MESOP : GERMAN HISTORIAN CORRY GUTTSTADT
Feb 7 – 2015 – (….) Just recently, on January 12, Mahmoud Abbas, a Holocaust denier and terrorism glorifier, met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. Before that, on December 29, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal spoke to the congress of the ruling AKP and said “Inshallah we will liberate Palestine and Jerusalem again in the future.” The crowd in the congress shouted slogans “Mujahid Mashaal,” “Hamas, I [am ready to] lay down my life for you” and “Down with Israel!”
The problem is: the concept of real freedom and democracy seems foreign to anti-Semites. From here, it looks as if many of these self-proclaimed liberals have a self-congratulatory concept of what is right and wrong as closed-minded, un-free and un-democratic as that of the most rigid tyrant. When people refer to Israel as “the problem,” they imply that the existence of Jews is the problem. When people show solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas, or with those jail, try or flog people for free speech, it just further proves Israel’s rightfulness and legitimacy.
When people in this region say, “Down with Israel” it really means: We do not want democracy; we do not want equality. We want our own state to be supreme and we want Jews to be stateless and defenseless. We do not want the wisdom or knowledge of Jews. We just need more darkness, arrogance and enmity. We are as ignorant as can be and we are happy this way. And if possible, we want another Holocaust, just as Hamas calls for it. At the same time, we definitely want peace. And this is our understanding of peace.
Israel is where the ancestors of the Jews lived, learned and toiled. Jews need to be there not only to be safe from further massacres but also to learn in the light of their ancestors — who brought what are among the first laws of social justice to the word after Hammurabi. It is right there, all you have to do is read it. Pay the day-laborer by sunset. Do not cook the lamb in the milk of its mother. Do not steal. Do not murder. There are books more of them. These are the genuine messages of freedom.
Jews are Israel’s indigenous people and they have extended their hand in peace to both Palestinians and others many times — and been rejected. You would defend yourself against incoming rockets; why shouldn’t they? Israel has nothing to apologize for.
There is a popular belief that anti-Semitism had not been promoted in Turkey until the current Islamist Justice and Development Party [AKP] took power in 2002. However, taking a closer look at the lives of Jews in modern Turkey makes it clear that this was just a myth. The truth is that to be a Jew in Turkey seems to mean having been exposed to more than 90 years of systematic discrimination including pogroms, forced assimilation, and prohibitions against the use of their native language.
On November 21, 2014, MEMRI [Middle East Media Research Institute] published a must-read special dispatch entitled, “Anti-Semitism Hits New High In Turkey: Threats Against Turkish Jews, Expressions Of Admiration For Hitler, Calls For Jews To Be Sent To Concentration Camps; Jews Should Pay A ‘Special Tax’.”
“At the same time that President Erdogan was denying, in his September 22, 2014 speech at the Council of Foreign Relations, that he or his government were in any way anti-Semitic,” the dispatch read, “members of his party back home were tweeting praise for Hitler, and shops in Istanbul were displaying signs reading “No Admittance To Jewish Dogs.”
As MEMRI points out, it is obvious that under the AKP government, anti-Semitism in Turkey has been hitting new high. But these gruesome realities are not the product only of the Islamist AKP, nor are they first in Turkey’s history.
Jews in Turkey were already sent to forced-labor battalions in 1941-1942, required to pay a special tax in 1942-1944, and exposed to forced assimilation in Turkey. They were systematically subjected to hate speech in the Turkish press, which also played a role in the 1934 anti-Jewish pogrom in Eastern Thrace. With the enforcement of the surname law, Jewish children had to change their names and surnames and adopt Turkish sounding names. Ladino, the language of Turkey’s Jews, was also banned by the Turkish regime. Since 1923, when the Turkish Republic was established, Jews have systematically been discriminated against (as well as all other non-Muslim communities), and Jews have been deprived of their freedom of movement at least three times: in 1923, 1925 and 1927.
The Turkish republic had been founded by the so-called “secular” Republican People’s Party [CHP], now the main opposition party in Turkey’s parliament.
Although anti-Semitism during the AKP’s rule has been widely reported by the media, anti-Semitism during and after the establishment period of the Turkish Republic has been largely overlooked.
