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Talking Turkey By: Steven Plaut
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a temper tantrum at the Davos forum on world economics recently. He foamed at the mouth about Israel's supposedly "massacring innocent women and children" in its recent military operations against the genocidal Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. He walked out in demonstrative contempt when Israel's own leftwing president, Shimon Peres, arose to speak to the delegates. He repeatedly accused Israel of "mass murder" in Gaza. Erdogan ranted at length about how Israel had turned the Gaza Strip into an "open-air prison."

Even more incredibly, as part of his anti-Israel ravings, Erdogan cited two anti-Semitic ex-Israelis as "authorities" for his claims. One "authority" cited by the Turkish Prime Minister is the notorious deranged Holocaust Denier Gilad Atzmon. A saxophone player in the UK with ties to German Neo-Nazis and Holocaust Deniers in other countries, Atzmon is so openly anti-Semitic that even the most bigoted segments of the Bash-Israel Lobby in the UK usually will have nothing to do with him. He swings back and forth between denying altogether that there was any Holocaust of Jews by the Germans and justifying it as something the Jews deserved. He is on record calling for synagogues to be burned down and promotes the anti-Semitic czarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Erdogan cited Atzmon as saying, "Israeli barbarity is far beyond even ordinary cruelty."

The other "scholar" cited by Erdogan is the Israel-hating professor Avi Shlaim, who is on the faculty of Oxford University. Shlaim is a pseudo-historian who has made a career out of serving up anti-Israel propaganda, including for the extremist Jew-hating "The Nation" magazine. Shlaim gained notoriety when it turned out he was one of the two "academics" who prostituted themselves for Neo-Nazi Norman Finkelstein. He served as accomplice in the attempts by Finkelstein's supporters to maneuver DePaul University into granting Finkelstein tenure on the basis of his anti-Semitic rants.

At Istanbul's airport thousands of people gathered to greet Erdogan when he returned, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags and chanting "Turkey is proud of you." In response to Erdogan's arrogant rant against Israel's defense operations in Gaza, what can be said? Well, for one, in Turkey, unlike in Israel, Islamists are routinely taken out back and shot. Turkey also invaded the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, mowing down any Kurds who got in their way, for Kurdish provocations that never came anywhere near those of the Hamas savages, who fired 8000 rockets into Israel from Gaza.

But what else is one to make of this display of temper by the Prime Minister of a country attempting to gain membership in the EU?

I would venture to respond to Erdogan by offering the following summary of the conflict:

The occupation is entirely illegal and is not recognized as legitimate by a single country on earth other than the occupying power. The occupier carried out acts of mass expulsion and ethnic cleansing when the illegal occupation was imposed on its victims. It transferred thousands of its own citizens illegally as settlers into the territories it continues to occupy. Its human rights record in the occupied territories has been atrocious. It continues to defy all world opinion, while imposing military control and suppression on the hapless residents of the illegally occupied territories. Moreover, its human rights record at home is almost as atrocious. It is an apartheid regime in which minorities are discriminated against and openly harassed. It is a militarist entity that came into existence through perpetration of a set of massive crimes against humanity, including ethnic cleansing and mass murder. Indeed, it has often been accused of having perpetrated genocide at the very moment of its creation. There are serious doubts as to whether it even has any moral right to exist as an independent state. Certainly its capital, a city considered holy by many religions, may not rightfully even belong to it at all. That city was seized from its rightful owners using military force, and its religious shrines were looted and transformed to serve the regime.

The above paragraph of course refers to Turkey.

The occupied territories in which ethnic cleansing was perpetrated by the Turkish occupying power refer to northern Cyprus. Turkey illegally invaded Cyprus, an independent state (now part of NATO and the EU), in 1974, and militarily seized about a third of the island. It then expelled the entire Greek population from those occupied territories. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Greek Cypriots were made homeless refugees due to the military aggression of Turkey. Not a single country on earth recognizes the puppet "republic" Turkey still operates there. To maintain its hold on northern Cyprus, Turkey transferred many thousands of its own citizens to northern Cyprus as illegal settlers.

