Erdogan Wishes Turkish Jews a Happy Hanukkah

Turkish president sends Hanukkah greetings to the Jewish community, says Jewish citizens are “the fundamental elements of Turkey.”

Ben Ariel ,

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Amid concerns of a rise in anti-Semitism in Turkey, the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Tuesday sent Turkish Jews a greeting for the holiday of Hanukkah.

“I extend my warmest Hanukkah holiday greetings to our Jewish citizens. We see the variety in our social, cultural and humane structure as the foremost richness that has brought Turkey to what it is today, reinforced our unity and togetherness, and enhanced our solidarity and dialogue,” Erdogan said in a statement, according to the Hurriyet newspaper.

The Turkish president said Turkey would carefully preserve its rich cultural and historical heritage, while highlighting that Turkey’s Jewish citizens were “the fundamental elements of Turkey.”

“Our Jewish citizens, which we embraced during history’s hardest and most sad periods and with which we have lived in unity, harmony and reciprocal respect for centuries in these lands, in the cradle of civilization of Anatolia, are unquestionably the fundamental elements of Turkey,” he said.

Reforms implemented over the last 12 years have been designed to ensure that all citizens can live their culture, traditions and beliefs as equal individuals and without being exposed to discrimination based on religion, language, race, ethnicity and belief, Erdogan added.

The greeting comes several weeks after American officials expressed deep concern over the rising levels of anti-Semitism in Turkey. A report late last year revealed that young Turkish Jews were leaving the country in droves as a result of the anti-Semitism.

Turkey has seen a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes since the rise of Erdogan's Islamist AKP party. Although violent attacks are still relatively rare, anti-Jewish incitement has become commonplace.

Most recently, the governor of the northwestern province of Edirne was accused of inciting hatred towards the country's Jewish community, after suggesting a synagogue be turned into a museum as a reprisal for Israel's policies over the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

The governor, Dursun Ali Sahin, sparked an outcry when he said that the ancient Buyuk Sinagog (the Great Synagogue) built in 1907 under Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid should only be used as a museum.

"While those bandits blow the winds of war and massacre people inside Al-Aqsa mosque, we are restoring their synagogues," Sahin said.

"I say this with a huge hatred inside me. We clean the surroundings of their (Jewish) cemeteries and send their projects to committees. The synagogue here... will only be registered as a museum."

After an outcry, Sahin backpedalled and said the final decision on the synagogue’s future would lie with the government agency for historical heritage, the General Directorate of Foundations.