Total population: 64 million
Jewish population: 25,000 (23,500 in Istanbul)

General background

Following the December 1995 elections, in which the Islamist Refah Partisi (RP, Welfare Party) emerged as the largest parliamentary group, an unstable coalition government was established in February between two centre-right groups, namely the Anatavan Partisi (ANAP, Motherland Party), led by Mesut Yilmaz, and the Dogru Yol Partisi (DYP, True Path Party), led by Tansu Çiller. The collapse of the coalition in June led to the formation of a new coalition between the DYP and RP. Necmettin Erbakan, the RP's leader, was appointed the first Islamist prime minister in the republic's history, with Çiller as deputy prime minister and foreign minister. ANAP became the main opposition party in the 550-member national assembly.

Within months of taking office, Erbakan provoked western criticism by visiting Iran where he signed a major deal to buy natural gas-Nigeria, Iraq and Libya. Despite the RP's commitment to carrying out Islamic reforms in the political, social and economic spheres, Erbakan agreed to maintain the pro-western and pro-European foreign policies of the previous government, and to preserve the secularist reforms instituted by Kemal Atatürk in the 1920s. Turkey maintained close ties with the USA, implemented the European customs union signed in December 1995 and renewed efforts to apply for full membership of the European Union.

In February, the RP-led government also signed a defence agreement with Israel providing for joint military training and exercises. Following President Suleyman Demirel's visit to Israel in March, Israeli president Ezer Weizmann visited Turkey in June and a group of Turkish parliamentarians, including RP representatives, travelled to Israel in November.

Erbakan's government maintained economic policies similar to those of his predecessors, including the privatization programme. Imports increased by over 50 per cent during the year, largely as a result of the European customs union. Nonetheless, high inflation-about 80 per cent-persisted and unemployment remained at around 15 per cent.

The issue of human rights remained high on the public agenda in 1996. The government was unable to sustain improvements made in the previous year. According to reports published in the western media, violations were particularly acute in the south-east of the country, where security forces continued to engage in armed conflict with the separatist organization Partia Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK, Kurdistan Workers' Party).

Historical legacy

The ancestors of the present-day Jewish community came to the Ottoman Empire after their expulsion from Spain in 1492, although there were Jewish settlements in various parts of Anatolia under Roman and Byzantine rule. Jews enjoyed relatively comfortable conditions under the protection of the Ottoman administration. Police intervened to quell outbreaks of violence against Jews, which were provoked in Smyrna (Izmir) in 1872 and Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1874, when Greeks and Armenians hid Christian children at Easter and accused Jews of stealing them.

In 1872 a synagogue on the island of Marmara was destroyed. During this period Jews also became victims of blood libel accusations. Nevertheless, Ottoman sultans always issued fermans (decrees) condemning such accusations. In one reported case in Constantinople in 1870, Jewish merchants were forced to open their sacks to prove that they did not contain Christian children.

After the establishment of the Turkish republic in 1923, the constitution provided for equal rights for Jews and other religious minorities. There has been little antisemitism since then, except during the Second World War, when neutral Turkey imposed some discriminatory measures, such as welfare tax, against the non-Muslim minorities, including the Jewish community.

During the Second World War, Turkey maintained its neutrality and served as a corridor of safe passage for many Jews fleeing Nazism. Since the 1960s antisemitic articles have appeared in the Turkish press, particularly in Islamist publications.

In September 1986, twenty-two worshippers were killed in an attack by the Palestinian Abu Nidal terrorist group on the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul. In March 1992, Neve Shalom was the target of another violent attack when terrorists linked to the Turkish Hizbullah group threw two grenades at the synagogue, injuring a Jewish passer-by.

Racism and xenophobia

The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne recognizes the status of three religious minorities Armenians, Jews and Greeks. Official attitudes towards the Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches, however, are affected by Turkey's political relations with Greece and Armenia.

The Alawi Muslim minority is estimated to number at least 12 million. Alawis allege informal discrimination concerning the teaching of Islam and complain of a Sunni Muslim bias in the ministry of religious affairs, which classifies the Alawis as a cultural, rather than a religious, group.

There are approximately 12 million Turks of Kurdish origin, most of whom are well-integrated into political and economic life. The government's campaign against the PKK (see GENERAL BACKGROUND) has, however, affected the treatment of the Kurdish commmunity, which is not officially recognized as a minority.