Northern Cyprus is not even the only set of occupied territories seized and held by modern Turkey. In the year 1939, Turkey simply marched into the Alexandretta area of Syria, then a French protectorate, and annexed it. The ethnic Turks in the area were a minority of the population. The Turkish conquest was based on nothing more than Turkey's desire to take charge of the excellent port facilities there. Syria still considers this area as its own (of course, it also considers Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Cyprus also to be its own). Turkey has shown no interest in removing its settlers from Alexandretta. Its control of other areas, such as the area around Kars near the Armenian border or swaths of Thrace, is also based on dubious legitimacy and questionable claims.

Turkey is a semi-democracy in which the military exercises enormous amounts of political power. The respect for human rights in Turkey is notable for its absence. Kurdish, Armenian, and other ethnic minorities have been forcibly Turkified. Religious minorities, such as the Alevi, are persecuted. Censorship is common. Kurdish areas have been subjected to martial rule.

Brutal force has been used against Kurdish separatists and other political groups. Indeed, the operations of the Turkish military against the Kurds make Israel's recent incursion into the Gaza Strip (in Operation "Cast Lead") look like a May Day picnic. Until 2003, it was forbidden to speak Kurdish on the radio or television; the Kurdish alphabet still cannot be used. The state of human rights in Turkey, according to numerous human rights NGOs, continues to be atrocious. Women in Turkey are mistreated; until very recently women students applying to universities had to pass a virginity test. The Turkish military police routinely kill civilians. Journalists have been assassinated.

Open-air prison, indeed.

But today's abuses in Turkey pail into insignificance when placed in the context of the mass murders and ethnic cleansings that accompanied the birth of modern Turkey itself. As the Ottoman Empire collapsed during World War I, ethnic Turks led by Ataturk seized control of most of Anatolia. The infamous mass murders, considered by some to have been genocidal, of ethnic Armenians accompanied the Turkish campaign for independence.

Somewhat less well known in the West is the fact that Turkey's creation was also accompanied by the mass expulsion of almost the entire Greek population of Anatolia. The Greeks had been living in Anatolia for thousands of years before the first Turk even stepped foot in the place. Homer was an Anatolian. Western Anatolia at the beginning of the twentieth century held large areas with Greek ethnic majorities. As the Ottoman Empire fell apart, the large Greek populations declared their own independence from Turkey and their union with Greece. The areas around Smyrna and parts of Thrace, with their large Greek population, were supposed to come under Greek sovereignty in the name of self-determination. Britain's Lloyd George was among those who had made the promise.

Between 1919 and 1922, Greece and Turkey fought a bloody war for Western Anatolia. No one knows how many Greeks were butchered by the Turks during the war. But the Greeks lost and virtually the entire Greek population, many hundreds of thousands of people, were expelled en masse by Turkey from their ancestral homelands. Almost four times as many Greeks were expelled from Anatolia than the number of "Palestinians" who became refugees as a result of their fleeing the territory that became independent Israel in 1948. The Anatolian Greeks would never be granted any "right of return."

Then there is the little matter of Constantinople. The Greek claims to Istanbul are at least a hundred times more legitimate than are any Arab claims to Jerusalem. Constantinople was always a Greek city, conquered by the Turks only in 1453. Its Greek churches were turned into mosques, and some today are Turkish museums. Turkey has never offered to internationalize the city nor turn half of it over to the disenfranchised Greeks.

Meanwhile, an entire section of Athens consists of the Greek families expelled from Smyrna (Izmir). Other residents of Athens are ethnic Greeks expelled from illegally occupied northern Cyprus.

After his tantrum, Prime Minister Erdogan told the press, "My anger over Gaza directed at Israeli government, not Jews." Well, the whole world's disgust with this hypocrisy is directed against Erdogan and not against the Turkish people. After all, the Turkish people deserve better.


Steven Plaut is a professor at the Graduate School of the Business Administration at the University of Haifa and is a columnist for the Jewish Press. A collection of his commentaries on the current events in Israel can be found on his "blog" at www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com.


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