Turkey’s Prime Minister Leads His Country Down a Destructive Path

American Thinker, WA
Feb 8 2009

Turkey’s Prime Minister Leads His Country Down a Destructive Path

By Joel J. Sprayregen

It is dismaying to see a country I have admired and worked for
propelling itself outside the mainstream of western civilization.
Epic statesman Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish republic,
replaced religiously ordered Ottoman society (the Sultan was caliph of
all Sunni Moslems) with pride in Turkishness. Secularism, protected
by the army, became a core value of the Turkish state in modernizing a
once great country which lagged behind European nations (Turkey
straddles Europe and Middle East).

Western-looking modernizations included replacing the Arabic alphabet
with the Roman, separating mosque from state, and elevating the status
of women. The culmination of the innovations initiated by Ataturk
(who died in 1938) was seen by many Turks in the late 1990s —
euphorically — as Turkey’s eventual entrance into the European Union.
But secular politicians in Turkey turned out to be corrupt and
dysfunctional. The country is now governed by the Islamist AKP
(Justice and Welfare Party) whose leader, Prime Minister Recip
Erdogan, is acting like the head of a Middle Eastern theocracy rather
than a secular republic.

A charter NATO member — based on shared democratic values — Turkey
anchored Europe’s southeast defenses throughout the Cold War and sent
troops to Korea and Afghanistan. In marked contrast, Erdogan is
pursuing an Islamic foreign policy featuring publicized meetings with
the most radical leaders in the Muslim world, e.g., the chiefs of
Iran, Sudan, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. Erdogan welcomed Sudanese
President Omar al-Bashir to Istanbul at a time when the International
Criminal Court was seeking his arrest for mass murder in Darfur.

Turkey chairs the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) a
religious assembly currently promoting an international statute making
it a worldwide crime to criticize Islam. Ataturk would have kept his
distance from the OIC. Turkey’s embrace of terrorists undermines its
traditional close military-diplomatic-commercial-tourism ties with
Israel, which made Turkey’s 22,000 Jews — living among 70 million
Muslims — feel more secure.

The Ottomans welcomed Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, and for most
of the succeeding five centuries, Jews have fared better in Turkey
than in the heart of Europe. I have heard Erdogan call Jews "part of
the fabric of Turkish society." Populist anti-Semitism was rare in
Turkey. Today, "its seeds are being spread by the political
leadership," according to Soner Cagaptay, prominent Turkish-American

A mosaic of tolerance being shattered

This mosaic of tolerance is being shattered in the wake of Israel’s
offensive against Hamas. Mass demonstrations and media vilification
threaten violence against Turkish Jews. A Turkish store exhibited a
sign proclaiming: "Jews and Armenians not allowed. Dogs are welcome."
A placard from AKP members proclaimed "I understand the value of
Hitler." Another said "Every Zionist is a target." Demonstrators,
including children, dress as Hamas gunmen and exhibit mock coffins
which they tell Jews to prepare to use. For the first time in 500
years, Turkish Jews — as they tell me in direct communications —
live in fear. Jewish-owned businesses are told to close. Jewish
physicians have removed nameplates from their offices. The Jewish
community issued a statement, revealing palpable anxiety and unease:

Anti-Israel rhetoric adopted by some local media as well as in mass
demonstrations…has unfortunately been slickly transformed into
anti-Semitism….We Turkish Jews are an inseparable part of the
Turkish Republic and are deeply distressed by the insulting,
humiliating accusations being maliciously targeted by some national

The statement noted a recent speech in which Erdogan said he abhorred

Prominent psychologist Leyla Navarro — whom I have seen on Turkish
television calming her countrymen after a devastating earthquake —
published an article replying to Erdogan’s reference to 1492:

Is it still a debt of mine that 500 years ago my ancestors were
accepted by the Sultan? Am I still regarded as a guest in this land
where I was born and raised, in which I fulfill my responsibilities as
a citizen and have actually contributed to its development? Shall I
walk with my head down? Am I a candidate for being threatened?

Navarro, whose views about the Mideast are dovish, said she is scared,
sad and anxious Commendably, Turkish President Abdullah Gul (whose
wisdom I praised in a newspaper column a year ago after meeting with
him) telephoned Navarro and reiterated condemnation of anti-Semitism.
But neither Gul nor Erdogan have called upon their political followers
and the media they control to stop threatening Turkish Jews.

Erdogan: Hamas rockets are harmless

It is legitimate that Erdogan criticizes some Israeli actions, as
European leaders — and many Israelis — do. But Erdogan’s rhetoric
apocalyptically fuses religious fervor with false assertions, e.g.,
"Allah would punish Israel" and bring it "destruction," calling for
Israel’s suspension from the U.N. and insisting "Hamas rockets are not
causing any casualties in Israel." Citizens take their lead from
their government concerning foreign affairs, thus there is a link
between Erdogan’s vilifications and the threats directed against Jews.

The Prime Minister misses no opportunity to escalate tensions. At the
Davos Economic Forum last week, when Israeli President Shimon
Peres-recipient of a Nobel Peace prize-responded to a blistering
attack from Erdogan, the Prime Minister lost it. He yelled "When it
comes to killing, you know well how to kill" and stormed off the

Ataturk always manifested dignity in public. Study the photographs
showing him fastidiously dressed, demonstrating Turkey’s place among
European nations. It used to be said that Turkey constituted a unique
bridge between Europe and the Middle East as well as between Islam and
Christianity. Under Erdogan, Turkey is becoming a bridge to Iran,
Syria and the Sudan. Cagaptay questions whether Turkey should still
be considered a western ally.

There are overlapping explanations for Erdogan’s conduct. When
Muslims are killed, pain clouds his judgment. I sat with him in a
small meeting in Washington in 2004 and saw overflowing visceral anger
leading him to characterize Palestinian suicide bombers as "boys
throwing stones."

But he is also a master politician conscious that Turkey holds local
elections in March. Tip O’Neill famously observed that "All politics
is local politics." Erdogan is agitating fervor among Islamists
forming AKP’s base. He may have concluded that the E.U. will not
admit Turkey and that he should vie for leadership of the Islamic
world. Erdogan may feel invincible because "reforms" fecklessly
demanded by the E.U. limit the power of the army to protect
secularism. He may see Turkey’s commercial relations with Russia and
Iran as more important those with Europe. This would be a major
economic mistake, but we will leave that for a separate article

Turkish headline: `Erdogan’s applause will not last long’

While Erdogan received plaudits from Iran’s president and Islamists
for his Davos tantrum, moderate Turkish press began to complain (one
headline: "The applause will not last long") that Erdogan’s behavior,
reminiscent of Khrushchev banging his shoe at the U.N., harmed his
country by diminishing its credentials as an E.U. aspirant and Mideast
interlocutor. Moderate Arab powers — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan
— are discomfited to see Endogen act in tandem with
Iran. U.S. Special Envoy Mitchell cancelled his first visit to Ankara.

Bigoted rhetoric from a Turkish Prime Minister invites recollection of
the seamy underside of a great country, including Turkish treatment of
Armenians, Kurds and Protestants (Google "Turkey and Christians" and
you will be horrified). Current Turkish press tersely reports "700 PKK
(i.e., Kurdish separatists) Killed in 2008" as if Kurds were not human
beings. I acknowledge that the PKK is a terrorist organization, but so
is Hamas, and Erdogan is enraged by every casualty among Hamas gunmen.

Even in Arab countries and Iran, there have been no threats against
tiny Jewish communities. The Dreyfuss trial led to Vichy, and
Kristallnacht led to Auschwitz. The decay of the Soviet Union became
apparent when Soviet anti-Semitism was exposed. We do not know what
will follow from Erdogan’s incendiary rhetoric (Cagaptay says it
reaches "Islamist fever pitch"), but we can see it encourages dire
threats from members of AKP and allied media. Lethal bombings
(condemned by Turkey’s government) were directed against Istanbul
synagogues as recently as 2004. Erdogan is crying fire in a crowded
theater. Tragically, he is simultaneously diminishing the stature of
his country in the society of western nations.

Joel J. Sprayregen is a frequent visitor to Turkey where he has
published articles and spoken at symposia, is associated with two
Turkish think thanks.