Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

From the "Jew" of the Ottoman Empire to the "Other" of the Turkish Republic

Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

From the "Jew" of the Ottoman Empire to the "Other" of the Turkish Republic

Article excerpt

FROM THE "JEW" OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE TO THE "OTHER" OF THE TURKISH REPUBLIC

EROL HAKER, From Istanbul to Jerusalem: An Itinerary of a Young Turkish Jew, (Istanbul: Isis Press, 2003)

EROL HAKER, 93 Harbi: Tuna'da Son Osmanli Yahudileri, trans. (Ceren Elitez, Istanbul: Timas Yayinlari, 2011)

The intricate question of identity has been made more complex in the modern period by the ideology of nationalism and the rise of nation-states, and that complexity is doubled when it is associated with Jewishness. On this point, the case of Turkey is of particular importance. Although modern Turkey has risen from the ashes of a multi-national Ottoman Empire known for its tolerance of cultural and ethno- religious differences,1 the founders of modern Turkey-like those of other post- Ottoman nation-states-were often antagonistic to the Ottoman legacy, especially in the early Republican period. Consequently, what they retained from that legacy with respect to identity, citizenship, and minorities has been quite selective and pragmatic. Because the formation of modern Turkish identity is the point where all these issues juxtapose, two biographical/historical books by Erol Haker, a Turkish- born Israeli writer, provide a good place to discuss it all in a fresh light.

From Istanbul to Jerusalem: An Itinerary of a Young Turkish Jew is a vivid autobiography of a young Turkish Jew, born Elio Adato in Istanbul to a Sephardic Jewish family and, as a child, renamed Erol Haker in keeping with a Turkish-Muslim identity. It is the second book by Haker published in English as well as in Turkish.2 The first five parts of the book depict Haker's childhood from birth, through primary school (1930-1942) and college years in Istanbul (1942- 1950), to university years in Stockholm and London (1950-1954) and the period from his return to Istanbul to departure for Israel (1954-1956). The focus is on the period when his double, i.e., inborn Jewish and obtained Muslim-Turkish, identities gave rise to an identity crisis that was escalated by other personal tensions and led him to go back to his original Jewish identity and leave Turkey to make a new home in Israel. The sixth part of the book provides a personal discussion, based on Haker's own experience, of questions as to who is a Jew and what are his/her status options in Turkey, including an analysis of the possible reasons for Haker's unsuccessful attempt to become Turkish-Muslim. Three appendixes concern the Dönmes (the followers of Sabbetai Tsvi), the role of religion in the definition of the Turk and the case of the Gagauz Turks (Christian Turks). Although the book covers only the first twenty-six years of a now eighty-one-year-old writer, its power lies in the fact that its firsthand information and anecdotes make it an interesting autobiography of a young Turkish Jew as well as an important source book on Turkish-Jewish relations, minority politics and perceptions of the Turk and the Jew during the first decades of Republican Turkey.

93 Harbi: Tuna'da Son Osmanli Yahudileri, a more recent book by Haker published in Turkish,3 is a political and cultural history of the Ottoman Jews of the Tuna (Danube) province (1864-1893). Following the Ottoman-Russian War (1877- 1878), called "93 Harbi" (the War of 93) in Turkish, they came under the authority of a newly established Bulgarian principality; and some, among whom were Haker's ancestors on his mother's side (the Jews of Eskizagra), fled to Kirklareli (Eastern Thrace) in order to remain under Ottoman rule. This book, reflecting substantial advice to the author from Kemal Karpat, eminent Professor of Ottoman and Turkish history, and Zvi Keren, historian of Balkan and Ottoman Jews, is a meticulous work based on the published Responsa records and the Israelite Alliance's archival sources as well as on a number of contemporary works related to the topic. Its three parts encompass a short but fairly analytical history of the Ottoman Empire and of the general condition of its Tuna province (the districts of Nis, Vidin and Silistre), the political and cultural state of the Jewish community of the Tuna under Ottoman rule, and the political and cultural state of the former Ottoman Jews in Bulgaria. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.