Turkish media published 'Jews, Freemasons' antisemitic conspiracy

The latest tirade against Jews in Turkey was headlined “Young Turks, Jews, Freemasons and the Armenian deportation.”

A man stands in fron of closed Eyup Sultan Mosque during the first day of Ramadan and the second of a four-day curfew, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Istanbul, Turkey April 24, 2020 (photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS / REUTERS)
A man stands in fron of closed Eyup Sultan Mosque during the first day of Ramadan and the second of a four-day curfew, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Istanbul, Turkey April 24, 2020
(photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS / REUTERS)

Turkish pro-government media published an article Monday alleging that “Jewish influence behind the scenes” was involved in the “Armenian deportation,” an allegation appearing to assert that Jews were linked to the Armenian genocide.

Turkey’s government and its pro-government media denies the Armenian genocide. Most Turkish media supports the country's far-right AK ruling party and some Turkish media often publish antisemitic articles. For instance last year Turkish media claimed Jews were “overrepresented” in US President Joe Biden’s cabinet. The recent anti-Jewish article seems to contradict claims that the Turkish media has been told to reduce its antisemitism as Ankara seeks reconciliation with Israel.

The latest tirade against Jews in Turkey was headlined “Young Turks, Jews, Freemasons and the Armenian deportation.” It was published at Daily Sabah, which is known for its pro-government line. Most independent and critical Turkish media outlets have been silenced and their editors and journalists imprisoned or forced to flee the country in the last decade. Ankara is one of the world’s largest jailers of journalists. This means that when there is anti-semitism in Turkish media, it tends to represent the government’s official position.  

The latest anti-Jewish article was tweeted by the newspaper with the claims of “Jewish influence.” The sub-head of the article claimed “it is a complicated matter of history, the Armenian deportation, involving numerous actors from intertwined sects of Freemasons, Young Turks to Young Armenians, with Jews of all colors sprinkled around.”

In this phrasing, the term “Young Turks” refers to a political group, but when the media in Turkey describes Jews they don’t differentiate between Jewish groups, and every Jew is seen as representing “the Jews.” This is classic antisemitism where Jews are not permitted to be individuals but are seen as acting as part of a worldwide conspiracy. It is similar to the antisemitism found in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or in the Hamas Covenant.

 TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with new US Ambassador to Turkey Jeff Flake at the Presidential Palace in Ankara last week.  (credit: PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with new US Ambassador to Turkey Jeff Flake at the Presidential Palace in Ankara last week. (credit: PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

THE ARTICLE opens by describing Venice as a “home to Jews” and that the city with the first Jewish “ghetto.” It claims that “ghetto” means “foundry,” although this definition of the word is disputed. The article doesn’t mention that Jews were forced to live in the ghetto.

Next the article mentions “a Jew named Johann Jacob Schudt” and claims he wrote "for every noble family in Venice, there is a Jew, whom they trust, with whom they share the family's most secret affairs." It’s not clear where this quote came from. Schudt was a German Jewish historian. 

Then it claims that “Venice had Ignatius of Loyola, who was allegedly a Jew and came from Spain.” This claim seems to come from a source that argues that the Catholic Jesuit order was founded by Jews. Like many conspiracies, the article moves quickly from alleging the Jesuits were rooted in Jews, to arguing Armenian activists sought to model a secret society on the Jesuits, to then claiming Venice was the “birthplace of Freemasonry” and that this led to “Adam Weishaupt, the Jesuit founder of the Illuminati sect.” So here we have secret, hidden Jews founding a Catholic order that is linked to the “Illuminati” and “Freemasons.”

Now the narrative moves on to blaming an “army composed of Bulgarian, Greek, Jewish, Macedonian, Albanian and Armenian gangs” for trying to dethrone the Ottoman sultan. It’s not clear why Jews are called part of a “gang” but the decision to blame minority groups for fighting the Turkish sultan appears part of classic Turkish far-right discourses that blame “others” for being against Turkey.

At every turn, the “Jew” is presented in a negative way. “The Ottoman Empire virtually came to an end when the Young Turks who occupied Istanbul captured Abdulhamid, the Sultan of the Turks and Caliph of the Muslims, and imprisoned him in the house of an Italian Jew in Thessaloniki.” Who was this “Italian Jew”? The article doesn’t say. 

 THE CONSPIRACY presented in the article now moves to arguing that Jews were behind the “Young Turks” movement. “The main intellectual engines of the Committee of Union and Progress were Italian Jews. The most famous among them was Emmanuel Carasso, the master of the masonic lodge in Thessaloniki, to which the Young Turks belonged.” Carasso was a member of the Young Turks movement, but the article’s attempt to make “Italian Jews” the “engine” behind the movement is an attempt to claim non-Turks were behind it and then link it to “masons.”

This is a classic motif in antisemitism where Jews were portrayed as being behind movements from Spain to France, Germany and Russia that were eroding European nationalism in the 19th and early 20th century.  

