Turkey Will Not Bow to Terrorism
by By Henry Levy
Turkish Consul General to New York, Omer Onhon, in an exclusive interview with The Jewish Post spoke of the recent terrorist bombings in Turkey, the reaction of his countymen, Turkey's ongoing relationship with the Jewish people and Israel and their commitment to fight terrorism.
Turkey is not new to acts of terror taking place on its soil. They have had to confront for years the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] and Armenian terror groups who have murdered thousands of innocent people throughout their country. The Neve Shalom Synagogue had been bombed on two prior occasions as well. There were Turkish guards in front of both the Neve Shalom and Beth Israel Synagogues when suicide car bombers caused death and destruction during Sabbath services November 7, 2003. According to Mr. Onhan the Turkish government and various organizations are cooperating to repair the damage to the synagogues. Even though these first two attacks were against Jewish synagogues, it is officially looked at as attacks against Turkish citizens, and places of worship of Turkish citizens, be it a synagogue, mosque or church. He said, "Ninety eight percent of Turkish citizens are Muslim [out of about 70 million people] and there are about 25,000 Jews as part of the other two percent.". Although the Turkish people follow the Koran they also consider the Old and New Testaments and their prophets as holy to themselves as well. "The important thing is peaceful coexistence and tolerance between religions and faiths . the Ottoman Empire was a perfect example of this ability for everyone to worship as they wish," he said. In fact in 1492 when the Jews were expelled from Spain, the Ottoman Empire welcomed them. Since then Turks and Jews have had a special relationship.
Following the initial bombings there were approximately 27 people killed and out of that number 6 were Jewish and the rest Muslim. In the second bomb attacks at the British Consulate and the HSBC Bank about 25 died, 4 British and the rest Muslim. So out of 54 deaths, 6 were Jews, 4 Christians and 44 Muslim . this is a very significant fact. Onhan said, "Those terrorists claim to be acting on behalf of religion or God and we totally reject it. According to Islam, the true Islam that we believe in, it is a religion of tolerance and coexistence and a religion of peace. So committing crimes in the name of religion is the worst thing you can do against religion . it is a crime against religion."
Consul General Onhan went on to say that his country was very familiar with the terrorist groups claiming responsibility for these attacks. They are the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front and the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades. In fact prior to the bombings Turkey requested that the European Union declare these groups officially as terror groups and their request was denied. Onhan confirmed this and added: "First of all we must say that terrorism is not a problem of only one country - it has become global and is an international problem. Some countries in the past believe that by closing a blind eye on the terrorists they can make themselves safe and will be immune to terrorism but that is a big mistake." It was pointed out by Gloria Starr Kins of The Jewish Post that this is exactly what the Saudi's have done. Also that a main goal of the terrorists is to gain control of Mecca and control the whole Islamic world. Mr. Onhan reiterated that the countries can not escape terrorism by trying to distance themselves from terrorists. Also that terrorists get support by countries sponsoring them, providing weapons, logistics and they finance themselves by money laundering, drug trafficking and trafficking in human beings so we can not just deal with those people that toss bombs but we must cut off all the arms of their organizations.
The countries that have so far suffered from terrorism the most, according to Onhan, are Turkey, Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom and it is nothing new that these countries exchange information. Three of these countries are NATO allies and Turkey has special relations with Israel and cooperates with other countries as well to combat terrorism including Arab and European countries.
Eventhough Turkey has been fighting terrorists for decades and has developed security measures in this regard there is no failsafe method to do this. Even Israel with all of its methods can only do so much. They are on alert 365 days a year and still can not stop every suicide bomber. It must do whatever it can to minimize the damage.
The closest situation Turkey faced similar to Israel's suicide bombers was about eight years ago when a PKK militant carried bombs on her body and threw herself at a force of security officers killing five or six of them. They also experienced bombings but nothing similar to these recent attacks.
When questioned whether one of the aims of the terror groups was to push Turkey back towards fundamental Islamic traditions and away from its ties to the West, Mr. Onhan replied: "There are many objectives of the terror groups. For example Turkey is a modern, democratic, Western oriented society, and I'm not saying we are forgetting our roots . and there are of course groups that do not like this very much and want to see instability in Turkey. Secondly to disturb the harmony in Turkey for example between the Muslims and Jews. The third thing is to create fear among the population and to intimidate the population but they are not going to achieve those objectives." He added that the Turkish economy would not be affected by two or three bombs and eventhough there might be a slight effect on tourismTurkey really is a safe country. There were over 12 million tourists visiting there last year and it was the second most popular destination for Israeli tourists after the U.S. They feel themselves very safe there. Also there is a great value for the money, it's an exotic country and very close geographically to Israel.
Consul General Onhan reminded us that Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize the State of Israel and they now have a really special relationship with Israel.
"we share the same values and we have cooperation with them in so many fields, military, economic issues, learning irrigation techniques . it's a multi faceted relationship based on mutual interests," he said. During the recent Islamic Conference, Turkey was the only Muslim country that defended Israel. Their Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul made a statement reminding everyone that Islam is a religion of tolerance and peace and they should do whatever they can to foster this point of view.
When asked if there are any Turkish people blaming Israel, America or Britain for the bombings he said that our countries are very much alike in this respect. "Turkey, as a democracy has people expessing various points of view just as America has its demonstations against the war in Iraq. The common denominator among the Turkish people now is that there is this anger and frustration and deep shock about those attacks. But if you ask why this happened some will say fundamentalists try to destabilize Turkey, some will say it is the fault of the United States because it is connected to Iraq. But the basic fact is that we have been the target of terror and we are not going to be intimidated by it.That is the most important thing."
Mr. Onhan reinforced that recent events were not, as far as his country was concerned, a wake up call to confront terror. Turkey has been vigilant for years and about one and a half years ago eliminated the leadership of its Islamic militant group. "9/11 was a wake up call for all the world," he said. What happened in Turkey was that we have been living the same nightmare of fighting terrorists for decades, in the form of PKK of religious fanatics or any form but as long as they are committing terror acts and planting the seeds of hatred they are enemies of the state because they are acting against the constitution and the Turkish security forces are pursuing them.
When asked how the Turkish people feel about Palestinian suicide attacks against Israelis he responded by referring to the frustration and great anger his people felt when the attacks occurred in Istanbul that caused innocent people to be killed. He continued by saying that "whenever suicide attacks happen in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem or Haifa and innocent people died we feel the same pain and sorrow and it is also terrorism. Now 9/ 11 was also terrorism. There is nothing in the world that can legitimize terrorism. Nothing. There is no way that one can convince any person in his right mind that what he is doing [killing innocent people, women and children] is the right thing to do."
He said it is perfectly fine to discuss the Israeli/Palestinian conflict - about whether the Israelis or Palestinians are doing the right thing, about which is the best way to achieve peace. Everyone in Turkey has an opinion on this. Some people in Israel agree with Sharon and support him to the end while others may disagree saying why do we have settlements in Gaza. Let's dismantle them and we will have no problems anymore. The Turks also have different opinions however political points of view are quite different from terrorism. A person claiming to act on behalf of his conviction - goes into a bus and kills many people - there is no way Turks can accept it - it's terrorism.
In discussing the reaction of religious leaders to these events Mr. Onhan said that in New York at the Friday prayers at certain Turkish mosques the Imam talks to the crowd on a particular subject. After the attacks the subject was terrorism. Also the week after the attacks Mr. Onhan was invited to the Park East Synagogue for a memorial service for those that were killed. And at another New York synagogue he attended services with 50 other Turks, 250 Jews and an Imam was with them who prayed for those that died. "The terrorists are trying to distance people from each other . trying to create animosity between them but what they are really doing is causing the opposite result. Those things are bringing people like us a lot closer to each other," he said.
Onhan continued, "The beauty of friendship between Turkey and Israel for example is that we can talk openly with each other. We don't have to agree on every single topic. Relations between Jews and Turks and Turkey and Israel is something special. It really is. The harmony between different faiths can not be disturbed. A symbolic and significant example of this is that when someone dies we drape the coffin with prayers but when someone dies for the country by law a Turkish flag is draped over the coffin and the funerals of the six Jews that died in Istanbul bombings, with the request and blessing of the Chief Rabbi of Istanbul, had their coffins draped in the Turkish flag. This is very significant. Our message to the world was - they may be Jewish but they are our citizens - they are Turks and they died for their country. This is how we see them."
Consul General Onhan concluded by saying, "Turkey has been hit by terrorism four times in a week and we lost our people in those attacks. Turkey will not bow to terrorism. That is the message.What is needed is international solidarity and cooperation to effectively battle the menace of terrorism."
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