By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Israel National News published an extremely interesting article written by Turkish journalist Uzay Bulut on the discrimination and persecution that Turkish Jews have suffered since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923.
This is an important exposé since the Turkish government has gone to great lengths for many decades to deceive the international community that there is great tolerance for Jews in Turkish and that Jews lived in a democratic society which protected their civil and religious rights. The aim of this Turkish propaganda campaign was two-fold: To keep Israeli leaders and American Jews happy so they would support Turkish interests in Washington and enlist the political lobbying clout of American Jews in Washington to counter congressional efforts to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
The Turkish government back in 1992 commemorated with a big splash the 500th anniversary of Jews fleeing from Spain and relocating in Turkey. Ankara co-opted many of the Jewish community leaders, including the Chief Rabbi, into propagating this false historical narrative. When I wrote an editorial back then exposing the lies of that celebration, I got a letter from the head of the commemorative events, asking why I wanted to cast a negative light on their celebration. Interestingly, that Jewish leader did not contest any of the facts in my article on the persecution of Jews in the Ottoman Empire throughout the centuries.
Bulut’s article is significant because it describes the persecution of Jews not centuries ago but during our own times in ‘modern’ Turkey! The article begins with a news item from the Turkish Milliyet newspaper reporting that dozens of historic Jewish synagogues “run the risk of disappearing forever.” One of the main reasons why these synagogues are disappearing is that the majority of the Jewish community of Turkey has departed from Turkey fleeing from “systematic discrimination and campaigns of forced Turkification and Islamization.” Bulut reports that in 1923, at the beginning of the Turkish Republic, there were 81,454 Jews in Turkey. That number has dwindled to “fewer than 15,000.” The last of Jewish schools was shut down by the Turkish government in 1937, according to Bulut.
Here is the list of the major episodes of Turkish persecution and discrimination against Jews and other non-Turkish minorities in recent decades, as compiled by Turkish journalist Bulut:
-- The Turkish Law of Family adopted in 1934 forced Jews and other non-Turks to abandon their ethnic names and adopt Turkish sounding names.
-- “Jews were deprived of their freedom of movement at least three times: in 1923, 1925 and 1927.” Bulut also mentions that “during the Holocaust, Turkey opened its doors to very few Jewish and political refugees and even took measures to prevent Jewish immigration in 1937.”
-- Hate speech and anti-Semitic comments are very prevalent in Turkish society and the media. Activities in support of Israel by the Jewish community were banned by the Republic of Turkey.
-- The Turkish government has assigned secret code numbers to individuals of Jewish, Armenian and Greek descent. That way the government can track them down and expose their background when necessary.
-- “Laws that excluded Jews and other non-Muslims from certain professions:” The Republic of Turkey banned these minorities from holding government positions. “Thousands of non-Muslims lost their jobs,” according to Bulut.
-- Prohibition of the use in public of all languages except Turkish. The “Citizen Speak Turkish” campaign in the first years of the Republic mainly targeted the Jewish community, according to Rifat Bali, the leading scholar of Turkish Jewry.
-- “The Jews of Eastern Thrace were targeted by pogroms from June 21-July 4, 1934. These began with a boycott of Jewish businesses, and were followed by physical attacks on Jewish-owned buildings, which were first looted, then set on fire. Jewish men were beaten, and some Jewish women reportedly raped. Terrorized by this turn of events, more than 15,000 Jews fled the region.”
-- The conscription of non-Muslims in the Turkish Army (1941-42). “On April 22, 1941, 12,000 non-Muslims (also known as “the twenty classes”), including Jewish men -- even the blind and physically disabled -- were conscripted. But instead of doing active service, they were sent to work in labor battalions under terrible conditions for the construction of roads and airports. Some of them lost their lives or caught diseases.”
-- “On Nov. 11, 1942, the Turkish government enacted the Wealth Tax Law, which divided the taxpayers in four groups, as per their religious backgrounds: Muslims, non-Muslims, converts (‘donme’), i.e. members of a Sabbatean sect of Jewish converts to Islam, and foreign nationals. Only 4.94 percent of Turkish Muslims had to pay the Wealth Tax. The Armenians were the most heavily taxed, followed by Jews. According to the scholar Başak İnce, ‘the underlying reason was the elimination of minorities from the economy, and the replacement of the non-Muslim bourgeoisie by its Turkish counterpart.’”
-- “During the 6-7 September 1955 government-instigated attacks against non-Muslim communities in Istanbul, Turkish mobs devastated the Greek, Armenian, and Jewish districts of the city, destroying and looting their places of worship, homes, businesses, cemeteries, and schools, among others.”
-- “Murders of Jews: Yasef Yahya, a 39-year-old Jewish dentist was brutally murdered on August 21, 2003 in his office in the Şişli district of Istanbul, many Jewish lawyers and doctors in Istanbul removed the signs on their offices in order not to have the same fate as Yahya.”
This list of continued harassment and persecution of Jews and other minorities should be sent to the international media each time that the Turkish government misrepresents its record of mistreatment of the Jewish community in Turkey.
It is a shame that the Israeli government does not whisper a single word of criticism in the face of such persecution of fellow Jews in Turkey. On the contrary, Israeli officials cowardly buckle under pressure from Turkey to deny the Armenian Genocide and ban this crime against humanity from Israeli TV and academic conferences.