On May 13, 2014 there was a terrible explosion in a Turkish mine, 8 miles away from Soma (popl. c. 25,000), a small town in the district of Manisa in the Aegean region of Turkey. It was one of the worst tragedies in modern Turkey that claimed the life of 302 individuals. When the Turkish prime-minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan visited the area, he was confronted by an angry mob. During the melee, the PM confronted someone in the group, and reportedly said something like “What the f. do you think you are running to? O Israeli scum (“İsrail Dölü”).” Except that the word translated here as “scum” in English has a vulgar sexual connotation in Turkish. This is the same Erdogan who, during the 2009 World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, gave a short talk accusing Israel of indiscriminately murdering Palestinian children, and walked out of the dais, leaving behind a totally surprised Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, as well as other members of the panel.
The scandal of Soma affected Turkish citizens deeply; they are demanding whether or not there was a cover up for criminal negligence on the part of mine’s owner and manager. It also shocked the dwindling Jewish population (now at c. 17, 000) in Turkey, fearing that this could be the beginning of a new anti-Jewish wave by other Turks.
The Turkish friends with whom I am in touch are terribly upset. Some stated that they need to apologize to their Jewish neighbors for this unacceptable slur. Can you imagine any Western political leader saying something similar, and getting away with it? No way! He/she would be out of a job the next day! This time Erdogan showed his real face when he uttered those despicable words.
There are anti-semites everywhere, but I do not consider all Turks anti-Jewish or anti-Israel. I did not experience anti-Jewish attacks when I was in law school or when I was in the Turkish military (I was an officer in the tank corps and a member of military court). I still have dear friends there who are Muslim. Does that mean that Turkey is devoid of prejudice? No. I remember when I was child, my mother and I were on a boat crossing the Bosphorus, and as usual we were speaking among ourselves in Ladino, when an obnoxious guy approached us and yelled, “Jew, speak Turkish!” I was in shock. But I also recall that during Easter we never went by a Greek Orthodox Church for fear that Greek thugs would come out to beat us kids because “we killed Christ.”
The Turkish government has started an investigation of this tragic event. I hope they will discover the real cause of the fire, take precautions so that it does not happen again, punish the culprits, and learn how to confront people, especially the mourners, with dignity and respect.
As to Erdogan, I hope this is the end of the rope for him. He must apologize and perhaps leave politics to those who are better than him. Will this happen? I don’t know. He is still very popular among many people….
Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D.