Turkish official denies governor’s threat to turn synagogue into museum


(JTA) — A Turkish official said that a historic synagogue under renovation will not be turned into a museum as another official had threatened.

The 107-year-old Buyuk Synagogue (the Great Synagogue) in the northwestern province of Edirne will remain a “house of worship to serve all visitors,” Foundations Director General Adnan Ertem told the Anadolu Agency, Turkey’s official news agency.

Edirne’s governor, Dursun Sahin, had threatened to turn the synagogue into a museum as punishment for Israel’s alleged actions against Jerusalem’s Al-Aksa Mosque.

“When those bandits blow winds of war inside Al-Aksa and slain Muslims, we build in their synagogues. I say this with a huge hatred inside me,” Suhin said. “We clean their graveyards, send their projects to boards. The synagogue here will be registered only as a museum, and there will be no exhibition inside it.”

Ertem told reporters that it was not within Suhin’s authority to change the function of the synagogue, which the Turkish government is paying to renovate.

“All decisions regarding the functions of the buildings owned by the Directorate General of Foundations are taken by the directorate,” Ertem said. “All visitors should be able easily pray there. …  That is our intention.”

Suhin’s comments stirred controversy in Turkey and abroad.  An opposition lawmaker called for the governor’s resignation for his remarks, according to the Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey’s oldest English-language daily.

The Anti-Defamation League also issued a statement Sunday denouncing Suhin’s comments, which the group called “offensive and threatening.”

“He did not try to hide his hatred of Jews — it was clearly expressed in his public comments,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in the statement.

Foxman went on to say that “[we] urge responsible leaders at the highest levels of the Turkish government to add their voices of rejection and condemnation of these offensive and threatening comments.”

Recommended from JTA