Once, long ago, Muslim Turkey gave asylum to Dona Gracia HaNasi, the noble and generous leader of the Jews who had fled from Christian Spain and Portugal. Dona Gracia, a widow, was the wealthiest Jew of her time and, after living in Italy, found final refuge in Constantinople in 1552. Some wealthy Jews still live in Turkey today—yes, despite the bombing of two Turkish synagogues in 2003. I wonder how safe they are and for how long.
As to women? Locked up in harems—but if they were lucky/most unlucky, perhaps in the Sultan’s own harem or seraglio. For example, in 1784, a French girl, Aimee Dubucq de Rivery, was kidnapped on the open seas by Algerian pirates who sold her into the Turkish Sultan’s harem. Aimee became known as “Naksh,” The Beautiful One, for her fair skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair. Improbably, incredibly, Aimee became the mother of the next Sultan, whose name was Sultan Mahmoud II, the Reformer. Some see the influence of the Sultan Valideh (The Veiled Sultan) in Selim’s letter of friendship to King Louis XVI—and in other pro-European gestures and customs.
As a matter of historical fact, the Turks have a long and bloody history of cruelty and genocide. They colonized the entire Middle East, forced conversions or murdered those who resisted. Islamic gender and religious apartheid flourished.
To this day, the Turks continue to deny the Armenian genocide. And, the days of Kemal Ataturk are long gone. In the early 1920s, Ataturk imposed a secular democracy upon the Islamists and unveiled the women. Now, the Islamists are winning again: Women are veiling, honor killings are on the rise (both in Turkey and among Turks in Europe). Recently, a father and grandfather heartlessly buried a 16-year-old daughter and granddaughter alive for the “crime” of presumably talking to boys. I have also written about a great Turkish feminist hero, my friend Seyran Ates, here; Ates was shot for her work among Turkish immigrant girls and women in Berlin. Her 15-year-old client died. Ates, a lawyer, was left for dead—but miraculously survived.
And we nearly admitted Turkey into the European Union. One wonders if they would have intensified their anti-Israel Islamism had they been accepted as “Europeans,” or whether their candidacy was merely a calculated move in tandem with pre-existing pro-Iranian plans. For years, Turkey has opposed sanctioning Iran for its nuclear program. Turkey was among the first to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his re-election victory. During 2009, Turkey improved its economic ties to Iran.
I am waiting for the United Nations and for the United States to condemn this unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation.