Realpolitik may have its impact on foreign policies of countries to further their interests. Yet there are some never-to-be-forgotten yesterdays in the histories of nations that cement an everlasting bond between them. This has been especially true for Turks and Jews, two peoples whose paths have intersected on many occasions in history and left them with indelible marks on their individual memories.
The Edict of Expulsion of the Jews declared in 1492 became the landmark of the close interaction between Turks and Jews in history. It was at this point of history that Bayezid II, the Ottoman Sultan of the time, intervened and sent out his navy to bring the Jews safely to the Ottoman lands. In stark contrast to the attitude of Ferdinand II of Aragon, who declared, “Whether a Jew was rich or poor did not matter, they all still had to convert or leave”, Bayezid II said that Jews should be received with hospitality throughout the Ottoman Empire. In return, the Jews had proven to be highly trustworthy and served at very important positions in the administration.
Such a life-saving operation carried out by Turks for Jews is not limited to the Ottoman era in Turkish history. During the Holocaust, Turkish diplomats issued identity cards and passports for thousands of Turkish Jews living in France, risking their own lives in the process and saved them from boarding on trains heading for Nazi concentration camps. In 1940s, Behiç Erkin, the Turkish Ambassador to France, issued documents of Turkish citizenship to 18,200 Jews in France despite the pressure of the French government under Nazi-occupation and saved their lives. In 2007, an Israeli association applied to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial to have Behiç Erkin’s name included among the Righteous Among the Nations.
The story of Necdet Kent, the Turkish vice consul at Marseilles, France, is particularly noteworthy. When the news arrived that Germans had “loaded” 80 Turkish Jews living in Marseilles into cattle cars to transport to Nazi concentration camps, this Turkish diplomat challenged the Gestapo commander at the station. He asked for their immediate release stating that they were Turkish citizens and Turkey had no part in the war. Upon the stern response of the German officer, stating, “they were nothing but Jews”, Necdet Kent and his assistant also got on the train and refused to get off despite the officer’s insistence. At the next station, German officers boarded and apologized to Kent for not letting him off at Marseilles; they had a car waiting outside to return him to his office. “As a representative of a government that rejected such treatment for religious beliefs, I could not consider leaving them there," he said. Surprised at his uncompromising stance, the Germans ultimately let everyone off the train. In 2001, Necdet Kent was honored with the Supreme Service Medal, one of Turkey’s highest honors, as well as with a special medal from Israel, for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust.
A myriad of such stories exist in history. Yet what deserves mention is such humanitarian interventions committed at various points of Turkish history are surely nothing but a manifestation of the Islamic tenet which decrees, “If anyone gives life to another person, it is as if he had given life to all mankind.” (Qur’an, 5: 32) This divine provision also has its counterpart in Talmud with the words, “If you save one life, it’s as if you have saved the world.”
There is essentially one message that these stories convey us: The people of Turkey and Jews have an inseparable bond that has its roots in hundreds of years of history. It is a robust structure that can resist the sudden flares generated by the cold political practices based solely on interests.
Today, it’s great to see the signs of this robust friendship. After a 7-year period of ‘strained relations’ despite a great history together, difficult days are finally coming to an end. The fact that negotiations between Turkey and Israel were concluded with reconciliation in April, that officials of two countries started direct communication, that both countries decided to reinstate their ambassador and corresponding statements from leaders of two countries indicated that the friendship Turks and Israelis have missed so much was finally coming back. When President Erdogan welcomed representatives of American Jewish community in the USA, followed by positive statements from both sides, it was clearly another sign that these two beautiful nations, who together managed to overcome so many difficulties before, will continue to stand by each other in the future. And finally a deal to normalize relations was signed between Turkey and Israel on Tuesday. As Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said, the two countries might appoint ambassadors “in a week or two.” The next phase should be doing everything in our power to regain our Jewish brothers and sisters that left our country during this notorious 7-year period.
This point should not be forgotten, as long as there are, people of common sense who speak the language of peace manage to quench these flares, we will see these waves of realpolitik diminishing before they reach our shores.
Adnan Oktar's piece in Jewish Journal & Channel 9 & Alliance Magazine: