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28 July, 2002, Turkish Probe issue 496, Copyright © Turkish Daily News


The Sabbatean myth revived at a political turning point


Are you being watched? How do you know you aren't? The fact that you are paranoid doesn't mean somebody is not watching you. Conspiracies abound at times of turmoil; some of them turn out to be facts, while some truths remain in the dark, some are false and some forgotten. In any case it's an intriguing timing to trigger a new debate on unconfirmed stories of the Sabbateans in Turkey


By Elif Kelebek



Politics never takes the backseat in Turkey. Because of its much-fragmented structure, the political scene is always apt to give way to sensations, including at times when the country least needs it, like the critical phase of an economic program or a turning point for European Union affairs.

As the country now moves fast towards an early election now, it is engulfed by speculations over the plans of key political figures, scenarios on the possible consequences of their actions, prophecy about the possible election outcome and eventually the post-election government structure, but these debates are not the center of concern here.

On the periphery of all this talk, arguments that have faded out sometime ago are once more coming to life. These arguments are of the kind that would fascinate the public like a grand conspiracy theory and have most coincidentally reemerged at a time when election campaigns are set to take off.

Ilgaz Zorlu, the author of the once hype book "Yes, I Am a Salonikan," is the one who raised the allegations in a recent interview with pro-Islamist magazine Gercek Hayat (Real Life). Zorlu has asserted that people of a mystic Jewish sect, already holding very key positions in the state, would come to power in Turkey, naming Ismail Cem, Kemal Dervis, Rahsan Ecevit among the members, none of whom publicly denied the allegations.

Zorlu, who managed to reclaim his Jewish identity a few years back at the end of a toilsome struggle, was a Sabbatean himself and revealed the secrets of this group in Turkey in his book. The reason he wrote the book in the first place, he says, was to win acceptance from the mainstream Jewish community and from Israel both for himself and the Sabbateans in Turkey.

Sabbateans take their name from the self-proclaimed messiah of the 17th century, Shabatai Zvi. Following Zvi, who ultimately chose conversion over death, the Sabbateans converted to Islam but continued to practice Judaism in secret. Salonika has been a major center for the sect until the exchange in 1924 when Zorlu argues that most people (some 25,000) Turkey welcomed as Muslim Turks expelled from Greece were in fact members of this community.

Turkey's Sabbateans have remained secretive as they were somewhat disliked by both Jews and Muslims, but maintained their beliefs and traditions. Until 1950s they only married among themselves and their children would find out about their Sabbatean origin only after the age of 18. Therefore many truths about the sect are still unknown and the veil of secrecy has added to the legends surrounding the community.

Most people who Zorlu claimed in his book to be Sabbateans denied this identity because of historic concerns, mainly the mistreatment of Jews throughout history. The closest example was his grandmother who refused to reveal her beliefs and continued to do her prayers secretly because of, for example, a wealth tax imposed on non-Muslims during the republican era in Turkey and the tendency among the overwhelmingly Muslim populace to isolate non-Muslims from the community.

Zorlu's claims were most interesting because he named the most prominent families, politicians, diplomats, journalists, businessmen among the members of the sect, only a few of whom later on admitted to being Sabbateans. He filed documented evidence at various court cases to prove his allegations and his claims were backed by leading pro-Islamist writers like Mehmet Sevki Eygi and Abdurrahman Dilipak.

Zorlu assets that Sabbateans in Turkey, which he estimates around some 100,000 now, all wealthy and well-educated, are socially, politically and economically supporting each other and also enjoying support from the Jewish lobby in the U.S. Both Zorlu and Eygi have suggested that the members of this sect are very powerful and are holding influential positions in the state and business world.

Despite their extremely different backgrounds, these two sides strangely meet on a common ground when it comes to criticizing the covert Sabbatean community in Turkey: Islamists are worried about the power of and the strong bonds among this group, probably regarding them as a threat to their own existence, while Zorlu criticizes his community for exaggerating secularism in Turkey, which Sabbateans are known to have contributed significantly through organized action under the Union and Progress Party in early 1900s.

Most recently in an interview to Jerusalem Report Ilgaz Zorlu suggested that Tansu Ciller, leader of the True Path Party (DYP) was a Sabbatean. He claims, on documented evidence, Ismail Cem and Kemal Dervis, the two key figures of the new political formation now called the "New Turkey" party, are also Sabbateans, as well as Rahsan Ecevit, who he says have always had a distance with Husamettin Ozkan, the third key figure of New Turkey, because he wasn't of the same origin.

Zorlu suggests that if it wasn't for his Sabbatean origins, Dervis could never become an independent cabinet minister without political responsibility, a theory which would delight those who have sought a conspiracy behind Dervis's unusual appointment as economy minister from a World Bank post in the U.S. last year. Dervis is now a figure seen as a vote booster for any political party he may choose to join.

Ilgaz Zorlu further claims that Rahsan Ecevit, who actually rules the Democratic Left Party although she's not a deputy and doesn't hold an official post in the government, will become president once Chief of Staff Huseyin Kivrikoglu's term expires on August 30. He argues that there are Sabbateans in senior military ranks to support this turnover, but refuses to name them. Sukru Sina Gurel, who is viewed a potential successor for Bulent Ecevit in the Democratic Left Party, is one of the people Zorlu counts among Sabbateans. Can Paker, chairman of the prominent non-governmental organization Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), is another.

"Rahsan Ecevit is like Golda Meir. Her attitude and ideology is the same. The way Golda Meir was a totalitarian and disrespectful of democracy in defending the elimination of the entire Arab world for the salvation of Israel, Ms. Ecevit accommodates the same thinking for Islamists," Zorlu has told Gercek Hayat.

"Don't underestimate Ms. Ecevit because she's 81 years old. There are people who are younger than 70 and she chewed them like gum," he said, recalling what he described as a famous statement of her after Ismet Inonu was toppled from the Republican People's Party (CHP) leadership in 1972 and Bulent Ecevit took over the post.

"'I took the revenge of the wealth tax,' she said."


Ankara - Turkish Daily News  


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