In Turkey, anti-Semitism has a long history among state authorities, opinion shapers, political circles (both right- and left-wing), Islamist and non-Islamist groups, and particularly in the media. Not a single Turkish university has a Jewish- or Holocaust-studies department. The reestablishment of the Jewish state in 1948 just turned anti-Semitism into anti-Zionism, which seems to be an implicit, disingenuous kind of anti-Semitism.
From the time of the founded of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, until 1950, when the first national elections took place, these practices were carried out by the non-Islamist governments of the Republican People’s Party [CHP], which established the Turkish state.
It is impossible to mention all the anti-Semitic incidents in Turkey in one article, but a short chronology of the most important developments relating to Jews would help one realize what kind of a life Jews were forced to live in Turkey for decades.
Traditional Anti-Semitism in Turkish Media
The historian Ayse Hur, based on the comprehensive writings of independent scholar Rifat Bali, recounted some of the anti-Semitic campaigns of the Turkish press during the first decades of the Turkish Republic.
In January 1923, the Turkish Voice (Türk Sesi) and Burnt Land (Yanık Yurt) newspapers, published in the province of Izmir, called on Turkish traders to struggle against “the immoral and sordid Jewish threat.” The pieces claimed that the Jews were the breeding ground for germs in Turkey and especially in Izmir. Then Akbaba, a satirical magazine, joined the chorus, publishing a series of pieces which featured titles such as “haven’t you heard that you should not do business with the Jews,” and “Shall we allow these germs to live with us?”
In December 1925, after the rumors were spread that at least 300 Jews sent a telegram to the celebrations of the 435th anniversary of Columbus’ discovering America, an anti-Semitic campaign was started in mainstream newspapers. The published pieces referred to Jews as “ungrateful” and as “leeches who cling on the back of the country,” and suggested that they be exiled as a solution. Some people provoked by those writings killed a young Jew and attacked the synagogue in the town of Kuzguncuk. Whether such a telegram was ever sent remains unknown.
In January 1937, the fascistic and national-socialistic waves of Europe arrived in Turkey: A German Information Office was opened in Istanbul. Türkische Post and Cumhuriyet (The Republic) newspapers started to repeat Nazi propaganda.
In August 1938, the government issued decree No.# 2/9498, which read: “The Jews who are exposed to pressures in terms of living conditions and travelling in the states of which they are nationals are forbidden to enter and live in Turkey regardless of their current religion.” Twenty six Jewish employees of the Anatolian News Agency, then the only official news agency of Turkey, were dismissed. There was a massive increase in the number of articles and cartoons in newspapers and magazines that held minorities, especially Jews, responsible for the problems that Turkey was going through.
On December 28,1939, a powerful earthquake hit the province of Erzincan in Turkey, killing tens of thousands of people. Upon hearing that, Jewish communities in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Buenos Aries, New York, Geneva, Cairo and Alexandria collected money and clothes among themselves and sent them to Turkey. Instead of appreciating this act, articles and cartoons ridiculed it and suggested bad intentions.
In 1948, when Jews wanted to go to the newly-founded State of Israel, Turkey’s state and state-directed media, which had done everything in their power to make the Jews flee Turkey, now referred to those wanting to emigrate as “traitors.”
Ancestry Codes of Armenians, Greeks and Jews
Research by the daily newspaper Radikal and interviews with officials has revealed a century-long saga of discrimination in Turkey. According to Radikal’s findings, Turkey has been secretly assigning codes its Armenian, Greek, Jewish, Syriac and other non-Muslim minorities ever since the establishment of the Turkish Republic. The Population Directorate of Turkey codes Greeks using the number 1, Armenians 2 and Jews 3.
“This is obviously a scandal that should shake Turkey to its core, but the country is so busy with its own agenda,” wrote Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a human rights lawyer and columnist in his column on Al Monitor.
