Another Test for Turkish Jewry

Yesterday, the official account of Jews of Turkey (“Turkish Jewish community”) sent a tweet about the recent Turkish operation in Syria and they gave their full support to Turkey. And then there was a vigorous debate. Some nationalists made comments like “Even the Jews support our operation, how come some Turks oppose it?” Some others thought “on behalf of the Jews” and said “They had to issue such a statement or else they would be persecuted.” I think no one is right.

Let me begin by asking a few questions: Who is a Jew from Turkey? A Jewish Turk? A Jew from Turkey? A Turk of Jewish origin? A Jew of Turkey? A Turkish Jewish? There are many expressions used in Turkish language in order to define “a Jew from Turkey”. I feel awkward whenever I have to talk about someone else’s identity. It is mostly because I am quiet sensitive on this issue and I believe in fact, identity itself is an ontologically delicate topic. I am not an ethnic Turk, my mother is Albanian, my fathers’ father comes from Caucasia, a Circassian. My fathers’ mother was a Turk(?) born in Van. What am I? The answer is simple.

In Turkey, if you are a Muslim, you are a Turk (except for the Kurds). I am not Kurdish so it is easier for me. Long story short, I am a Turk. But for other people, especially if you are a Christian or a Jew, people have a hard time identifying you. Are you a Turk? A Jew? A Greek? “Greeks are from Greece and as you were born in Istanbul, you are not a Greek, you are a Rum (A Greek word Romaios that literally means someone from the Roman Empire) The worst case is being Jewish. Because what I know from the history, most of the Jews in Turkey came to the Ottoman Empire during the 15th century and most of them are Sefarads. However, Turks never considered them Spaniard or Portuguese. I have never met or seen any Jew here that identifies himself with Spaniards anyway. As far as I know, some Jews speak Spanish at home, but I don’t think they feel Spanish anymore than I feel myself. Correct me, if I am wrong.

These people were born here and have been living here for more than 500 years. And I am not surprised the least when I hear some of them say “I am also a Turk”. Because if I am with my multinational DNA consider myself a Turk, they also have the right to call themselves Turks. So I think identity is essentially based on our own individual choices. If I feel like a Turk, then I am a Turk, if I don’t feel like a Turk, no one can call me one. It is the same for Jews. If a Jew from Turkey feels himself as a Jewish Turk or simply a Jew, or a Jew that was accidentally born in Turkey with no emotional connection to the Turkish state, it is all fine and probable for me. Because we can’t judge people on our own preassumptions. If a Turk has the freedom to choose him/herself, a Jew should also have it.

This message of Jewish community also showed us once more that the majority in every country always creates its own hierarchy. Some Turks applauded Jews’ political stance and insulted the Kurds that oppose the operation (by the way some Kurds support this operation) by emphasizing these “holy” words: “Even the Jews…” Why? Do Jews have to prove you that they are loyal to this country just because you were born Muslim and Turk? Have you invented a secret instrument that calculates Jews’ “loyalty percentage” by controling their tweets and messages? Are Jews supposed to oppose everything that the government does? Do they have to identify themselves with the opposition? Or do you think that they do everything they do to satisfy your political needs? Jews are free people. Without a doubt, there is a political pressure on the minority here as there is in every country at a certain scale and the representatives often side with the state in order to keep themselves safe. But again, that doesn’t mean all Jews are necessarily pro-Turkey or anti-Turkey.

Not very surprisingly, some people (for example some Jews from other countries) criticized them and derived hastily some conclusions like “if they weren’t to be persecuted, they would not accept such an operation…” Where do you get that idea from? There are approximately 20.000 Jews in Turkey, have you spoken to them all one by one? Maybe some of them find such an operation politically profitable and they even voted for AKP. We don’t know, we can’t know because it is impossible for us to ask every Jew living in Turkey their opinion on this operation.

Not very surprisingly, some Kurds insulted at Jews, by mentioning Hitler, which is for me, an obvious act of antisemitism. Reminding a Jew of the Holocaust is like pouring salt in someone’s wound. “Hitler did the same thing to you”. Excuse me, the Holocaust was the greatest tragedy in history. For the ones who want to sweep the facts under the rug, I will note it here; 6.000.000 Jews were killed brutally. They were tortured, gassed, beaten, raped. We don’t call it simply “the Jewish genocide”, we call it “the Holocaust”. The humanity gave a specific name to it, because it was not simply about killing the Jews, it was about killing their hope, their whole expectation for a better future, it was a deliberate act of erasing whole Jewry from this earth, as if it never existed. You can not use such a horrific event in order to blame them just because they don’t take sides with you. This is the utmost act of disrespect. The Holocaust is not like the Damocles’ sword that anyone can use against Jews whenever they want to accuse them. It is unacceptable.

The recent Turkish operation will have certain consequences, and we will consider the political outcome of it. But why does a Jew have to prove his loyalty to Turkey at every national event? In the past it was only Turks who questioned their “loyalty to the country”. Now Kurds are also expecting them to act “right” as if it is very easy for everyone to find the rightful way to act in every situation. I think we should stop putting our own political expectations on Jewish shoulders. They are sharing our burden with us because we are living together here. They are living with antisemitism face to face everyday, it is already difficult for them to live in a conservative Muslim country. A simple message to consolidate their official political stance should not be another loyalty test for Jews.

About the Author
I was born in Istanbul. I like drawing, writing, singing and collecting Lego. I am interested in existentialism, Judaism, yoga, literature and theatre. I am living with my parents, my elder sister and my cats.