(By Our Constantinople Correspondent)
The renunciation of the national minority rights by the Turkish Jewish notables, who, according to the news broadcasted to the world, adopted this decision unanimously and of their own accord, is declared in some well-informed circles here, to be in reality a measure forced upon the Jews by the Turkish government with the aim of bringing about the complete “Turkanization” of the Jews in this country, and of using the Jews as a tool for coercing the Greek and Armenian minorities into submission. Moreover, these circles point out that in return for the surrender of their minority rights the Jews were not only denied all their demands in regard to the reorganization of the Turkish Jewish community, but were deprived of rights and privileges hitherto enjoyed. In proof of this, certain facts and developments in the course of the negotiations between the Jewish representatives and Angora are pointed to as incontrovertible evidence.
When the organization commission of the Jewish Communities first presented an outline for the reorganization of the Turkish Jewish community to the Angora government, the latter refused categorically to consider it, declaring that it was ready to negotiate only in regard to certain technical questions relating to the organization of the Jewish population of Constantinople. The peculiar geographical situation of Constantinople and the manner in which the Jews are settled in the various parts of the city makes it essential that an organization of the Jewish community should be in a measure decentralized. Realizing this, the Jewish commission in its outline provided, however, for a central body representative of the separate communities in the city. This too was rejected by the government. Following that the government informed the commission that the right of taxation could not be entrusted to any non-State organization, and when it was requested that the obligatory dues of the members of the Jewish community should be raised to the sum stipulated by the Turkish law relative to membership in societies, this, too, was refused.
On the other hand, the government showed itself willing to allow the communities–the individual communities in the various parts of Constantinople and not the central community–to institute a tax on meat, and to have the privilege of baking and selling matzohs for Passover. But even in regard to this all assistance from the government was denied. In this way the only remaining possibility was an unjust and unbearable tax on the impoverished Jewish population. And, whereas hitherto certain rights were vested in the Chief Rabbinate, which was assured of a regular income of funds from which various Jewish institutions unable to support themselves were assisted, now, with the practical abolition of the Chief Rabbinate this support for religious and cultural institutions has been made uncertain in many cases and impossible in others.
What is no less amazing is the effort of the government to intrude not only into the activities of the Jewish communities but to disturb even the dead. It will from now on be forbidden to bury Jews in a Jewish cemetery. The Europeanized Turkey has created municipal cemeteries with subdivisions for the various religions. In justification of its new policy the government presents the spurious and ridiculous reason that the Chevrah Kadischah (Jewish burial society) has no right to charge for its services. Such charges, according to the government, should go rather to the city. This being applicable to well-to-do persons, the Chevrah Kadischah will be allowed to bury the poor at its own cost. In no European state, including Bolshevist Russia, which is opposed to religion in principle, has an effort been made to interfere in this way in the internal affairs of the religious communities.
These facts, coupled with the divestment of practically all the rights formerly had by the Chief Rabbinate are seen as undeniable indications of where the policy of the Turkish government is leading. It should also be noted that the language question has been settled by the Turkish government in a manner of intolerance which even Poland and Roumania have not reached. The use of any but the Turkish language in the proceedings of the Jewish communities has been categorically prohibited.
In view of all this, declare those who are opposed to the action of the Turkish Jewish notables, what becomes of the promises which the government is said to have made in return for the renunciation by the Jews of the minority rights? The attitude of the Turkish government is interpreted as something to this effect: When you Turkish Jews will have become completely “Turkanized” we will see to it, if conditions will be favorable, that equal rights should be granted you. In the meantime, at any rate, there can be no thought of abolishing the restrictions which apply to non-Mohammedans in regard to government and public institutions (seventy-five per cent of all officials and employees in public and government organizations must be Turks, which according to the interpretation of the government, means Mohammedans.)
It is charged that a small group of assimilated Jews were responsible for the hard and uncompromising tone adopted by the government in its negotiations with the Jews. This group is headed by one Ferid Asseo Bey, whom the Jewish assembly refused to elect on the committee which was to negotiate with the government. Ferrid Asseo Bey, however, made it his business to play a role and found other ways to Angora, so that when the Jewish committee arrived there they found him in the office of the Minister. There are grounds to believe that this Ferrid Asseo Bey and his group were the ones who formulated the attitude of the government.
The group of which Ferid Asseo Bey is the leader, and of which it is said some leading representatives of Turkish Jewry are members, has created a “Judaeo-Turque” organization which has set for itself the aim not of doing philanthropic work or assisting the suffering Jews of Eastern Europe but to collect a fund of $80,000 to be given to the Turkish government for the building of its air-fleet.
Things would take a different turn and the question of the national minority rights would have been decided in a different way, it is pointed out, had the Jewish population of Turkey been given an opportunity to express its attitude.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.