For a few moments, one could think there are two countries in the world that go by the name "Turkey." Then reality quickly corrects the mistaken belief.
"We hope that every person develops an understanding of the Holocaust, which constitutes one of the darkest moments in human history, and will consider the importance of working together so that such a tragedy, and the conditions that made this inconceivable crime possible, will never re-emerge," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a written statement on January 27. How nice and thoughtful. But there were more Turkish niceties.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was among the participants in Poland at the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, on Holocaust Remembrance Day. And Turkey donated a modest sum of 150,000 euros this year as its contribution to the long-term preservation and restoration of the concentration camp.
Also, for the first time, International Holocaust Remembrance Day was marked in Ankara by high-level officials. Turkish Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Cicek on January 28 addressed members of Turkey's tiny Jewish community and others at a Holocaust Remembrance Day event.
It all looks nice. It isn't.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry's statement looked like the bad joke of the year: "We observe that anti-Semitism, which formed a basis for the inhuman Nazi ideology, still survives today and therefore we believe in the importance of fighting tirelessly against this phenomenon."
The ministry was right to observe that anti-Semitism still survives today. Sadly, most powerfully in its own country, where no prosecutor has indicted a single one of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of social media users who, since last summer, have praised Hitler endlessly, claiming that the "Jews deserved it."
Under the nice wrappings of Holocaust Remembrance Day, there is the story of an entirely different Turkey.
Parliamentary Speaker Cicek, for instance, linked rising anti-Semitism to Israeli actions. In his address to the Jewish community, he said: "As we remember the pain of the past, no one can ignore the last attacks on Gaza, in which 2,000 innocent children, women were massacred." Perhaps he thinks the Holocaust, too, happened because of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Speaker of Turkey's Parliament, Cemil Cicek, in his speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day, linked rising anti-Semitism to Israeli actions. (Image source: Haberler video screenshot)
It was not a coincidence that back in 2011, a study, released by the Turkish think tank SETA, found that only 8.6% of the Turks had a favorable opinion of Jews. Nearly 20% of the respondents did not have an opinion of Jews, and 71.5% said they had a negative opinion. According to a poll that the Anti-Defamation League released in 2014, 69% of Turks harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.
More recently, the Hrant Dink Foundation in Turkey, named after the murdered Turkish-Armenian journalist, found that anti-Semitism is the most common racial or religious prejudice in the Turkish media.
The study tracked derogatory coverage of over 30 different groups in media reports between May and August, only to find that Jews and Armenians were the subjects of just over half of the recorded incidents in a media landscape filled with "biased and discriminatory language use."
Jews led the list with 130 incidents, followed by Armenians (60), [non-Greek] Christians (25), Greeks (21), Kurds (18) and Syrian refugees (10).
Foreign Minister Cavusoglu may have bothered to travel all the way to Poland to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, but his sentiments most probably align with other ideologies.
Less than a month after Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu hosted Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas's political bureau, at a high-level party congress, Cavusoglu in January said that Mashaal, reportedly expelled from Qatar, was free to come to Turkey. He said: "Regardless of which country they belong to, people are free to come and go to Turkey as they wish, as long as there are no legal impediments."
But Hamas is not Turkey's only love affair in the neighborhood. Turkey's Islamist leaders are as passionate about the Muslim Brothers as they are about Hamas. Hence, not a word from the Turkish Foreign Ministry (which observes that anti-Semitism is still alive today) over the January 30 call from the Muslim Brotherhood for "a long, uncompromising jihad" in Egypt.
Only two days before a terror attack killed 25 in Egypt's Sinai region, a statement from the Muslim Brotherhood said: "Imam al-Bana [founder of the Brotherhood] prepared the jihad brigades that he sent to Palestine to kill the Zionist usurpers…"
And in programs aired on January 10 and 26 on Muslim Brotherhood channels based in Turkey, Egyptian clerics and commentators called for the murder of Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh al-Sisi and the journalists who support him. For instance, cleric Salama Abd al-Qawi said on Rabea TV that, "anyone who killed al-Sisi would be doing a good deed." Cleric Wagdi Ghoneim told Misr Alan TV that, "whoever can bring us the head of one of these dogs and hell-dwellers" would be rewarded by Allah. And commentator Muhammad Awadh said on Misr Alan TV that the punishment for the "inciting coup journalists" was death.
But the Turkish Foreign Ministry was right. Anti-Semitism is still alive today!
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.