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September 02, 1994 - Image 111

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-09-02

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Turkey And The Jews

Here's a Muslim
country where
the Jews have



ewish communities still extant in
Muslim countries tend to be weak
and without a future, mere shells
of the vital populations that ex-
isted half a century ago. Anyone
with energy or ambition long ago
fled Iran, Yemen, Syria, Egypt,
or Tunisia; those who remain
barely eke out a living.
They have no role to speak of
in the business of intellectual life
of their countries; politically they
count only as potential victims or
as hostages to be bartered away.
In The Jews of Arab Lands in
Modern Times (1991), Norman
Stillman accurately described
them as "a small, vestigial, and
moribund remnant."
How different in Turkey! Here
Jews, as in the West,
play a disproportion-
ate role in the life of
the country. During

a visit not long ago to Istanbul
(the city where nearly all the
Turkish Jews live) I had an op-
portunity to meet two of the coun-
try's tycoons, both Jewish. Jefi I.
Icamhi is the flamboyant, jet-set-
ting chairman of Profilo, a com-
pany that produces almost
everything you can think of (pre-
fabricated construction units,
white goods, parts and acces-
sories); in addition, in imports
and exports, distributes con-
sumer durables, and invests.
Uzeyir Garih, CEO of Alarco, is
a more restrained figure; his com-
pany contracts projects, engineers
them, and specializes in building
big-ticket items, such as
pipelines, gas storage terminals,
refineries, textile facto-
ries, and office complex-
es. Both men are active
in business associa-

tions, are counted among their
country's leading philanthropists,
and have strong ties to the high-
est political circles.
Thanks to their knowledge of
European languages and foreign
contacts, Jewish businessmen
have played an important role in
the expansion of Turkish com-
panies into international mar-
kets. They also have a prominent
role in fashion, advertising and
banking; for example, Jews dom-
inate Istanbul's Tahtakale mon-
ey market and effectively set the
dollar exchange rate for Turkey's
currency. These Jews are not
small, vestigial, or moribund.
And it's not just the business-
men. I didn't get to see Sami Ko-
hen this trip, but he's been for
many years the foreign affairs
columnist for Turkey's largest
circulation daily newspaper, Mil-
liyet, where he writes a sophis-
ticated analysis of his country's
politics, as well as frequently con-
tributing to such American pa-
pers at The Christian Science
monitor and the New York Times.
Other Jews teach at the univer-
sities and work for the govern-
ment, where they serve as
diplomats and hold other posi-
tions of responsibility. In short,
unlike the dying Jewish commu-
nities in other parts of the Mus-
lim Middle East, the one in
Turkey is vibrant and influen-
Interestingly, other Jews —
those of Israel and the United
States — also have a role in
Turkey. In extensive talks
with officials in the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs and the
Prime Minister's Office. I
found a consistent interest in
strengthening ties with Is-
rael, and near delight with
the Israel-PLO agreement
because it hastens its
process. These analysts see
Israel in a variety of ways:
as a trading partner, a fel-
low democracy to help sta-
bilize the region, an ally
that can help deal with
the Iranian and Syrian
regimes, and means of
access to Washington.
The first-ever visit by

Daniel Pipes is a histori-
an and commentator
on Middle Eastern af-

Turkey's Foreign Minister Hik-
met Cetin to Israel last Novem-
ber consolidated these ties and
raised high hopes for the future.
Which brings us to American
Jews. One Turkish analyst point-
ed out to me that many of the
leading American scholars of
turkey are jewish (including
Bernard Lewis, Stanford Shaw,
and Avigdor Levy). A Foreign
Ministry official who noted that
Turkey's strongest advocates in
the United States are Jewish,
mentioning specifically Richard
Perle and Douglas Feith, con-
cluded with the comment, "We
love American Jews." Turkey's
government despairs of a Turk-
ish lobby ever emerging in the
United States that will be capa-
ble of standing up to the Greeks
and Amenians: In the meantime,
it counts on jews to make the ar-
gument for Turkey in Washing-
More effectively than anyone
else, these individuals point out
Turkey's importance as an ally
in an especially turbulent part of
the world (for example, vis-a-vis
Iraq); its positive influence in the
Middle East as an enduring
democracy, and its importance as
a model of secularism for the
Muslim world as a whole.
Of course, Turkey also has its
share of fundamentalist Muslims,
fascists, and other forms of anti-
Semite. Like their counterparts
elsewhere, these elements spread
conspiracy theories about jews
and fulminate against Israel. But
in Turkey, unlike Iran and the
Arab countries, these people don't
make policy, nor do conspiracy
theories dominate political think-
ing. Perhaps most important,
Turks don't engage in violence
against jews. (It was foreigners,
not Turks, who carried out the
one major act of violence against
Turkey's Jews, the 1986 bomb-
ing of Neve Shalom Synagogue.)
There's every reason to think
the good news will continue in the
years ahead — that Jews of
Turkey will flourish; that
Ankara's relations with Israel
will expand; and that American
Jews will play an important role
explaining turkey to Americans.
With regard to Jews, as is the
case in so many other ways,
Turkey has successfully removed
itself from the paranoia and re-
pression of the Middle East and
made itself a part of the West. 0

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