Jews risk Turkish fury over Armenian ‘genocide’ bill

Oct. 18 (Bloomberg) — Turkey’s rage over a U.S. congressional resolution accusing it of genocide against Armenians nearly a century ago is being felt in quarters far removed from Washington: its own Jewish community.

Turkish Jews’ concerns for their safety have been fanned by comments from Foreign Minister Ali Babacan that there’s a perception in the country that Jews and Armenians “are now hand-in-hand trying to defame Turkey.” Turkey’s complaint: Its usual allies among pro-Israel U.S. lobbyists didn’t work hard enough to block the resolution.

Even as support for the measure fades in Congress — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday backed off her promise to bring it to a floor vote — it has intensified feelings of vulnerability among Turkey’s 23,000 Jews, who have been subjected to terrorist bombings.

“There have been insinuations that our security and well- being in Turkey is linked to the fate of the resolution, Jewish leaders said in a half-page ad in the Washington Times urging its rejection.

“Public opinion is so emotional on the issue that they seem to blame everyone who may not have been able to block it,” Sami Kohen, a prominent member of the Jewish community in Istanbul and a columnist for the Milliyet newspaper, said in an interview. “Some elements — Islamists and ultranationalists — might use the Jews as a scapegoat and say they have failed, they have done nothing.”

Armenian groups say 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a campaign of genocide as the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of World War I and a new Turkish republic was established. Turkey says that number is inflated and that Turks and Armenians alike were killed in large numbers.

Turkey, which has close ties with Israel, has long relied on lobbying from Jewish groups in Washington to aid in fending off proposals like the one endorsed by a House of Representatives panel Oct. 10. But the alliance suffered a blow when the Anti-Defamation League, the largest U.S. organization aimed at combating anti-Semitism, issued a statement on Aug. 21 saying the killings of Armenians were “tantamount to genocide,” though it still opposed the congressional resolution.

Babacan, in an Oct. 6 interview with Turkey’s Vatan newspaper, said that “we would not be able to keep the Jews out of this business” if the resolution is adopted.

Three days later, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, he said that “the perception in Turkey right now is that the Jewish people, or the Jewish organizations let’s say, and the Armenian diaspora, the Armenian lobbies, are now hand-in-hand trying to defame Turkey.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Bilmen issued a statement the day after the Jerusalem Post interview, saying that leaders of the “Jewish community, which is a part of our society, have from the beginning rejected the unjust and wrong contents” of the genocide resolution.

Even so, Kohen said, for the Jewish community, “this publicity could make their life difficult.”

On the website of the Islamic-leaning Zaman newspaper, 22 percent of the 869 people who had responded to an online survey by yesterday blamed “Jews having legitimized the genocide claims” for the resolution getting as far as it has.

“This perception has to be fought by the government, which must de-link the American Jews and the resolution,” said Soner Cagaptay, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “A lot of Jewish groups are working to defeat the resolution.”

So is President George W. Bush, who called Pelosi Oct. 16 to urge her to cancel plans for a vote and said yesterday that Congress “has more important work to do than antagonizing a democratic ally in the Muslim world.”

The Turkish government recalled its ambassador after last week’s panel vote. U.S. relations with Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO and a key supply route for troops in Iraq, were further strained by yesterday’s vote by the Turkish parliament to approve a possible attack on Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.

“Leaders of the Jewish community in Turkey declined to be interviewed. While there have been no reports of increased security at Jewish sites, security is already extremely high. Most synagogues in Turkey are unmarked and guarded by police.

In November 2003, terrorists linked to al-Qaeda slammed truck bombs into two synagogues in Istanbul, killing 25 people, mostly Muslim bystanders and nearby shopkeepers. In 1986, Palestinian gunmen entered the main synagogue, firing guns and lobbing grenades at Sabbath worshippers. Twenty-two were killed.

The land that is now Turkey has been home to a Jewish community for at least 2,000 years. Ottoman Sultan Beyazit II invited Spanish Jews to settle in Istanbul after they were expelled in 1492.

“The community — numbering about 100,000 in 1900 — dwindled after Turkey imposed special taxes on minorities during World War II that destroyed many businesses. The creation of Israel in 1948 attracted many Jewish immigrants from Turkey, one of the factors that helped forge good relations between the two countries.”

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4 Comments

  • Anonymous is right – nothing is black and white here.
    Lenny Ben-David in an article in the Jerusalem Post (“Turks and Armenians:what Jews should do now”) wrote:

    “Israel’s government and Jews in the United States must be careful when treading through the minefield of Armenian claims against Turkey. Jewish leaders in Armenia reported that they have heard local claims that Jews organized the 1915 massacres of Armenians.

    “There are accounts of Armenian massacres, between 1914 and 1920, of 2.5 million of Armenia’s Muslim population.

    Recently, Mountain Jews in Azerbaijan requested assistance in building a monument to 3,000 Azeri Jews killed by Armenians in 1918 in a pogrom about which little is known (See tomgrossmedia).”

    Reply
  • You’re right it seems Jews are blamed everytime something goes wrong. Whats next? Are Jews going to be blamed for Cancer, Aids and Global warming? I swear I wouldn’t be surprised. After a while it starts sounding like a broken record.

    On a side note I’m not sure how many of you know that many Armenians subscribe to the theory that the “Jews” ordered the Turkish government into killing the Armenians. Then they go on to say Mustafa Kemal the Turkish president was a closet Zionist.

    Best keep the Armenians are arms distance especially after talking to some Jews who’s families told them stories about Armenian savagery toward the Jews in the Ottoman empire.

    No wonder Turkish Jews are so offended by these so-called genocide claims. Their grandparents where there and saw what actually happend.

    Reply
  • Not anymore, but some Kurds seem to remember the Jews with genuine affection,and vice versa

    Reply
  • Usual story: local Jews have been blamed for everything in the universe.

    Are there any Jews in Kurdistan?

    Reply

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