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0253005264
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9780253005267
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Jewish Life in Twenty-First-Century Turkey: The Other Side of Tolerance

Jewish Life in Twenty-First-Century Turkey: The Other Side of Tolerance

by Marcy Brink-Danan

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Overview

Turkey is famed for a history of tolerance toward minorities, and there is a growing nostalgia for the "Ottoman mosaic." In this richly detailed study, Marcy Brink-Danan examines what it means for Jews to live as a tolerated minority in contemporary Istanbul. Often portrayed as the "good minority," Jews in Turkey celebrate their long history in the region, yet they are subject to discrimination and their institutions are regularly threatened and periodically attacked. Brink-Danan explores the contradictions and gaps in the popular ideology of Turkey as a land of tolerance, describing how Turkish Jews manage the tensions between cosmopolitanism and patriotism, difference as Jews and sameness as Turkish citizens, tolerance and violence.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253005267
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 12/06/2011
Series: New Anthropologies of Europe
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 242
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Marcy Brink-Danan is Dorot Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Brown University.

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Jewish Life in 21st-Century Turkey

The Other Side of Tolerance


By Marcy Brink-Danan

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2012 Marcy Brink-Danan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35690-1



CHAPTER 1

Tolerance, Difference, and Citizenship


As Turkey continues its half-century march toward joining the European Union, its Jews have been singled out as living proof of Turkey's fulfillment of the Union's "recognition of diversity" criterion. Public efforts toward "recognition of diversity," however imperfectly matched with celebrations of national and pan-European identity, have become a pillar of European self-definition (Soysal, Bertilotti, and Mannitz 2005:27). Jews, particularly, occupy a central role in European claims to cosmopolitanism, especially as a foil against cries of intolerance made by other differentiated citizens and their champions (Peck 2006:154–174). Playing their part in international arenas, Jews regularly proclaim Turkey's eternal hospitality and tolerance for difference to a global audience as counterpoint to European politicians' regular criticisms of Turkey's treatment of Armenians, Kurds, and Islamists. This shift on the part of Turkish Jews—from a quiet, assimilating posture to a more public performance of difference—marks a change in the way they represent themselves and is but one reflection of the myriad ways in which Turkey's European Union overtures, its rapprochement with Israel and the United States, and other global political shifts have set the stage for Jews to stand symbolically for the tolerated Other. Istanbul, home to the vast majority—over 90 percent (Tuval 2004:xxxiii)—of Turkey's Jews, is the obvious theater for the Jewish community to perform this role.

As stages for cosmopolitanism, urban centers capitalize on the symbolic power of the city to trump the nation-state context, especially in the public imagination (Örs 2006:81). Istanbul's re-signification echoes trends across Europe's urban landscapes, in places such as Berlin (Peck 2006), Krakow (Kugelmass and Orla-Bukowska 1998), and Vienna (Bunzl 2003), where Jewish museums, musical performances, and memorials are key sites through which cities enact their tolerance of diversity. Gruber notes,

More than half a century after the Holocaust, an apparent longing for lost Jews—or for what Jews are seen to represent—is also evident. In a trend that developed with powerful momentum in the 1980s and accrued particular force after the fall of communism in 1989–90, Europeans ... have stretched open their arms to embrace a Jewish component back into the social, political, historical, and cultural mainstream. (2002:4)


To be a European city, it seems, is to "have" Jews. Those who are aware of the history of Jews in the Ottoman Empire and in Turkey are generally able to repeat a story of Ottoman welcome and Turkish tolerance. Although there is long-standing debate about the relative tolerance of Christian and Islamic regimes, many assume that the Turkish tolerance discourse is natural, given the striking contrast between the relatively peaceful experience of Jews in the empire (and under Islam more broadly) and the sometimes blood-stained history of Jews in Eastern Europe (see Cohen 1994; Bat Ye'or 1985). Ottoman and Turkish Jews never lived in ghettos and were never persecuted in a wholesale manner. Ottoman political structure had a place for them as a tolerated minority; further, Jews became full citizens with the shift to a secular republic.