“Given Turkey’s history, which is full of unfair practices toward non-Muslims, perhaps the significance of this scandal can best be understood through comparison. For a moment, imagine that Jews in Germany today were secretly being identified through coding by the German government and that this was exposed. It would register as a political earthquake big enough to shake the German political system down to its roots. In contrast, the scandal in Turkey remained in the news only for a few days in a few newspapers.” By Gatestone
Laws that excluded Jews and other non-Muslims from certain professions
Even in the beginning of 1923 and 1924, foreign companies and banks were required to employ only Turkish-Muslim citizens and to dismiss non-Muslims. Greeks, Jews and Armenians were dismissed in groups without being paid.
On January 24, 1924, “being Turkish” became the requirement for working as a pharmacist in accordance with a new law relating to pharmacists.
On April 3, 1924, in accordance with the law of lawyers, 960 lawyers were evaluated as to whether they had good morals. As a result of the evaluation, work permits of 460 lawyers were cancelled. Thus, 57% of Jewish lawyers, and three out of four Greek and Armenian lawyers, lost their jobs.
In the 4th article of the 1926 law on civil servants, it was stated that only “Turks” could work at public institutions. The law included all employees in public institutions, from tramway drivers to harbor workers. Due to this law, thousands of non-Muslims lost their jobs.
During 1928, new laws about requirements for carrying out certain jobs were enacted. According to these laws, only “Turkish” citizens could be doctors, dentists, midwives, nurses and so on.
The “Turkish citizens” in these laws referred only to “ethnic Turks.” So to carry out these jobs, one had to be not only Muslim but an “ethnic Turk.”
On April 22, 1926, after a law was enacted that made Turkish the only language of commercial correspondence, non-Muslims who were working in administrative bodies and did not have a full command of written Turkish, were dismissed.
The jobs and services mentioned below can be carried out by Turkish citizens alone. It is prohibited for those who are not Turkish citizens to carry out these jobs and services:
A.) being a peddler; musician; photographer; hairdresser; compositor; estate agent; dress, hat and shoe manufacturer; stock trader; seller of products which are under state monopoly; translator; guide; working in construction, iron and wooden works; working permanently or temporarily on public vehicles; working in the fields of water, lighting, central heating, mailing and telecommunication sectors; loading and commissioning [in ships];working as a driver and turnboy; doing assistant works in general; being a watchman, janitor or headwaiter at all kinds of companies, businesses, hotels and firms; working at hotels, motels, public baths, cafes; being a waiter at clubs, dance halls, or pubs, dancer or singer at pubs.
b.) Being a veterinarian and chemist.
This “law of occupations” was the most extreme law of the Kemalist government after the proclamation of the new Republic in 1923.
Employment bans were also big obstacle for refugees exiled from Germany. They were trying to find jobs that had not been banned, or to make use of legal loopholes. Some of them — particularly women — received residence permits for marriages with Turkish men. If Turkish authorities learned that the marriages were “fake,” women were faced with the danger of being deported.
“Citizen, Speak Turkish!” Campaign, Prohibitions against Ladino and Forced Assimilation
On January 13, 1928, the student union at the Law School in the Ottoman University (today’s Istanbul University) launched a campaign to prohibit the use in public of all languages other than Turkish.
The campaigners placed posters in many cities across Turkey with the slogan “Citizen, speak Turkish!” Some other signs proclaimed, “We cannot call a Turk those who do not speak Turkish” or “Speak Turkish or leave the country!” Hundreds of people were harassed in public, given fines or arrested, with full support of the government.
Isil Demirel, a Turkish anthropologist, examined the process by which Turkish replaced Ladino as the mother tongue of Sephardic Jews in Turkey. “The Jews were exposed to great pressures during the attempts of spreading Turkish in 1920s,” Demirel wrote. “Since Turkish was starting to be used among Jews instead of Ladino, cultural differences emerged between the old generation, who used Ladino as their mother tongue, and the young generation who were raised with Turkish. Ladino, which is a dying language in Turkey today, is used only by Jews older than 50, and embodies a rooted and long-running culture.”
Demirel quoted a Sephardic Jew who experienced the “Citizen, Speak Turkish!” campaign: “When you spoke two words of Spanish (Ladino) back then, they immediately raised their hands. ‘Heeeeyyy Madame, Monsieur! Citizen, speak Turkish!,’ they shouted or they had sticks behind them and shook them at you.”
