BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
I received a revealing message last week from Benjamin Yafet, a Turkish Jew who had immigrated to the United States in 1976. He is a retired professor and high tech entrepreneur in Arizona.
Prof. Yafet disclosed that in recent years he has been transformed from a staunch supporter of Turkey to an anti-Turkish crusader. He explained that he was “disgusted” with Turkey when Hitler’s Mein Kampf became a bestseller in that country. Since then, he has had “1001 reasons” for being totally “fed up” with Turkey’s hypocritical policies. In fact, he was so disgusted that he informed Ankara that he was renouncing his Turkish citizenship!
In his e-mail, Prof. Yafet enclosed a 1998 New York Times editorial titled, “Turkey’s Destructive Generals.” The editorial harshly criticized the generals for imprisoning Recep Erdogan, then Mayor of Istanbul, and now Prime Minister of Turkey. Mayor Erdogan was forced out of office for reciting an Islamic poem! The Times’ editors were displeased with “Turkey’s politically meddlesome” and autocratic generals who muzzled free speech, closed down Islamic schools, and arrested businessmen who were financing Islamist politicians.
As a loyal supporter of Turkey, Prof. Yafet sent a scathing letter to the Times, defending the draconian measures taken by the military junta against the Islamic Welfare (Refah) Party, the predecessor of Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AKP) Party.
Prof. Yafet then mailed a copy of that letter to the Turkish Embassy in Washington, proudly notifying them of his “good work” on behalf of his native land. Within days, he received a letter of appreciation from Namik Tan, then “Counselor and Embassy Spokesperson,” and now Ambassador of Turkey to the United States. Counselor Tan praised Prof. Yafet, stating that his “rebuttal was an astute, lucid and rational argument, which handled the issues with profound insight and understanding and corresponded, in many aspects, to how we also approach the subject.”
A close reading of Prof. Yafet’s letter to the Times reveals why Counselor Namik Tan had offered to him such lavish praise. Likening Erdogan’s ideology to that of the Nazis, Prof. Yafet accused his political party of “preaching the end of democracy itself” aiming “to replace it by an Islamic theocracy.” He went on to explain that “a careful reading of the party program does exhibit an agenda that is a carbon copy of the reactionary Iranian Ayatollah’s ideology. A direct application of the party doctrines would deprive Turkish women of their hardly acquired civil rights and they would first lose their right of NOT wearing the chador (veil). The Welfare Party was totalitarian in essence, racist and anti-Semitic in philosophy, and anti-democratic by definition. This list does not even include the worldwide implication of the foreign policy they wanted to impose on Turkey.”
In concluding his letter, Prof. Yafet warned that the Islamic Party would withdraw Turkey from NATO, close down U.S. bases, threaten Israel, side with Libya, Iran, and Sudan, and support Hamas and Hizballah. Prof. Yafet went as far as asking the Times’ editors to apologize to the Turkish generals!
In his last week’s e-mail, Prof. Yafet found it ironic that the same Namik Tan who had thanked him for his anti-Erdogan letter back in 1998 is now representing an Islamist government that he so passionately despised only a dozen years ago.
It is truly amazing that the Turkish government would send to Washington in 2010 an Ambassador who had opposed Erdogan’s Islamist party and supported the generals who had imprisoned him. While it is understandable that Erdogan himself may have not been aware of Mr. Tan’s 1998 letter, it is highly unlikely that his superiors at the Foreign Ministry were unaware of his pro-military and anti-democratic views. After all, Mr. Tan has been a career diplomat since 1982 and served as Deputy Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara prior to his ambassadorial assignment in Washington.
It remains to be seen how the Prime Minister would react to the unmasking of Amb. Tan. Erdogan may decide to castigate Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu for appointing an Ambassador with such anti-Islamist views to represent the AKP government in the United States.
Indeed, Amb. Tan may face the same premature exit from Washington as his predecessor, Amb. Nabi Sensoy, who was forced out in 2009 after an argument with Foreign Minister Davutoglu!