Parties, organizations, movements

As in previous years, the Islamist organization Bilim Arastirma Vakfi (Foundation for Scientific Research), led by Adnan Oktar (better known as Adnan Hodja), continued to slander Jews. It draws support from educated and wealthy young men and women but, unlike RP, most of its followers do not adopt Muslim dress or attend mosques regularly. Oktar is notorious for his virulent attacks on Israel, Jews and Freemasons.

In 1996 the foundation distributed two books entitled the "Holocaust Lie The Inside Story of the Secret History of the Zionist-Nazi Co-operation and the Lie About Jewish Genocide" (originally published in 1995) and the "New Masonic Order" (see HOLOCAUST DENIAL). It also publishes a bulletin, Siyasi Cizgi (Political Line), first launched in 1994, which was mailed to thousands of prominent Turks.

Mainstream politics

Since its establishment in the early 1980s, RP has maintained an anti-lsraeli and anti-Zionist stance, which is occasionally combined with antisemitism. While in opposition Necmettin Erbakan and other leading RP members frequently attacked both Israel and the Jews. In May, during negotiations to form a coalition government with the ANAP, Erbakan remarked, "Anyone who does not support Refah's efforts serves the Jews". Since becoming prime minister in mid-1996 (see GENERAL BACKGROUND), Erbakan has adopted a more pragmatic attitude towards Israel, but occasionally expressed antisemitism, especially in Islamist forums. During his address in December, for example, to the pro-Islamist Economic and Social Research Centre, Erbakan referred to a book entitled "The Secret World State", which was printed and distributed by an Islamist publication, and claimed that "international Zionism" controlled the world economy and politics and was inspired by the "oldest mystical Jewish sources, the cabbala ".

Antisemitic slogans were chanted at a demonstration organized by RP supporters in October in Ankara, to protest the opening of the Hasmonean tunnel in Jerusalem. RP's deputy leader, Riza Ulucak, denied that the party was responsible.

Some RP members opposed the inclusion in the Turkish delegation that visited Israel in November of Cefi Kamhi, the only Jewish parliamentarian. An RP spokesperson later apologized for antisemitic remarks made by RP activists in this context. During the debate, the press repeatedly used the prefix "Jewish" in front of Kamhi's name.

Publications and media

In 1996 the Islamist media continued to spread anti-Zionist and antisemitic propaganda. The most notorious newspapers were the RP's semi-official organ Milli Gazete (National Gazette, circulation 150,000) and militant Islamist papers such as Akit (Covenant), Yeni Safak (New Dawn), Selam and Siyah Bayrak (Black Banner).

As in previous years, Milli Gazete published countless antisemitic articles during 1996. In May, for instance, an article signed by an academic, Huseyin Varol, analysed the negative characteristics of Jews according to the Qur'an. In December, an article by Ihsan Suleyman Sirma claimed that Jews were expelled from many countries "like rabid dogs and that whenever Jews are treated in a human way, they always respond like animals".

In January, Milli Gazete praised the publication and free distribution of copies of Oktar's book that denied the Holocaust (see HOLOCAUST DENIAL). Akit and Milli Gazete both suggested that the book proved the conspiracy between Hitler and the Zionists to encourage the emigration of the Jews and the creation of a Jewish state, and that those who died in concentration camps were victims of typhus. Erbakan recorded, prior to becoming prime minister, that he had recommended this book to fellow party members as a reference work.

In August Milli Gazete published a list of thirty-nine books and pamphlets under the title "Anti-Zionist Books Published in Our Country". The list included several antisemitic publications dating back to the 1960s and 1970s (such as those by Cevat Rifat Atuhan) that are not available in main bookshops but are available in smaller shops that stock Islamist literature.

In September, Siyah Bayrak expressed antisemitism in response to the controversial opening of the Hasmonean tunnel in Jerusalem. It wrote: "The latest brutality committed by Israel proves that there can be no innocent Jew, and this further increases the possibility of attacks against the lives and property of Jews living in the region, especially in Turkey" (see also MAINSTREAM POLITICS).

The daily Yeni Safak wrote in October, "no intelligent person can regard the Torah as a book of religion. It is a book of rebellion against God, of intrigue and of war."

Akit published several antisemitic editorials, and one front-page story accused Jews of damaging other religions and cultures. One edition alleged that Turkish Jews were agents of world Jewry and Zionism, and accused them of taking over critical economic fields such as transportation of natural gas and telecommunications. Akit also printed calls for Islamic jihad ; one article in February asserted, "All kinds of activities allowed under Islamic laws should be carried out against the Jews anywhere in the world".