The article now quotes at length from the British Ambassador in Istanbul in 1910, Sir Gerard Lowther. This quote appears to be lifted from an article called ‘Young Turks, Freemasons and Jews’ by historian Elie Kedourie, which was published in 1971 in Middle Eastern Studies. Kedourie noted how the new British ambassador in Istanbul sent letters back to England alleging a “Judeo-masonic and Young Turk conspiracy.”

Kedourie presents the correspondence as evidence of how unhinged Lowther was. According to the 1971 article Lowther wrote that “it was through Carasso that the Young Turks were harnessed to these aims, and they in return have made the Ottoman Empire a mere instrument of the Jew.” Kedourie calls this nonsense “fustian fantasies” pushed by the British Ambassador.  

However in the Daily Sabah article of 2022, the Lowther conspiracy quote is presented without comment. The ambassador claims that “the inspiration of the movement in Salonica would seem to have been mainly Jewish, while the words 'Liberte,' 'Egalite' and 'Fraternite,' the motto of the Young Turks, are also the device of Italian Freemasons… It was noticed that Jews of all colors, native and foreign, were enthusiastic supporters of the new dispensation – till, as a Turk expressed it, every Hebrew seemed to become a potential spy of the occult Committee, and people began to remark that the movement was rather a Jewish than a Turkish revolution.”

This is classic Elders of Zion conspiracy and antisemitism, presenting Jews as behind everything secular and revolutionary.  

 THE FACT that the Lowther antisemitic letters are part of this wider milieu of antisemitism was noted at The Forward in a 2014 article. “The Lowther report won wide acceptance among British officials in London and led to a profound misconception about Middle East power and politics: that a group of Jews wielded political power in the Ottoman Empire – indeed everywhere in the world – at that time. This misconception was common enough; it found particular sinister expression in the Czarist forgery ‘The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.’” 

Rather than relate to antisemitism, the current Turkish media article uses the ambassador as a factual source. “Lowther said that Jews and Freemasons were brought to all critical positions in the government in New Turkey and that they did not like the other minorities living in Turkey, especially the Armenians, who were an economically active nation.”

Then the author singles out more Jews. “The names of two Jews in particular stood out: Baron Max von Oppenheim, who belonged to the family that owned one of the nine Jewish banks that remained untouched during Hitler's rule, and David Sassoon Effendi, the deputy of Baghdad, who was a member of the famous Sassoon family.” This is a bizarre assertion because the story of Oppenheim, the Oppenheim bank and Nazism takes place many decades after the rise of the Young Turks.

The article now turns to assertions that Jews were behind the killing of Armenians. Although modern Turkey denies this genocide, the article terms it “deportation” of Armenians. “Thousands of Armenian citizens were deported from Anatolia to Syria under the supervision of German and Unionist officers. Some of them died or were killed on the way,” the article claims.

“Baron von Oppenheim was working for German intelligence in World War I. Wearing Muslim clothes, he encouraged the massacre of Armenians in mosques and scolded the Turkish officers who showed pity and mercy to the ," the article says. 

"Zionist Alfred Nossig, who would later be killed by the Jews for collaborating with the Nazis, also came to Istanbul, met with Talat and Enver Pashas and Carasso on this issue and supported the deportation.” It’s not clear where the story of Nossig and the persecution of Armenians comes from. Nossig was executed in the Warsaw ghetto after being accused of collaboration. Here the article ends.

THE OVERALL context is clear: an attempt to create a strange narrative that links Jews, “Freemasons” and attacks on Armenians, as if to assert that modern Turkey was a victim of these minority groups, rather than a perpetrator of their suppression.

Other studies have examined how antisemitism in Turkey weaves complex conspiracies. A 2013 article by Marc Baer in The Jewish Quarterly examined modern Turkish conspiracies, noting that one claims “the International Jew controls the Freemasons. The Freemasons, supported by the intelligence services of the United States, Britain and Israel, pull the strings of Sufi orders in Turkey.”

This is class conspiracy that always alleges Turkey is being preyed upon by outsiders. Much as Czarist Russia wanted to blame Jews – and as Nazis blamed Jews for undermining Germany – so Turkey also pushes these narratives.  

The recent Daily Sabah article appears to contradict claims that Turkey may tone down pro-government antisemitism in media in order to encourage a visit by Israel’s president. At the very least, it highlights how antisemitism has shifted from the era of the 19th and early 20th century to inform groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and influence pro-government media in Turkey.

Where antisemitic conspiracies in Turkey once claimed that “Jews” were behind “Sufis” or the “Islamists,” today it is those linked to the Brotherhood and Hamas who push antisemitism as well, blaming Jews and Freemasons for secular conspiracies. Antisemitism shifts in each generation to always blame “Jews” for being behind whatever the rulers or current narratives see as negative.