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Talking Turkey

          Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a temper tantrum at the Davos forum on world economics. He foamed at the mouth about Israel “massacring innocent women and children” in its recent military operations against the genocidal Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. He walked out in demonstrative contempt when Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, arose to speak to the delegates. He repeatedly accused Israel of “mass murder” and ranted at lengthabout how Israel had turned Gaza into an “open-air prison.”

 

            What can be said in response to Erdogan? Plenty. For one thing, in Turkey, unlike in Israel, Islamists are routinely taken out back and shot. When Turkey invaded the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, its soldiers mowed down any Kurds who got in their way – Kurds whose provocations never came anywhere near those of the Hamas savages who fired thousands of rockets into Israel from Gaza.
 
          If someone were to describe Israel in the following words, Erdogan would surely agree:
 
Its occupation is entirely illegal and is not recognized as legitimate by a single country on earth other than the occupying power. The occupier carried out acts of mass expulsion and ethnic cleansing when the illegal occupation was imposed on its victims. It transferred thousands of its own citizens illegally as settlers into the territories it continues to occupy. Its human rights record in the occupied territories has been atrocious. It continues to defy all world opinion while imposing military control and suppression on the hapless residents of the illegally occupied territories. Moreover, its human rights record at home is almost as atrocious. It is an apartheid regime in which minorities are discriminated against and openly harassed.
 
It is a militarist entity that came into existence through perpetration of a set of massive crimes against humanity, including ethnic cleansing and mass murder. There are serious doubts as to whether it even has any moral right to exist as an independent state. Certainly its capital, a city considered holy by many religions, may not rightfully even belong to it at all.
 
But of course the above two paragraphs refer not to Israel but to Turkey. Erdogan’s Turkey.
 
Turkey illegally invaded Cyprus, an independent state (now part of NATO and the EU), in 1974, and seized about a third of the island. It then expelled the entire Greek population from those occupied territories. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Greek Cypriots were made homeless refugees due to the military aggression of Turkey. Not a single country on earth recognizes the puppet “republic” Turkey still operates there. To maintain its hold on northern Cyprus, Turkey transferred many thousands of its own citizens to northern Cyprus as illegal settlers.
 
Northern Cyprus is not the only set of occupied territories seized and held by modern Turkey. In 1939, Turkey simply marched into the Alexandretta area of Syria, then a French protectorate, and annexed it. The ethnic Turks in the area were a minority of the population. The Turkish conquest was based on nothing more than Turkey’s desire to take charge of the excellent port facilities there.
 
Turkey is a semi-democracy in which the military exercises an enormous degree of political power. Respect for human rights in Turkey is notable for its absence. Kurdish, Armenian, and other ethnic minorities have been forcibly Turkified. Religious minorities are persecuted. Censorship is common. Kurdish areas have been subjected to martial rule.
 
Brutal force has been used against Kurdish separatists and other political groups. Indeed, the operations of the Turkish military against the Kurds make Israel’s recent incursion into Gaza look like a May Day picnic. Until 2003, it was forbidden to speak Kurdish on radio or television; the Kurdish alphabet still cannot be used.
 
But today’s abuses are nothing compared to the mass murders and ethnic cleansings that accompanied the birth of modern Turkey. As the Ottoman Empire collapsed during World War I, ethnic Turks led by Ataturk seized control of most of Anatolia. The infamous mass murders of ethnic Armenians accompanied the Turkish campaign for independence.
 
Somewhat less well known in the West is the fact that Turkey’s creation was also accompanied by the mass expulsion of almost the entire Greek population of Anatolia. The Greeks had been living in Anatolia for thousands of years before the first Turk even stepped foot in the place. Homer was an Anatolian.
 
Western Anatolia at the beginning of the twentieth century held large areas with Greek ethnic majorities. As the Ottoman Empire fell apart, the large Greek populations declared their own independence from Turkey and their union with Greece. The areas around Smyrna and parts of Thrace, with their large Greek population, were supposed to come under Greek sovereignty in the name of self-determination.
 
             Between 1919 and 1922, Greece and Turkey fought a bloody war for Western Anatolia. No one knows how many Greeks were butchered by the Turks during the war. But the Greeks lost, and virtually the entire Greek population, many hundreds of thousands of people, were expelled en masse by Turkey from their ancestral homelands. The number of Greeks expelled from Anatolia was almost four times higher than the number of Palestinians who fled the territory that became Israel in 1948.
 
Then there is Constantinople. Greek claims to Istanbul are many times more legitimate than are any Arab claims to Jerusalem. Constantinople was always a Greek city, conquered by the Turks only in 1453. Its Greek churches were turned into mosques, and some today are Turkish museums. Turkey has never offered to internationalize the city or turn half of it over to the disenfranchised Greeks.
 
Meanwhile, an entire section of Athens consists of Greek families expelled from Smyrna (Izmir). Other residents of Athens are ethnic Greeks expelled from illegally occupied northern Cyprus.
 

Given Turkey’s history, one might think a Turkish official would think long and hard before making allegations against a country with an infinitely better track record of democracy and respect for human rights.

 

Steven Plaut is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.

About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.


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