Op-Ed: Turkey's Attitude to the Holocaust is Revealing
“The Turkish attitude toward the Holocaust differs from that of other countries on many points. The word ‘Holocaust’ is not used in public discourse. Yet the Turkish media, politicians and civil elites frequently refer to the genocide of the Jews.
“One major aspect concerns the Turkish Holocaust instrumentation and abuse in the international public debate on the Armenian genocide. The first accusations against Turkey claiming its responsibility for this mass murder during World War I started around 1965, fifty years after the massive deportation of Armenians in 1915. These accusations – made mainly by Armenian organizations in the Western world – have intensified.”
Rifat N. Bali is an independent scholar and a Research Fellow of the Alberto Benveniste Center for Sephardic Studies and Culture in Paris. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the history of Turkish Jewry.
“In Turkish Social Science literature, the Holocaust is called ‘Nazi genocide.’ A major argument made by Turkey’s leaders against the accusations of the country’s responsibility for the Armenian genocide, is that Turkey’s First World War actions against the Armenians were radically different from the systematic extermination of the Jews by Nazi Germany.
“The Turkish Jewish community’s leadership, the Israeli government and several Jewish American organizations claim that the Holocaust is unique. They have been backing Turkey on the Armenian genocide issue, but have come under attack in the Western world about this.
“There is yet another issue concerning the Armenian genocide where Jews are being used as a Turkish defense argument. Jews with Turkish passports in Nazi-occupied countries were partly saved by some Turkish diplomats. Other officials, however, didn’t care. Yad Vashem has only recognized one Turkish diplomat – Selahattin Ülkümen, Consul General on Rhodes during the war – as a Righteous Gentile.
"The Turkish Foreign Ministry falsely claims that rescuing Jews was the country’s policy rather than the result of actions by some individuals. By misrepresenting this issue, Turkey claims that a country with a ‘humanitarian attitude toward the Jews during such a horrible period,’ could not have possibly committed the genocide of Armenians.
“There are other widespread false Turkish statements concerning the Holocaust. It is often repeated that the Jews who suffered from genocide themselves, are now subjecting the Palestinians to one. The major conservative Islamist newspaper Zaman published an article on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1995, wherein the author wondered how persecuted Jews could act like Nazis in the Lebanese Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatilla. It was also conveniently forgotten that the murderers there were Lebanese Christians.
“Then-Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit reacted to the Israeli Defense Forces’ action in 2002 in the refugee camp of Jenin after a major Palestinian suicide bombing in the Park Hotel in Netanya. He said that ‘Israel is carrying out genocide before the world’s eyes.’ Approximately 55 Palestinians were killed in Jenin, mainly armed fighters.
"In 2009, at the beginning of Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ action in Gaza, a writer in the conservative nationalist daily Bugün claimed that ‘after viewing the IDF’s actions, the average person in the street is thinking that Hitler [i.e. mass murder against the Jews] was justified.’
“When Holocaust-related movies were screened in Turkey, one could again find references to the ‘Palestinian genocide’ in the media. These articles were not limited to Islamist papers.
Ali Hakan, film critic of the mainstream Sabah daily, wrote about Steven Spielberg’s "Schindler’s List" saying: ‘Is there really that much difference between the Nazi commander who torments Jews in the [concentration camp] and kills them for pleasure, and the Israeli soldiers who crush the arm of a Palestinian boy with a stone?’
“A number of books by Holocaust deniers have been published. Roger Garaudy’s "The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics" was forbidden in France under the Gayssot Law, which outlaws questioning the existence of crimes against humanity. When Garaudy was convicted in France, the Islamist press in Turkey wrote that this was due to pressure by Israel and the Jewish lobby.
During the 2006 Conference of Holocaust Deniers in Tehran, Zaman called some deniers such as Garaudy, David Irving, Paul Rassinier and Fred Leuchter ‘intellectuals.’ Another Holocaust-denying author is Adnan Oktar, who often uses his pen name Harun Yahya. His book pretends to be scientific and scholarly with footnotes and bibliographies, using the work of Western Holocaust deniers. Oktar concluded that the Holocaust was invented. In recent years, Oktar has been hosting various Israelis, including senior religious figures, in Turkey.
“In view of the above, it is not surprising that only Jews take part in International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies in Turkey. The press and officials show no interest. Similarly, only Jews attend the annual commemorative Film Festival of Holocaust-related films organized by the Jewish community since 2006. Turkish authorities do not involve themselves in countering Holocaust deniers either.”