ISTANBUL (Bloomberg)–Turkey’s rage over a U.S. congressional resolution accusing it of genocide against Armenia’s 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 commen’s from Foreign Minister Ali Babacan that there’s a perception in the country that Jews and Armenia’s “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 elemen’s — Islamists and ultranationalists — might use the Jews as a scapegoat and say they have failed, they have done nothing.”
1.5 million Armenia’s were killed in a campaign of genocide by the Ottoman Empire under the cover of World War I. Turkey denies that it was genocide, arguing that the number is inflated and that Turks and Armenia’s 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 Armenia’s 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 Web site 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.
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 Jewish 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 immigran’s from Turkey, one of the factors that helped forge good relations between the two countries.
“Turkey’s perception of its good ties with Israel is that this relationship stands on American Jewish support for Turkey in Washington,” Cagaptay said. “This is not a bilateral relationship, it is a trilateral relationship.”