Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald offers some much-needed observations about what Turkey has been and what it is now:
During the Cold War, Turkish behavior was obscured. Turkey offered bases and listening posts — to be directed at its historic enemy, Russia. Thus, for good and sufficient reasons of its own, Turkey collaborated. It sent Turkish soldiers to Korea (where they left behind thousands of Korean converts to Islam — still a potential security problem).
The United States, in turn, resolutely ignored the failure of the Turks to begin to start to even try to recognize the mere existence of the Armenian genocide. Certainly no one was about to discover that what prompted that genocide was not something inherent in Turks, but the hatred felt for non-Muslims. Anyone reading the eyewitness accounts, either of the first genocide of 1894-96, or the second much larger one of 1915-1920, cannot fail to notice how often the word “giavour” or Infidel was shouted, and with what glee Armenians priests were crucified and their wives and daughters raped.
In 1955, when the pogrom smack in the middle of Istanbul took place against the Greeks, the American State Department praised the Turkish government for its actions in bringing things under “control,” rather than denouncing or even analyzing those acts — which were prompted by the attitudes that Islam necessarily encourages.
As for the belief of assorted Turkish antisemites that Turkey has always been “good to the Jews,” this is nonsense. The Jews who settled in Salonika after their expulsion from Spain replaced a previous community of Jews whom the Ottomans had displaced, and it was not generosity but raison d’etat that prompted this: the Jews were felt to be less of a threat than Christians. What’s more, they could dilute the Christian position in Salonika and possibly could be expected, as a weak and isolated community, to more readily do the bidding of the Ottoman government, as grateful and economically active dhimmis (not to mention the fact that the padishahin, or Sultans, always took Jewish doctors, believing them to be superior in their knowledge — you can even find note taken of this in the Topkapi compound).
But Jews in the Balkans were subject to the forced levy of children, or devshirme, though few seem to recall this. And Jews were subject to all the legal disabilities that other non-Muslim populations suffered from. But in the fantasy world of Turkish belief, one in which some Jewish commentators have willingly participated, the Jews of Turkey were treated practically like kith and kin.
For another illustration of the real Turkish behavior, on December 12, 1941 the dilapidated and leaking Struma, a ship loaded with more than 800 desperate Jewish refugees from the Nazis, left the Rumanian port of Constanta. A few days later the engine died. It was eventually towed into the harbor of Istanbul, and then, once more after a brief period, the Turks, not wishing to offend the Germans, towed the ship out into international waters. On February 12, 1942 an explosion — very likely caused by the Soviet navy, which had been ordered by Stalin to attack any ship entering the Black Sea beyond Turkish waters — caused the ship to sink. More than 800 people died. There was one survivor. The Turks might have let those refugees land, but did not. That failure belies the claims of Turks that they have always befriended the Jews.
As for the experience of the Jews of Palestine under Turkish rule, the local Turkish satrap was making plans for genocide on the Armenian model when World War I intervened. Nonetheless, Turkish behavior during the war led half the Jewish population to leave the area that would become Mandatory Palestine. During the war the famous agronomist Aronsohn, his sister Sarah Aronsohn, and others provided intelligence to the British that was far more valuable (as British intelligence agents explicitly recognized) than the few hundred horsemen, exaggerated into a “100,000 men,” that Abdullah provided T. E. Lawrence. Those horsemen did little more than harry, ineffectively, the Turks on the Hejaz railway line. The Aronsohns and other members of the Nili Group (as it was called) were caught and killed; Sarah Aronsohn was tortured, but managed to commit suicide to prevent worse.
That a handful of prominent Jewish refugees did spend the war in Turkey, and some — one thinks of Erich Auerbach, who re-wrote his important literary study “Mimesis” from scratch after having lost the first draft — were grateful to the Turkish government. And one can still find, in those used bookstores along Istiqlal Caddesi, the odd volumes belonging to German Jewish scholars who continued to live in Turkey well into the 1960s and even 1970s, and then gradually, died out.
But let us not exaggerate Turkey’s wonderfulness. A collective letter about Turkish antisemitism, signed by Turkish intellectuals, including Mustafa Akyol (who has taken a few whacks at this site for criticism of his attempt to suggest that Islam can be easily reformed, by tinkering here and there, in some unspecified fashion, with the contents of Sira and Hadith), recently appeared. There were some prominent Turks — Orhan Pamuk among them — who did not sign that letter.
Why not? And why now is that same Orhan Pamuk about to be tried for daring to mention the Armenian genocide — or if in the end he is not tried, it will only be out of the desire not to scare the women, the horses, and the inhabitants of the E.U.