Why some “Turks” are less equal
Back in 2009, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I quietly complained that “we are being crucified daily.” The government’s response was a quick, not-so-veiled threat, issuing a statement that said, “[We] hope that was a slip of the tongue.”
Never mind the threatening wording of the response. Luckily the patriarch has not been literally crucified since then. But it was most bizarre that the official reply to the remarks of a Turkish citizen had come from the foreign minister. Where was the foreign element in the words of a full Turkish citizen?
The bitter truth remains unchanged: Some Turks are “foreign.” Last week, press reports revealed that the prosecutor’s office in Istanbul that had tried the Israeli soldiers involved in the Mavi Marmara incident had asked the intelligence services for a listing of Turkish Jews who travelled to Israel two weeks before and after the incident. The suspects were allegedly put under surveillance and a list was sent to the court.
Once again, the Foreign Ministry replied to allegations of a Turkish Jewish witch-hunt. The ministry’s spokesman said “we strongly rebuff efforts to give the image as if there is any sentiment against our Jewish citizens.” Another little foot note of no importance had been engraved in Turkish history: The foreign – not the justice or interior – ministry officially commented on a prosecution against Turkish citizens.
But why do the Turkish diplomats see nothing weird about commenting on the domestic affairs of fully tax-paying Turkish citizens? And why do tens of millions of Turks just accept that as normal, as the norm, as if there is nothing bizarre about it? Can anyone with a little bit of sanity find it normal if the U.S. Secretary of State “denied efforts to give the image as if there is any negative sentiment against American Jews?”
Let’s call a cat a cat. In both cases, i.e., the patriarch and the Turkish-Jewish “traitors,” the foreign minister and his ministry showed the reflex of getting involved simply because they, like an overwhelming majority of the nation, see something “foreign” about the Turkish citizens in question. And that foreignness is about the fact that those Turkish citizens are not Muslim.
This thinking and behavior are a violation of the Constitution, but does no one seem to care? That’s why I have often argued that the Turks would always find de jure ways to breach even the best-written constitution and, hence, too much talk over a new constitution is just too much talk.
One of the most poignant moments in Jenny White’s new book “Out of the Chrysalis,” according to the Economist, is an exchange with Ishak Alaton, Turkey’s best-known Jewish entrepreneur and a frequent target of anti-Semitic rants in the Islamic media. “Jenny, you can write this in your book,” Alaton said, “that the man you interviewed today, who has reached his 82-years-old, has never been given the feeling by this nation that I am part of it.”
But there is an element of fairness here. The Turkish state and most Turks have always indiscriminately discriminated against the “other,” whether the other is “foreign” or not. Before the AKP supposedly rebuilt democratic culture, there was systematic discrimination against non-Muslim Turks, Muslim or non-Muslim Kurds, Muslim or non-Muslim Alevis, devout Muslims and communists. All of those Turkish citizens felt precisely like Alaton felt: they were not part of this nation.
And in the years of the AKP’s “advanced democracy,” there is systematic discrimination against non-Muslim Turks (foreigners, are they not?), Muslim or non-Muslim Kurds, Muslim or non-Muslim Alevis, communists, anarchists, atheists and secular Muslims.
The foreign ministry’s spokesman’s words that “the Jewish community are [made of] equal citizens and an integral part of our society” can be more creative than Hans Christian Andersen’s but are certainly much less amusing.