Turkey's record blemished by its leaders

By Michael Daventry, June 6, 2014

After 301 people died in Turkey’s worst-ever mining disaster last month, critics blamed Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The government had privatised the mine in Soma and its inspectors had given the site a clean bill of health weeks before disaster struck.

Mr Erdoğan’s supporters tried to shift the blame. Their principal target was the mine’s parent company and its director, Alp Gürkan.

Among the many personal attacks on Mr Gürkan in the pro-government press, one headline, in the pious daily Yeni Akit, was distinctive: “That boss’s son-in-law is a Jew”.

It is the latest in a list of recent anti-Jewish slurs in Turkey. Last year, the deputy prime minister, Beşir Atalay, said the Jewish diaspora was envious of his country’s economic success and was controlling the foreign press in an attempt to “prevent it from growing too large”. Then there was the lowbrow TV drama Valley of the Wolves, which depicted Mossad agents abducting Turkish children to forcibly convert them to Judaism.

There is also Mr Erdoğan himself. He was widely reported to have shouted “Why are you running away, you seed of Israel?” at a miner who heckled him in Soma last month, although he denies using the phrase.

But anyone who argues Turkish antisemitism is unbridled should look at the country’s historical relations with its Jews. The Ottoman Empire was a destination for Jews fleeing persecution as early as the 15th century. In 1950, Turkey became the first Muslim country to recognise Israel. Mr Erdoğan accepted an award at an ADL meeting in 2005 for the role his country’s diplomats played in saving thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.
He told that meeting: “The Holocaust is the most inconceivable crime against humanity throughout history.Antisemitism is a manifestation of a criminal disease of mind.”

The fact remains that, outside Israel, Turkey is probably the safest country in the region in which to be Jewish. Most Turks would be horrified at the idea of insulting members of another faith, especially an Abrahamic one. And with rapprochement over the Mavi Marmara incident now imminent, Israelis are booking holidays there again.

But it is important to distinguish between the people and their government. With Mr Erdogan’s support beginning to crumble after 11 years in power, he is now surrounding himself with yes-men. Now, he keeps advisers like Yusuf Yerkel, seen last month kicking another heckling Soma miner to the ground. The conservative instincts of the AK Party — including a negative view of Judaism — are becoming evident.

Michael Daventry is English editor of Londra, the London Turkish Gazette

Last updated: 4:24pm, August 8 2014