In another forced-assimilation campaign, in November 1932, every Jew in the province of Izmir was made to sign an agreement in which they promised “to embrace the Turkish culture and speak the Turkish language.” This was followed by the Jews in the provinces of Bursa, Kiklareli, Edirne, Adana, Diyarbakir and Ankara. Newspapers were filled with reports of Jewish (and Armenian) girls who were converting to Islam in groups.
1934 Anti-Jewish Pogroms in Eastern Thrace
The pogroms, in June 21- July 4, 1934, occurred in the provinces of Tekirdag, Edirne, Kirklareli, and Canakkale in Eastern Thrace, and were initiated by articles written by Pan-Turkic authors Cevat Rıfat Atilhan and Nihal Atsız. The pogroms 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. Jews were beaten, attacked and some Jewish women were reportedly raped.
In terror, more than 15,000 Jews fled the region. Anti-Semitic pressures on the Jewish communities at schools, markets and state institutions, even after the pogroms, lingered on. A “confidential” circular sent by the headquarters of the ruling CHP to its local branches in Eastern Thrace also revealed that the government had at least condoned the pogroms.
Turkey during the Holocaust
During the Holocaust, Turkey opened its doors to very few Jewish and political refugees. The attempts of many famous people or Jewish organizations to make Turkey accept more Jewish refugees bore no result. That is the reason Turkey is not in the statistics of countries to which Jewish refugees fled.
In 1937, Turkey took measures to prevent Jewish immigration. When the number of Jewish refugees increased rapidly in 1938, Turkey enacted two laws that prohibited people with no passport or citizenship documents from entering and settling in Turkey. These laws were not openly related to Jews. But behind them was the reality that Germany and other countries had stripped Jews of their citizenship rights. On 29 August 1938, the Turkish government issued a policy letter preventing “Jews whose rights had been limited in their countries” from entering Turkey.
Tragedies of Jewish Refugees
The historians Corry Guttstadt and Rifat Bali reported the tragedies of Jewish refugees who were trying to escape Nazi persecution and reach Israel, their historic homeland, during the Holocaust.
On August 8, 1939, the ship, Parita, had to dock in the province of Izmir, due to some problems it had experienced while carrying 800 Jewish refugees from Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia to the land of Israel (then, under the British mandate, called Palestine). The Jewish refugees sat for a week off the coast of Izmir with no coal, water or food. The ship was denied a berth in the port and the captain was finally forced, after threats from the Turkish police, to sail on.
Turkish satirical magazines such as Karikatür and Akbaba ridiculed the Jewish refugees who sought refuge throughout the world in vain. The caricature on the cover of the Akbaba from August 24, 1939, referred to the Jewish refugees on the Parita. The caption had one of the Jews saying: “We are hungry and out of money. For God’s sake, allow us to disembark for five minutes to get rich.” After the ship had left the coast of Izmir, the semi-official daily Ulus wrote, “The Jews who have been roaming around here have finally left.”
On December 6, 1940, a ship named Salvador, traveling to the land of Israel from Varna, in Bulgaria, arrived in Istanbul with 327 Czech and Bulgarian Jews aboard it. The Salvador was forced out to sea on December 12, despite bad weather, only to sink same day during a heavy storm off the coast of Silivri, on the Sea of Marmara. As a consequence, 204 people drowned, at least 70 of them children.
On December 15, 1941, the Struma ship, in an effort to save 769 Romanian Jews from the German extermination, had left Constanza harbor to carry them to the land of Israel, and tried to dock in Istanbul. Not only was the ship completely overloaded but it was also not seaworthy because of a defective engine. A banner which read “Save Us” was fastened to the ship. For 70 days during the winter months of 1941-1942, Turkey did not allow it to dock; those on the ship struggled against disease and deaths off the coast of Istanbul, near Sarayburnu. The ship’s anchor finally was cut, and the ship fastened to a pilot boat, to be drawn away to the Black Sea.
With no motor, fuel, food, water or medicine, the Struma was abandoned to its fate and was towed into the open sea. On February 24, 1942, it was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine at 2:00 a.m. Only one person survived. After the incident, then Prime Minister Refik Saydam said: “Turkey cannot become the home of those who are not wanted by anyone else.”
