ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Turkish "Sanctimony" 4.7.10

Turkish "Sanctimony"

4 July 2010

By Yisarel Ne'eman

It's just business as usual in Israel. This past week PM Netanyahu sent Industry and Trade Minister Benyamin Ben Eliezar (Labor) to a secret meeting with the Turkish PM Recep Tayip Erdogen in an effort to limit the continuing fallout from the flotilla incident. Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) was furious, believing (correctly so) that his office should have at least been informed. Much more important is the outcome of the meeting. Erdogen is insisting on an apology and compensation for Turkish casualties – nine dead and dozens injured. If not he is threatening to close Turkish airspace not only to Israel's air force but also to civilian traffic, meaning Israeli commercial air routes to China and other Far East destinations will need to be rerouted at increased expense or possibly cancelled.

Erdogen is "sanctimonious" as are his IHH Islamist allies. He knows very well of the IHH involvement in supporting terrorism and of suspicions concerning the humanitarian cover for the organization. Yet Erdogen believes he is the one to preach morality and correct behavior to Israel.

A short review of Turkish history is in order to understand the hypocrisy of Erdogen and his supporters. The Ottoman Empire was the leader of the Muslim world and hosted the Caliphate for hundreds of years. Jews and Christians throughout the Empire were subjected to the humiliating dhimma legal standing of second class status until the European powers forced the Turks to revoke the statute in the mid-19th century. In practice such equality with Muslims was not enforced in most regions. Under the dhimma strictures, non-Muslims were considered property of the Empire and were often expelled or forcibly transferred (known as "surgun") by the Turkish authorities to wherever they felt these minorities were needed. Jews in particular found themselves deported to the Istanbul (Constantinople) region. The most recent expulsion against Jews took place during WWI when thousands were forced out the Land of Israel/Palestine in 1915 followed by the general exile of further thousands northwards in 1917 from the Jaffa/Tel Aviv region.

But of course this is nothing in comparison to what happened to the Armenians who suffered the first genocide of the 20th century. One and a half million were slaughtered by the Turks throughout WWI, persecutions having begun previously in the 1890s. However there were two other genocides, neither well known. During the Christian Assyrian genocide of WWI it is estimated that 250,000 were butchered in the Mosul region (today's northern Iraq) in a planned massacre recalling the Armenian disaster. During the period from 1914 to 1923 (WWI and the Greco-Turkish War) it is estimated that 500,000 to one million Greeks were murdered in a similar fashion. It should be pointed out that counter massacres of hundreds of thousands inflicted by Greeks against Turks were carried out from 1919-22 during the Greco-Turkish conflict after the initial Turkish attacks. By 1923 there were virtually no Christians left in the emerging modern Turkey State. Whoever had not fled the carnage was now involved in a population exchange where between 1.1 – 1.5 million Greeks living in Turkey were exchanged for less than half a million Turkish Muslims living in Greece. To quote historian Erik J. Zurcher from his book "Turkey: A Modern History":

The population changes meant that, culturally also, Anatolia in 1923 was a completely different place from what it had been in 1913. The larger Christian communities were practically gone (the Armenian community had shrunk to about 65,000 and the Greek community was down from around 2 million to 120,000); and Anatolia, which had been 80 per cent Muslim before the wars, was now approximately 98 per cent Muslim.

Only 4% of the Armenian community and 6% of the Greek community remained in Turkey after 1923. That is the height of ethnic cleansing with only the Holocaust surpassing it in scope. There was one exception to the population exchange, it did not apply to western Thrace, the northeastern Greek province bordering with European Turkey (or what is known as eastern Thrace) where Muslims remained in Greece and still form a sizeable minority in that region.

During WWII Jews were fleeing Nazi Germany and the Struma, a refugee ship with 769 Jews aboard was towed out of a Turkish harbor into the Black Sea when the Ankara government refused to allow for temporary asylum for its unfortunate passengers. The ship sank and all drown with the exception of one survivor. During WWII Jews in particular among the non-Muslims were taxed at prohibitively higher rates than the Muslim population. Most could not pay, were in violation of the law and were forced into bankruptcy, others were arrested and deported. Pro-Nazi elements in the Turkish press rallied around these state induced antisemitic actions. By 1944 and the impending Nazi German defeat the regulations were cancelled. Later the anti-Greek riots of 1955 and 1964 counted Jews amongst their victims.

As for the Jewish State, Ankara did initially establish low level diplomatic relations with Israel. Although Turkish Jews came to Israel by the tens of thousands over the years, initially in 1949 and into the fifties Jewish immigration to Israel was legally forbidden. Unofficially, Ankara allowed Jews to pull up stakes provided they left their worldly possessions behind.

When speaking of non-Turkish Muslim minorities the Kurdish people and their demands for independence come to mind. Already in the 1930s forced assimilation through different measures was tried resulting in flare-ups, terror attacks by the Kurdish PKK and counter-insurgency operations. Thousands were killed and injured. To this day the Kurds have for the most part defied Ankara and kept their own language and culture. There were times, especially during the 1980s when oppression was intense. Even today there are tensions in Kurdish regions, mostly due to the situation in Iraq. The saga is not over.

The Ottoman Empire never was, nor is the modern Turkish State of the past ninety years a bastion of liberalism and equal rights. Many amends and admissions of historical responsibility need to be made, especially as concerns the genocides during WWI. But without any admissions of guilt or at least responsibility, one would believe the Turks to be perfectly innocent and count them among the best to lead in the battle for universal human rights.

Erdogen can halt his "sanctimonious" outrage since everyone knows he has his Islamic agenda. Beating on Israel is one way of attaining credibility in the Muslim world today. Israel and the world (especially the West) should be fully aware of with whom they are dealing. Buckling under to Turkish dictates will most likely just invite more demands.