But how did Jews come to engender the role of the good minority in today's discussions about Turkish qualifications (or lack thereof) for candidacy in the European Union? The process of becoming a good minority reflects a dedicated campaign of self-representation among Turkish Jews that has been sustained over decades (if not centuries, if we consider Jews' desire to be "good Ottomans"; see Cohen 2008). One group that has taken responsibility for building representations of Turkish Jews as a good minority has been the Quincentennial Foundation (QF), an organization formed in the 1980s to commemorate the five-hundred-year anniversary of the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 (see also Baer 2000; Mallet 2008).

Historians invoke the term "a usable past" (Roskies 1999) to describe how individuals, communities, and nations seek to interpret the past in light of current concerns and future desires. The QF has publicly resurrected the memory of the Spanish expulsion and the legacy of Jewish life in the Ottoman Empire. As I noted in the preface, through conducting research in the archives of the American Branch of the QF, held at the Sephardi Federation in New York, I was privileged to learn how a group of Turkish Jews and Muslims has interpreted the story of Turkish Jewry and disseminated it to an audience largely ignorant of this history.

In this vein, this chapter describes the ongoing invocation of Ottoman tolerance among Turkish Jews in Istanbul today observable across the sites of the QF's activity, including in academia, heritage tourism and, most enduringly, in the creation and maintenance of a Jewish museum in Istanbul. By engaging with the tolerance discourse, my purpose is neither to congratulate nor to demonize Turkey, nor is it to offer a comparison of regimes that have been "good" or "bad" for the Jews. I do not see the mythologization of the Ottoman past or of Turkish tolerance as a question of false or true representation; instead, I see it as a strategy for the management of diversity (Barkey 2008:27), illuminating the way Turkish Jews' self-representations are shot through with tensions that invite ethnographic observation and analysis.


The Quincentennial Foundation: The Official Story of Turkish Jewry

Over a decade of fieldwork engagement with Turkish Jews, I observed that members of this community were acutely aware of their history, repeating the number "five hundred" like a mantra intoning the years that have passed since their expulsion from Spain. The expulsion is commonly invoked in discussions of Sephardic culture and in performance. For example, a half-dozen music groups sing in Judeo-Spanish at concerts around the city and for community affairs. These performances inevitably mention the five-hundred-year inhabitation of Jews in the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey; such references are often pro forma, as even mentioning the number "five hundred" around community members is destined to draw a certain amount of weary eye-rolling.

Nineteen ninety-two was not the first time Turkish Jews undertook celebrations with a patriotic public face and struggled with the tensionsthis process created. Between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, historiography of the Ottoman Jews was largely hagiographic, applauding the tolerance and the beneficence of the Ottoman sultans. One reason offered for this consistency in representation is that historians of the Ottoman Empire once largely relied on a small sample of the same sources, namely the chronicles of Elijah Capsali and Joseph Sambari (Mallet 2008:62). Celebrations of the four hundredth year of Ottoman Jewish life choreographed performances of loyalty, as Jews aimed to represent themselves as model Ottoman patriots, at home in the empire and abroad: "Ottoman Jews found that the centenary offered them a means through which they could endeavor to reinforce their relationship to their state, and to fashion themselves new as Ottomans" (Cohen 2008:95). Claiming a direct link to the centennial celebrations of the past, a journalist for Salom, the Turkish Jewish newspaper, announced in 1982 that an event should be scheduled for the five hundredth anniversary, modeled on what had been done in 1892 (Mallet 2008:457).

Nineteen ninety-two was marked around the globe by commemorations (and critiques) of Columbus's journeys. For Turkish Jewry, this year was a time for them to reassert, as Abraham Galante (a Turkish Jewish patriot and intellectual) had in the 1930s, that "Turks and Jews are as indivisible as fingernails and fingers" (Mallet 2008:7). The QF's claim that Turkey's national spirit is infused with a cosmopolitan regard for the Other set the agenda for a public awareness campaign to improve Turkey's international image. This campaign was built around a notion of Jewish gratitude for Ottoman and Turkish hospitality and dovetailed with warming relations with both Israel and the United States (and the "West" more generally). The QF began its activities by hiring a public relations firm, the GCI Group, to help them network with international academic institutions, Jewish organizational leaders and fundraisers, and tourism offices and museums.

