27 January is the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in 1945.
69 years on, remembering millions of Jews and others killed during the Holocaust is more important than ever before.
Not only because of rising anti-Semitism worldwide but also in order to stop those still engaging in mass murder in today’s world.
In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated the 27th of January as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
This year, too, there were events held worldwide, including in Turkey, to mark the day and to remember the victims of the Nazi regime as well as those killed in more recent genocides.
Distorting the facts and denying Holocaust are nothing new. But it is no longer confined only to the extreme right wing racists of Europe or crack-pot leaders such as the former Iranian president Ahmedinejad.
The Internet has become a new forum for the Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. It is particularly virulent in Muslim countries.
A quick look at the Twitter comments posted from Turkey on the day of remembering the victims of the Holocaust is enough to illustrate the prejudice and hatred that exist among a part of the population.
For that reason alone, I applaud the Turkish government’s decision to back and to participate for the first time in this year’s remembrance ceremony in Istanbul.
The deputy Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Naci Koru’s attendance at the event held in Kadir Has University is a significant and welcome step.
As stated in the official statement published by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the Turkish diplomats of the time have an honorable record for saving lives during the dark years of the Nazi rule.
I particularly like to honour the memories of Necdet Kent, the consul in Marsaille from 1941 to 1944 and Selahattin Ülkümen, the consul in Rhodes from 1943 to 1944. In 1990, Ülkümen, who had saved 42 Jewish families from the Nazi concentration camps was declared a Rightous Gentile by Yad Vashem , the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem.
The Holocaust was a tragedy of unimaginable scale but the depths of depravity we see in Syria and elsewhere today should remind us the need to raise awareness of this dark chapter in history.
There is very little meaningful education on these subjects in Turkey. Yet, teaching the lessons of the Holocaust is just as much about the future as the past.
Turkey needs to go beyond the cliche of being a beneficent refuge for Jews escaping the Spanish inquisition.
The modern history of Jews in Turkey also includes oppressive times in 1950’s when the Jews of Turkey, along with other minorities suffered from heavy taxes, looted businesses and labor camps.
Nowadays, as relations between Turkey and Israel remain tense and the politicians use increasingly aggressive language about foreign conspiracies with explicitly anti-Semitic tones, the five centuries long co-existence can no longer be taken for granted.
The Mavi Marmara incident of May 2010, in which nine people were killed by Israeli fire justifiably, caused strong reaction in Turkey. However, legitimate criticism of Israeli policies is no excuse for turning a blind eye to growing anti-Semitism.
Prime Minister Erdogan’s anti-Israel rhetoric during the Gezi protests and in his reaction to the Egyptian coup against President Morsi were nothing short of being inflammatory.
Remember the 2011 “Survey of Values in Turkey” by Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University? It found that 64% of those surveyed would not want an atheist as a neighbor, 48% would not want a Christian, and 39% would not want anyone with any other religious belief.
In a country, with this level of suspicion towards other religions and ethnicities, all of the public statements made by leaders have to be non-inflammatory and responsible at all times.
The spirit of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day means a lot more than an official attendance at a commemoration ceremony. A national commitment to remember the terrible events of the Holocaust requires creating the conditions that such a human catastrophe will never happen again.
This post is also available in: Turkish