Turkey has been at the center of the now infamous flotilla incident involving a Hamas-connected Turkish “NGO” which attempted to run an Israeli naval blockade off the coast of Gaza. The flotilla was supported financially by Hamas and peopled primarily by their Turkish allies. It was purportedly seeking to transport 10,000 tons of humanitarian supplies to Gaza. But in fact, Israel supplies Gaza with 15,000 tons of food, medicines, and related humanitarian support every week. There seems to be more here than meets the eye.
Turkey remains a prime transit route for Southwest Asian heroin into Western Europe. International trafficking organizations that operate within the country, from Ankara to Istanbul and beyond, excel at evading narcotics blockades and interdicts. With all the focus on Turks sailing towards the Hamas seas, defying Israel’s determined effort to bar delivery of military weapons and material to the terrorist government that runs Gaza, one wonders how genteel Turkey’s own internal borders have been. Does her treatment of religious and ethnic minorities model Western humanitarian values? Consider Turkey’s treatment of her Armenian, Catholic, and Kurdish minorities.
Adolf Hitler, a personal friend and ally of Grand Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini, the founder of modern-day Palestinian Arab nationalism, said in 1939: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Certainly not Istanbul. For nearly a century, Turkey steadfastly has refused to acknowledge their barbaric genocide between 1915-1918 of 1,500,000 Armenian men, women, and children. Turkey will not apologize or even acknowledge the genocide they perpetrated, assuring that one of the most heinous war crimes of the twentieth century festers unresolved. American President Theodore Roosevelt contemporaneously wrote in 1918: “[T]he Armenian massacre was the greatest crime of the war, and the failure to act against Turkey is to condone it…[T]he failure to deal radically with the Turkish horror means that all talk of guaranteeing the future peace of the world is mischievous nonsense.” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said: “In 1915 the Turkish Government began and ruthlessly carried out the infamous general massacre and deportation of Armenians in Asia Minor…There is no reasonable doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons.” In 1981, Ronald Reagan urged in a Presidential proclamation that the lessons of the Nazi Holocaust never be forgotten “like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it.”
Throughout the week, Israel has acknowledged and publicly regretted the loss of human life due to the flotilla incident, even as Israel has explained why she must continue blockading Gaza – namely, because recent experience has evidenced again and again that Hamas supporters will not stop trying to ship rockets, grenades, and anti-tank missiles to Israel’s bordering enemies to launch terror assaults against Jewish civilian communities. Meanwhile, Turkey still denies the Armenian Genocide ever happened.
As for the country’s Catholics, Bishop Luigi Padovese, a Roman Catholic bishop, was stabbed to death in Turkey on Thursday shortly before he was scheduled to depart for nearby Cyprus to meet with Pope Benedict XVI. Three years ago, three missionaries’ throats were cut out in central Turkey. Their deaths were meant to send a message. The men were disemboweled, and “their intestines sliced up in front of their eyes. They were emasculated and watched as those body parts were destroyed…Fingers were chopped off…Noses and mouths and anuses were sliced open.” One was stabbed 156 times, another 99 times, and their “throats were sliced from ear to ear,” according to International Christian Concern, an American organization based in Washington, D.C. There is no record of sorrow from Rachel Corrie backers or the IHH.
Under the Turkish Constitution enacted by Kemal Ataturk nearly a century ago, ethnic minorities were barred from expressing cultural distinctiveness in Turkey. Thus, even as the United States is home to many foreign-language television and radio stations, the Kurdish language was absolutely banned in 1991. Expressions of Kurdish nationalism continue to be repressed; Kurds in Turkey are restricted from giving their children Kurdish names. Turkey has moved closer to the governments of Syria and Iran in dealing with Kurdish nationalism. In 1995, Leyla Zana, the first Kurdish woman ever elected to Turkish parliament, was sentenced to fifteen years incarceration for “separatist speech,” and her political party was barred. While she was incarcerated in Turkish prison, the European Parliament awarded her the Sakharov Prize in Human Rights. (By contrast, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset was aboard the Gaza flotilla and returned safely to Parliament after the it was stopped.) In the 1990s, the Turkish government was spending some $8 billion annually deploying 300,000 troops in southeastern Turkey to suppress Kurdish nationalism. For numerical perspective, consider that President Obama announced last week that he is dispatching 1,200 National Guard troops to provide administrative support along the porous American border with Mexico.
Turkey killed approximately 25,000 Kurds in the mid-1990s, destroying some 3,000 Kurdish villages during the effort to repress Kurdish nationalism and producing more than 2,000,000 Kurdish refugees. According to Minority Rights Group International, in a report funded by the European Union, as many as 40% of Kurdish women in Turkey are illiterate and nearly half the children of Kurdish refugees receive no education. In addition, the government obstructs Armenian and Greek minorities’ school educational efforts. The Turkish war against the Kurds is so visceral that it threatened Turkey’s willingness to join with American troops against Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda in neighboring Iraq. In an official EU 2006 “Progress Report” on Turkey’s fitness for acceptance in the European Union, it was concluded inter alia that “Turkey [still] needs to significantly improve the situation of fundamental rights in a number of areas and address the problems that minorities are facing.”
Now that the world has been talking Israel for the past week, slowly coming to understand more fully why Israel needs to protect her borders from Hamas state-sponsored terrorism in Gaza, it seems it’s time to talk Turkey.
Dov Fischer is a legal affairs consultant and adjunct professor of the law of civil procedure and advanced torts. He was formerly Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review and writes extensively on political, cultural, and religious issues. He is author of General Sharon’s War Against Time Magazine and blogs at www.rabbidov.com