Early correspondence (1989–1991) between the QF and American Jewish organizations, educators, and reporters reveals a general lack of knowledge about Ottoman and Turkish Jewish history. Discussing the history of Ottoman Jewry, specifically focusing on the 1492 expulsion and subsequent welcoming of the Jews to Turkey, the chair of an American Jewish organization wrote, "The reality is that we are fundamentally inadequately uninformed about this historic event of modern-day relevance." This audience, the uninitiated, is the QF's prime target, as a board member wrote:

The problem is what is presented to the world, to those who think Turkey is what one has for Thanksgiving, is the picture of a town with crooked streets and crumbling buildings, colorful vegetable markets and horse carts ... but where is modern Turkey with its apartments and wide boulevards, daring bridges and snarled traffic, high-rises and hotels and the newly verdant parks along the golden horn and booming industry alongside the quaint little fabric shops? It is difficult to make a synthesis of both ... yet that is what our people want to project.


The QF's successes, recorded in ten bimonthly status reports created by their public relations group, include the projection of their message through a lecture series on the five-hundredth-anniversary story, distribution of QF educational curricula, sponsored participation in academic conferences, and publication of thousands of articles. Museums were courted to sponsor in-house exhibitions, socialites convinced to host a gala event at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, and Jewish organizations encouraged to send their constituents on Jewish-themed tours of Turkey. These contacts, initiated by the public relations group and the QF's board members, establish the QF's desire to promote a narrative of Turkish–Jewish co-existence in academia, tourism, and museum exhibitions. Each of these interrelated public relations projects speaks to the goal of creating a representation of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire as a place where minorities (specifically Jews) were tolerated.


Academia: Teaching Tolerance

A primary school curriculum, created in conjunction with the QF for Jewish day schools in the United States,

takes the student step by step through the Sephardic story, beginning with the background information on Jewish life in Spain up to 1492, followed by the early years in the Ottoman Empire. It then proceeds through carefully planned units which focus on economic, political, religious life and all other dimensions of the Jewish experience in the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey.


These efforts offered an important corrective to the Ashkenazi (Eastern European)-centric curricula of most Jewish American institutions. Academic proliferation of the QF's official story in America, which cost around $25,000 for curriculum development, extended beyond the scope of primary school education; the QF's officers organized academic conferences, book publications, and university lectures around the themes of Turkish Jewish tolerance. In a request to a leading Sephardic studies scholar at Yeshiva University in New York to join the executive board, the QF director wrote: "We know that the story the QF wishes to tell is one close to your heart." What followed was a deal with Yeshiva University which pledged that "All lectures in the Sephardic Studies Department in 1991–1992 will be on some aspect of Turkish Jewry."

An academic advisor to the Foundation suggested that a "scholarly work be done on Jews in Turkey—a book about the story we're celebrating—which the foundation would support." Correspondence between the QF and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture illustrates how the latter was persuaded to allocate monies toward a "grant to a scholar doing research/book on the 500th anniversary story." Slowly, yet with the authority of academic scholarship, the anniversary story accrued legitimacy as articles, papers, classes, and books began to focus on the tolerance of the Turks (both Ottomans and republicans) toward the Jews throughout history. At least eight academic publications dealing with Turkish Jewish or Sephardic topics benefited from the QF's financial support (Mallet 2008:473). As mentioned earlier, most publications about Turkish Jewry were concentrated around the Quincentennial years (1991–1993), and accounts published in those years regularly cite the activities of the QF as the culmination of Turkish Jewish experience. While on one hand, this emphasis on Sephardic Jewry was long overdue (see Gerber 1995), the content of many of these publications relies on a heavy-handed rendering of Ottoman tolerance (see, for commentary, Benbassa and Rodrigue 2000:194). The QF-sponsored conference proceedings, collected in a book entitled Studies on Turkish-Jewish History: Political and Social Relations, Literature, and Linguistics: The Quincentennial Papers (Altabé, Atay, and Katz 1996) opens with a letter from then-President George Bush congratulating Turkey for its historical example of tolerance and ends with paeans, in the form of poetry, to the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey. One such example, which appears in The Quincentennial Papers in English, Ladino, and Turkish, reads as follows:

