Right-Wing Antisemitism in Turkey, 1945-1980

By Ilker Ayturk
Submitted to Session P5007 (Genocide and the Unmixing of Peoples: the Ottoman Empire and Its Aftermath, 2017 Annual Meeting
Turkish Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
At the end of the WWII in 1945, where my research begins, homegrown Turkish anti-Semites were few in number and almost all hailed from the westernizing elite. By 1980, however, my research shows that a major, both qualitative and quantitative, change had taken place: a) Anti-Semitism had now become a staple of Islamist and, to a lesser extent, nationalist political discourse, b) the number of anti-Semites had grown by leaps and bounds, c) anti-Semitism ceased to be only an elite discourse, but was now very common—to the point of being the new “normal”—at the radical right-wing grassroots. How can we explain this sea change? What accounts for the sudden growth of anti-Semitism in Turkey after 1945? This was also an unexpected development in the sense that, first, Turkey was supposedly heir to a tradition of peaceful relations with the Jews, and, second, Turkey was not home to a visible Jewish middle class, who could be blamed for all kinds of problems. Yet, this paper highlights four discursive areas where anti-Semitism was very “handy and useful” for radical right-wing ideologues. First, they could portray and condemn the Kemalist republic as a Jewish plot by turning the spotlights on the presence of the Ottoman chief rabbi at the Lausanne negotiations in 1922. Second, the conspiracy theory on Lausanne was used to beat ?smet ?nönü, who was the Turkish chief negotiator at Lausanne and, later, the chairman of the Republican People’s Party until 1972. Third, anti-Semitism served to bind all right-wing fractions against the “Red Peril” by representing the Russian Revolution and socialism elsewhere as another Jewish plot. Finally, Islamists also put anti-Semitism to use after 1965 to denounce their arch-rivals, Turkish nationalists, claiming that nationalism was imported to Turkey by Turkish Jews. All in all, the case of Turkey is an excellent example of the modularity of anti-Semitism: Born under very different conditions in 19th century Europe, anti-Semitism was transplanted to and spread in Turkey after 1945 to cater to local right-wing interests