Labor Battalions of Non-Muslims (1941-1942)
On April 22, 1941, 12,000 non-Muslims, including Jewish men between the ages of 27 and 40, were sent in extreme hot weather as soldiers to camps with no infrastructure and a shortage of water, which were infested with mosquitoes, dampness, mud — all of which spread malaria. Those soldiers, also known as “the Twenty Classes,” were not given guns. They were forced to wear the clothes of garbagemen and to work endless hours, and were insulted and ridiculed as “infidel soldiers.” Even blind and physically disabled persons were conscripted. They were made to work under terrible conditions at places such as tunnel constructions in Zonguldak and in the construction of the Youth Park in Ankara. There was hard labor, such as rock crushing and road construction in the provinces of Afyon, Karabuk, Konya, and Kutahya. The “Twenty Classes” were discharged on June 27,1942.
“Due to the poor conditions during the service there were deaths and diseases among the conscripts,” reported the Turkologist Ruben H. Melkonyan.
The prevailing and widespread point of view on the matter was that, wishing to participate in World War II, Turkey gathered in advance all unreliable non-Turkish men regarded as a potential “fifth column”, wrote Melkonyan.
The Law of Wealth Tax (1942-1944)
On November 11, 1942, the government, led by then PM Sukru Saracoglu, enacted a Wealth Tax law, with the stated aim of overcoming the economic problems that had emerged during World War II. 87% of tax payers, however, were non-Muslims.
“The real reason for the Wealth Tax was the elimination of non-Muslims from the economy, wrote Basak Ince, an Assistant Professor of political science.
Taxpayers were divided into four separate groups according to their religious background:
- M, for Muslims,
- G, for non-Muslims,
- E, for foreigners,
- D, for converts.
The amount of taxes to be paid by Armenian traders was 232%, by Jewish traders was 179%, by Greek traders was 156%. Only 4.94% of Turkish Muslims had to pay the wealth tax. So those who suffered most severely were non-Muslims such as the Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and Levantines; it was the Armenians who were most heavily taxed.
The Turkish researcher Ridvan Akar refers to the wealth tax as an economic genocide against minorities. 
The law was also imposed on poor non-Muslims, such as drivers, workers and even beggars, whereas their Muslim counterparts were not required to pay anything. Non-Muslims had to pay their taxes within 15 days, in cash. People unable to pay were sent to forced labor camps in eastern Anatolia.
“And those unable to pay were packed off to a camp at Askale, near Erzerum — an area cooler than Moscow in the winter — where they were put to work breaking stones,” reported the author Sidney Nowill.
The historian Corry Guttstadt, in her book Turkey, the Jews, and the Holocaust, wrote that “Although the law stipulated that people over 55 years old were exempt from labor service, 75 and 80 year old men and even sick people were dragged to the train station and deported.”
These taxes ruined the lives and finances of many non-Muslim families; there were a number of suicides of non-Muslims in Istanbul. “Some people committed suicide in despair,” Guttstadt wrote.
Of the people who were sent to the labor camps, 21 died there; the Turkish government confiscated their assets and sold them to Turkish Muslims at low prices. “The Wealth Tax was withdrawn in March 1944, under the pressure of criticism from Britain and the United States,” Ince reported.
Murders and Unjust Trials
On August 17, 1927, Elza Niyego, a 22-year-old Jewish woman, was stabbed to death by Osman Ratip Bey, a married man, age 42, who had proposed her but was rejected. The dead body of the young woman was left out for three hours in the street. Elza’s mother was not allowed to cover her daughter’s dead body, an order that aroused a great reaction among the Jewish community. Masses who joined the funeral on 18 August shouted, “We want justice!”. After the funeral, attended by crowd whose number was estimated to range between 10 to 25 thousand, the Cumhuriyet (Republic) newspaper started an intense anti-Semitic campaign. TheCumhuriyet and other newspapers featured headlines which referred to Jews as “the ungrateful” or “the arrogant.”