Homage to Our Turkish Brethren

Oh, most noble Turk! Compassionate savior of the Sephardim. Our friendship dates back to when you dwelled in Nishanpur Beside the remnants of the ancient tribes of Naphtali and Zebulin, As is told by the Medieval Jewish traveler, Benjamin.

Osman brought you to Anatolia and Mehmet to Istanbul. Your valiant men instilled terror in Christendom. Blind to their own savagery, they called you cruel, Ignoring the justice with which you ruled.

Not so, we Sephardim. We remember what Beyazit decreed, His protection to our forefathers from Aragon and Castile, Echoing Mehmet's words upon conquering the Byzantine.

"The God of the heavens has delivered unto me many lands, and given me the mission to protect the descendants of Abraham to give them sustenance and to provide for them a vast refuge ... Therefore, come to Istanbul, if you are so inclined, to live in the shade of the fig tree and the vine."

Such were the words that came from the Fatih's lips, Words that welcomed the exiled Jews. When other ports banned their pestilent ships, When the frontiers of other nations closed, You opened your doors, you gave us a home.

Grandees of Spain, the flower of our ancient race Now victim of envy, fanaticism, and hate, Humbled and hungry, persecuted and debased, The Sultan was wise enough to appreciate.

Our forefathers brought many skills to the East, But most important of all was the will to work, The desire to prosper and live in peace. We were allowed to do so, thanks to the Turk.

The benevolence granted by your forefathers did not end in 1492, For five hundred years we have lived side by side, Turk and Jew; We have shared your destiny, we have eaten your food; Our Spanish is enriched by your words, our music by your tunes.

And so on this five hundredth anniversary of 1492, We wish to express to you our gratitude. The One God, whom we both revere, brought us together. May the harmony we have known last forever.


Having carefully studied the academic accounts produced out of this campaign prior to my fieldwork in Turkey, I came to Istanbul with an idyllic picture of cosmopolitanism and tolerance that stood, many times, in contrast to the omnipresent security concerns I encountered among present-day Istanbul Jews, who were consistently wracked with doubt about their own differences and displays thereof. Only in retrospect did I realize that the driving icon of tolerance that shaped the narrative of many of these histories precluded other (possibly dissenting) academic engagements. The lack of engagement with more troublesome (i.e., intolerant) episodes in Ottoman and Turkish history, questions of second-class citizenship, and changing relations among the Jews of Turkey, as well as with other minority histories in the region, left me fundamentally unprepared for what I would encounter in Istanbul.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Jewish Life in 21st-Century Turkey by Marcy Brink-Danan. Copyright © 2012 Marcy Brink-Danan. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface: The Ends and Beginnings of 1992
Acknowledgements

Introduction
1. Tolerance, Difference, and Citizenship
2. Cosmopolitan Signs: Names as Foreign and Local
3. The Limits of Cosmopolitanism
4. Performing Difference: Turkish Jews on The National Stage
5. Intimate Negotiations: Turkish Jews Between Stages
6. The One Who Writes Difference: Inside Secrecy

