secretary and from then on to December 1991 by a temporary chargé d'affairs. The war in Lebanon in 1982 and the efforts to stop the intifada in Judea , Samaria and the Gaza strip by the IDF were severely condemned by Turkey.

It is understandable that in this poisoned atmosphere, like in the 30-ies and 40-ies, Jews and Jewish institutions became targets of attack in or from Turkey. In 1971 Israeli Consul General in Constantinople E.Erlom was kidnapped and later killed. In September 1986 the Neve Shalom synagogue was attacked with grenades and machine guns. 24 Jews were killed. In December 1987 11 letter bombs were sent from Turkey to addresses in Israel injuring one person who inadvertently opened it. In March 1992 the chief of security service of Israel's embassy in Ankara Ehud Sadan was killed by a bomb placed under his car. All in all 18 terrorist incidents against the Jews took place in or from Turkey between 1963-2003.

Now coming back to Dr. Pipes' "model for other Muslims to follow" and his "secularist" knight without fear and reproach Ataturk who has promised that in his republic "the Jews will rejoice and will be happy ", one may only wonder what kind of "model" or "happiness" can pogroms, forced Turkification, extortionist taxes, rapes, threats, blackmail, attacking synagogues, arrests, deportations, voting in the UN against Israel's existence be for anybody to follow ? Contrary to Dr. Pipes I dare say the Moslems don't have to follow his advice at all , simply because they have always been following this "model" but without so much lying as the Turks do .

The case of Ataturk and his "happiness" for Jews is perhaps even easier to assess than Dr. Pipes' "model for other Muslims to follow". The Turks have always rejoiced at destruction, intimidation , humiliating and terrorizing the infidels and demanded the latter be happy, for else much worse would befall them. This was so under the Ottomans and it has remained so in Kemal's bizarre republic and in today's malign mutation of it.

To sum up a long argument , if Dr. Pipes' can see "modernity and moderation" in Kemalist Turkey's attitude toward the Jews, then - leaving aside the Fata Morgana of Turkish propaganda and self-glorification - I am afraid that he has identified and praised a wrong candidate for modernity and moderation. In the period between 1923 and 1990-ies there isn't so much that could corroborate his optimism. On the contrary, there is so much that can undermine it. What is worse, his optimism and eulogies of Kemalism and of Ataturk personally bear a rather clear mark of Turkish state-sponsored propaganda and deceptions against which even such a distinguished and honest scholar as Dr. Pipes seems not to be totally immune.


Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

Daniel Pipes replies:

"if Dr. Pipes' can see "modernity and moderation" in Kemalist Turkey's attitude toward the Jews":

but my article was not about attitudes toward Jews, it was about Kemalist Turkey as a whole. While there were many problems with it, it was the most successful Muslim country of the Middle East in adopting to modernity.

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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