At the end of the trial, the murderer Osman Ratip Bey was sent to a mental asylum, but not to prison. Nine Jews and a Russian witness of the murder, however, were brought to court for “insulting Turkishness,” and four were imprisoned. And once again, the freedom of movement of Jews across Anatolia was denied by the government, as of 29 August 1927.
On January 30, 1947, all members of a Jewish family, which consisted of seven people, were found dead in the Kendirli neighborhood of the province of Urfa. The Jewish community of Urfa was held responsible for the murder, and all Jewish men in the city were arrested. Throughout the trials, the people of Urfa boycotted Jews. The Jews who were arrested were released after three years but the Jews of Urfa had to leave the city.
Jews in Turkey Today
Jews in Turkey, even under Kemalist, non-Islamic governments, were exposed to severe and systematic discrimination for decades. Today, under an Islamist government, they are feeling unsafe and threatened again. Many people from Turkey’s Jewish community are leaving the country or planning to, a prominent businessman from the community wrote in a December 2014 article for the Istanbul-based Jewish newspaper, Salom. Mois Gabay, a professional in the tourism industry, wrote, referring to the murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink in 2007: “We face threats, attacks and harassment every day. Hope is fading. Is it necessary for a ‘Hrant among us’ to be shot in order for the government, the opposition, civil society, our neighbors and jurists to see this?”
Gabay added that increasing numbers of Turkish Jews are making plans to move abroad with their families: “Around 37 percent of high school graduates from the Jewish community in Turkey prefer to go abroad for higher education … This number doubled this year compared to the previous years.”
It is not only students who have begun to think about building a life abroad for their families and children, Gabay wrote, but also young business people: “Last week, when I was talking to two of my friends on separate occasions, the conversation turned to our search for another country to move to. That is to say, my generation is also thinking more about leaving this country.”
When anti-Semitism turns into anti-Zionism
If there had been a Jewish state while all this persecution had been taking place, Jews could have gone there in time of need.
Had there been such a state before the Holocaust, European Jews could have sought refuge. Had they had a military, they could have defended themselves from the Nazis.
After all this persecution and discrimination against Jews, the anti-Semitic tradition of Turkey still continues. In 2005, Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler, became a best seller in Turkey after it was published by 13 publishing houses.
Jewish homes being built in Israel are not an obstacle to peace. The only obstacle to peace is the hatred from Israel’s neighbors.
Uzay Bulut, born a Muslim, is a Turkish journalist based in Ankara.
 Hur, Ayse , 8 February 2009, “Isolated (!) Incidents of Anti-Semitism.” Taraf Newspaper.
Bali, Rifat (1999). Turkish Jews in the Republican Years – An Adventure of Turkification (1923-1945). Iletisim Publishing House.
Bali, Rifat (2001). The Children of Moses, The Citizens of the Republic. Iletisim.
Bali, Rifat (2004). The Jews of the State and the “Other” Jew. Iletisim.
 Bali, Rifat (1999). Turkish Jews in the Republican Years – An Adventure of Turkification (1923-1945). Iletisim Publishing House. Ince, Basak (2012). Citizenship and Identity in Turkey: From Atatürk’s Republic to the Present Day. I. B. Tauris.
 Türkiye’de Sürgün http://www.annefrank.de/mensch/tr/dorothea-brander/schwerpunktthemen/exil-in-der-tuerkei/
 Guttstadt, Corry (2013). Turkey, the Jews, and the Holocaust. Cambridge University Press. Bali, Rifat (2004). The Jews of the State and the “Other” Jew. Iletisim.
 Bali, Rifat (2008). The Twenty Classes: The Episode of Military Service of Non-Muslims during the Second World War. Kitabevi Publishing House.
 Ince, Basak (2012). Citizenship and Identity in Turkey: From Atatürk’s Republic to the Present Day. I. B. Tauris.
 “Report: The law that coveted the ‘wealth’ of minorities,” by Zeynep Ozakat, Milliyetnewspaper, 15/12/2009.
 Nowill, Sidney E. P. (2011). Constantinople and Istanbul: 72 Years of Life in Turkey. Matador.
 Ince, Basak (2012). Citizenship and Identity in Turkey: From Atatürk’s Republic to the Present Day. I. B. Tauris.