Conclusion
Notes
References
Index

What People are Saying About This

"This marvelously provocative book, based on more than two years of ethnographic and documentary research in Istanbul, is far more compelling and revealing than its rather ordinary title may suggest. Using performance theory and frame analysis, Brink-Danan (anthropology and Judaic studies, Brown) offers a subversive yet intersubjective understanding of how Turkish Jews must pay a significant price to attain tolerance. Despite (or because of?) Sephardic presence in Turkey for more than 500 years, Jews must suffer the cultural expense of being or passing as secularists and linguistic non-Jews, and must pay the political costs of being quiescent in public settings and obsessed with secrecy and security, even in their private lives. Brink-Danan scrutinizes 'the real tensions between juridical and popular notions of cosmopolitan rights' for Jews and implicitly other minorities in Turkey, in contrast to the Turkish Republic's rhetorical use of ethnic and religious tolerance as proof of democracy and 'civilization.' She analyzes the complexities and contradictions in being sufficiently and simultaneously both Turkish and Jewish. Through ongoing processes of meaning making and social negotiation, Jews in Istanbul are dialectically involved 'in perpetuating an ideology of effaced difference' and a reproduction of their political and cultural exclusion, though certainly not under conditions of their own making. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. — Choice"

Esra Özyürek

Makes important contributions to the fields of Turkish studies, Jewish studies, and ethnographic writing. . . . Very sophisticated, . . . well written, and accessible.

Esra Özyürek]]>

Makes important contributions to the fields of Turkish studies, Jewish studies, and ethnographic writing. . . . Very sophisticated, . . . well written, and accessible.

B. Tavakolian

This marvelously provocative book, based on more than two years of ethnographic and documentary research in Istanbul, is far more compelling and revealing than its rather ordinary title may suggest. Using performance theory and frame analysis, Brink-Danan (anthropology and Judaic studies, Brown) offers a subversive yet intersubjective understanding of how Turkish Jews must pay a significant price to attain tolerance. Despite (or because of?) Sephardic presence in Turkey for more than 500 years, Jews must suffer the cultural expense of being or passing as secularists and linguistic non-Jews, and must pay the political costs of being quiescent in public settings and obsessed with secrecy and security, even in their private lives. Brink-Danan scrutinizes 'the real tensions between juridical and popular notions of cosmopolitan rights' for Jews and implicitly other minorities in Turkey, in contrast to the Turkish Republic's rhetorical use of ethnic and religious tolerance as proof of democracy and 'civilization.' She analyzes the complexities and contradictions in being sufficiently and simultaneously both Turkish and Jewish. Through ongoing processes of meaning making and social negotiation, Jews in Istanbul are dialectically involved 'in perpetuating an ideology of effaced difference' and a reproduction of their political and cultural exclusion, though certainly not under conditions of their own making. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. — Choice

Hebrew University - Harvey E. Goldberg

Succeeds in applying anthropology to an urbanized and diverse community while deftly unraveling the dilemmas faced by Jews in Istanbul as they balance cosmopolitanism with maintaining a sense of who they are.

Esra Özyürek

Makes important contributions to the fields of Turkish studies, Jewish studies, and ethnographic writing. . . . Very sophisticated, . . . well written, and accessible.

B. Tavakolian]]>

This marvelously provocative book, based on more than two years of ethnographic and documentary research in Istanbul, is far more compelling and revealing than its rather ordinary title may suggest. Using performance theory and frame analysis, Brink-Danan (anthropology and Judaic studies, Brown) offers a subversive yet intersubjective understanding of how Turkish Jews must pay a significant price to attain tolerance. Despite (or because of?) Sephardic presence in Turkey for more than 500 years, Jews must suffer the cultural expense of being or passing as secularists and linguistic non-Jews, and must pay the political costs of being quiescent in public settings and obsessed with secrecy and security, even in their private lives. Brink-Danan scrutinizes 'the real tensions between juridical and popular notions of cosmopolitan rights' for Jews and implicitly other minorities in Turkey, in contrast to the Turkish Republic's rhetorical use of ethnic and religious tolerance as proof of democracy and 'civilization.' She analyzes the complexities and contradictions in being sufficiently and simultaneously both Turkish and Jewish. Through ongoing processes of meaning making and social negotiation, Jews in Istanbul are dialectically involved 'in perpetuating an ideology of effaced difference' and a reproduction of their political and cultural exclusion, though certainly not under conditions of their own making. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. — Choice

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