On June 5, at a demonstration organized in Istanbul by the Islamic Saadet Party, one of the banners read, in Turkish: “Legendary leader Hitler, our patience is running out, we need your spirit.” The incident was just one of countless anti-Semitic statements, slogans, and banners made during rallies in Turkey after the Israeli attack on the flotilla of ships attempting to break the blockade on Gaza. I spoke to writers and activists from Turkey about the implications of this discourse.
“Israel’s lawless and irrational act of violence unleashed an exaggerated display of bravado on the part of the government in Turkey,” said Ayse Gunaysu, a human rights activist from Turkey. Gunaysu’s concerned about the anti-Semitic discourse used by the protesters and the way that Turkish intellectuals have been overlooking its dangerous undertones, even before the attack on the flotilla. She gives the example of a public rally on May 8, during which one speaker said, “From now on all Jews everywhere in the world and even all Jews in Turkey are our targets” (see http://fr.video.yahoo.com/watch/7462019/19667659 ).
“The protesters are not concerned about peace,” Gunaysu explained. “They are calling for more violence and more bloodshed. Because they—particularly Islamic protesters, at times backed by leftists groups as well—are not against a particular Israeli government and its particular policies, but against the existence of Israel itself.”
“It is sickening to hear the government suddenly assume the role of champion of international law, never mind that in 1974, the Turkish armed forces crossed the international waters, invaded a sovereign country [Cyprus], and its occupation continues to date,” she added. “Not to mention the decades-long war in Turkey [against the Kurds], which has caused tens of thousands of deaths, hundreds of disappearances, and the destruction and evacuation of thousands of villages.”
For Gunaysu, the hypocrisy is astounding. “The killing of civilians by the Israeli special forces is outrageous. But it is equally upsetting to know that there is such fury here against what happened to fellow Muslims in another part of the world, while Turkey feels quite alright with its own denial of the genocide of Asia Minor’s Christian population, a legacy on which the Turkish republic was founded.”
On May 31, Bilgin Ayata, a scholar from Turkey, was in Taksim Square, where several rallies were held. She recounted what she saw: “The general atmosphere was very tense and full of anger, and some of the slogans targeted Jews, not just the Israeli state. The angry atmosphere takes sustenance from Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s fierce comments and attitude that fuels the anger against Israel.”
Ayata also raises the issue of hypocrisy. “There is a strange schizophrenia at place: Erdogan described the attacks of Israel as ‘state terrorism’ and declared that Hamas is not a terrorist organization. It would be nice if he would apply the same standards to his own country. Unfortunately, it seems that the opposite is happening. On June 4, Sevahir Bayindir, a Kurdish MP, was attacked by the police and hurt in Silopi during a protest against the military operations in the Kurdish regions. A day earlier, Firat Basan, a 14-year-old Kurdish boy, was killed when a tank rolled over him during a similar protest in Sirnak. Also on June 4, Irfan Aktar, a Kurdish journalist, received a prison sentence of one year because of an article he wrote on the Kurdish issue in a magazine. Over 1,400 members of the pro-Kurdish party DTP are in prison since 2009—some of them are elected mayors and prominent members of human rights organizations. More than one million Kurds have been displaced in Turkey in the past decade, and they can not go back to their villages because the state does not clear landmines. Paramilitary forces and military operations are leading even to new cases of displacement.”
“I wholeheartedly condemn the violence employed by the Israeli state last week, just as I did when I was actively working in the region and writing about the Palestinian issue,” said Talin Suciyan, a journalist from Turkey. “But the social and political atmosphere created in Turkey has other dimensions. On the one hand, there are journalists, artists, and public opinion leaders talking about ‘banging up Israel’ with literature and arts, while there are others who carry posters asking Hitler to send them his spirit. And frequently, ‘Tekbir’ (chanting ‘Allahu ekber’) accompanies these. In the past, such reactions have invariably led to hostile attitudes against citizens of Turkey—in this case the Turkish Jews. One always has to keep in mind that the republican and also pre-republican history is full of such attacks against Armenians, Greeks, and Jews, incited in the aftermath of international events.”
“If this is an issue of condemning state violence,” she continued, “I have to say I have not, to this day, encountered such decisive attitude, when it comes to issues concerning the people of Turkey itself.”
Ayata agrees. “If PM Erdogan really has a problem with state terrorism, he should stop it in his own country.”