The latest anti-Semitic statement in Turkey was made on November 21 by Dursun Ali Sahin, the governor of Edirne, a city in Eastern Thrace. Governor Sahin announced that because he was angry at Israel, he would turn the city's synagogue into a museum. "While those bandits [Israeli security forces] blow winds of war inside al-Aqsa and slay Muslims," he said, "we build their synagogues. I say this with a huge hatred inside me. We clean their graveyards, send their projects to boards. But the synagogue here will be registered only as a museum, and there will be no exhibitions inside it."
A view of the Great Synagogue" of Edirne, from 2010. (Image source: Wikipedia Commons/Yabancı)
In response to the uproar that followed, Governor Sahin phoned the Chief Rabbi of Turkey, Ishak Haleva, to apologize and, according to the newspaper, Salom, said his statements had been misunderstood and distorted by the media.
The Director General of the General Directorate of Foundations, Adnan Ertem, then said that the synagogue would, after all, remain a house of worship.
More shocking, however, is the demographic makeup of Edirne's current population.
Before the Turkish Republic was established in 1923, the Jewish population of Edirne, for centuries a home to Jews, was 13,000, as reported in the detailed essay "The Jews of Edirne," by Rifat Bali, an independent scholar specializing in the history of Turkish Jewry. But by 1998, Edirne had three Jews left: Yasef Romano, who was born in 1938, and Rifat and Sara Miftani, a couple who owned a shop there.
Today, the current Jewish population of Edirne is two.
The Jewish presence in Edirne dates back to early Byzantine times, during the rule of Roman Emperor Theodosius I (reigned 379-395 CE). During the Ottoman Empire, Edirne -- home to many Jewish intellectuals, scientists, musicians, publishers and merchants -- was as central to Jews as Constantinople (Istanbul) and Thessaloniki.
The "Turkification" of Turkey: Anti-Semitic Attacks against Jews during the Early Years of the New Republic:In January 1923, provoked by a series of anti-Semitic pieces published in the Pasaeli newspaper in Edirne, residents of Edirne gathered in the city center and shouted, "Your turn to leave this country will come, too! Jews, get out!" After the police were barely able to prevent attacks against Jewish shops, Jews who lived in small towns, such as Babaeski, moved to big cities, such as Istanbul.Later that year, in December 1923, the Jewish community of several hundred living in Corlu, in Eastern Thrace, was ordered to leave the town within 48 hours. Although the decision was delayed at the request of the Chief Rabbi, a similar order, given to the Jews in Catalca, a town in Istanbul, was applied immediately.
The reason for the anger was clear: Within the Turkification campaign of the new Republic, Armenians and Greeks had been eliminated, but Jews, who were successful merchants, remained.