Similar calls for jihad against Jews appeared throughout the year in the weekly Selam . It gave prominence in April to a report about RP representative Sevki Yilmaz, who warned that Hamas and Hizbullah were engaged in a jihad and stated: "If we don't stand against the bombs that the Jews use against the Muslims in Jerusalem, one day those bombs will start falling on Turkey."

In October, the cover of Akinci Yolu (The Raider's Path), a magazine that supports the radical, underground Islami Büyük Dogu Akincilar Cephesi (IBDAC, Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front, see EFFECTS OF ANTI- ZIONISM), featured a cover story entitled "The Best Jew is a Dead Jew". The magazine attacked the RP for becoming too moderate towards secularism, claiming that party leaders had become "collaborators of the Jews".

Numerous antisemitic books were also published in Turkey during the year.

Holocaust denial

The publication in December 1995 of "Holocaust Lie The Inside Story of the Secret History of the Zionist-Nazi Co-operation and the Lie About Jewish Genocide" sparked much public debate throughout 1996.

In March 1996 a leading Turkish painter and intellectual, Bedri Baykam, published a strongly worded critique in the Ankara daily newspaper Siyah-Beyaz (Black and White). A legal suit for slander was subsequently brought against Baykam by Nuri Özbudak, who claimed to have written the book under the pseudonym of Harun Yahya. During the trial in September, Baykam exposed the real author of the book as Adnan Oktar, leader of Bilim Arastirma Vakfi (see PARTIES, ORGANIZATIONS, MOVEMENTS).

Baykam also stated in court that genocide against the Jews was an indisputable historical fact. He condemned the book and proclaimed that all Turks who upheld human rights and democracy should react strongly against it too. By the end of the year the trial had not yet been concluded, but it appeared that Özbudak would drop the case.

In September a Turkish translation of Les myths fondateurs de la politique israélienne (Founding Myths of Israeli Politics), by French Holocaust-denier Roger Garaudy, was published in Istanbul (see France). The book was publicized on a pro-Islamic television channel.

Effects of anti-Zionism

Several militant Islamist organizations, some of which engaged in political violence against secularist Turks and the police, were active in 1996. The most prominent of the organizations was the IBDAC. Other underground groups include the local branch of Hizbullah, the Islamic Jihad and the Islami Kurtulus Orgutu (Islamic Salvation Organization).

The militant Islamists in Turkey fre-quently used their criticism of Zionism and of Israel to express antisemitic sentiment. These groups organized demonstrations following prayers on Fridays in Istanbul and Ankara, at which they burned the Israeli and US flags and distributed anti-Israeli and antisemitic material.

Countering antisemitism

During her visit to New York in September, Deputy Prime Minister Çiller met with leading Jewish representatives and assured them that the Turkish government's positive attitude towards Jews would not change as a result of the Islamists' presence in the coalition.

A leading RP member and minister of state for economic affairs, Fehim Adak, visited New York in December and met with delegations from American Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Adak stressed that the RP favoured good relations with Israel and Jews.

Jewish communal leaders in Istanbul met several times with the highest Turkish authorities, including President Suleyman Demirel and Istanbul's mayor, Talip Erdogan, a leading RP member, in order to draw attention to the antisemitic campaign by Islamists. Although the authorities repeatedly affirmed their sympathy, no practical result has yet come of these initiatives.

The Jewish weekly publication Salom repeatedly appealed for action against antisemitism, but mainstream political parties preferred to remain silent. A number of prominent columnists in pro-secularist newspapers did criticize antisemitic remarks in the Islamist media. They include Sahin Alpay and Guneri Civaoglu in Milliyet , Hadi Uluerigin and Ertugrul Ozkok in Hurriyet and Gungor Mengi and Sedat Sertoglu in Sabah.

A pro-Islamist author, Ali Bulaç, published an article in April in the daily Yeni Safak in which he questioned the wisdom of conducting an antisemitic campaign in Turkey, stressing that this would damage the image of Islam. Yeni Safak usually takes a radical line and often publishes anti-Israeli articles.


1996 marked a noticeable surge in antisemitism in Turkey, with Islamist politicians and writers stepping up their campaign against the Jews in general and in some cases targeting Turkish Jews.

This coincided with the rise of pro-Islamic trends in the country, and the coming to power of Necmettin Erbakan and his Refah Partisi.

The Jewish community in Turkey faced little discrimination in the professions and fields in which they worked. Yet the mounting campaign by the Islamist media and remarks made by some RP politicians led to considerable unease in the Jewish community.

© JPR 1997