Turkey downplays Holocaust in migrant crises with Greece

Turkey insulted the memory of the Holocaust this week in comments directed against Greece.

Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Ankara on July 26 (photo credit: CEM OKSUZ/TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Ankara on July 26
Turkey insulted the memory of the Holocaust last week in comments directed against Greece. Ankara has sent thousands of refugees to the border with Greece after preventing refugees for years from fleeing Turkey.
After Greek border police fired tear gas at refugees, Turkish officials compared the Greeks to Nazis. “There is no difference between what the Nazis did and those images from the Greek border,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
It is one of many comments over the years where Turkish officials compare every adversary to “Nazis” in various public spats. Online many pro-government Turkish nationalists take their cue from government propaganda, using the “Nazi” tag against others. Turkey has also claimed that Israel is like the Nazis during Erdogan’s speech at the UN in September.
The rhetoric is part of the rising militarist and nationalist extremism in Ankara that has led to Turkey invading Syria, forcing hundreds of thousands of Kurds to flee and jailing dissidents and journalists.
In the last month Turkey sent its army into Idlib, where a Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive killed more than a dozen Turkish soldiers. In response, Turkey sought to punish the European Union for the actions of Russia and Syria, because Ankara was afraid to fight a war with Russia.
To distract from its failures in Idlib, it decided to create a new crisis by opening the border with Greece in late February and encouraging Syrian refugees to move to Europe.
Turkey told European powers that until Turkey’s “expectations” were met it would leave the border open. It demanded more financial support from Europe. Since 2015 when more than one million refugees fled via Turkey for Europe the European Union has paid Turkey to keep migrants away. Turkey has provided refugee camps and been paid billions by the EU.
To create positive spin on its actions, Turkey has brought media to the border to show the Greeks using tear gas and fed media stories of Greece keeping migrants in “black sites” along the border.
At the same time Turkey has been preventing Syrian refugees and asylum seekers from applying for asylum in Turkey. Human Rights Watch wrote in 2018 that Turkish authorities had stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. “The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria and the denial of health care and education.”
The human rights group pointed out that the European Commission had paid Turkey more than €3 billion under a March 2016 deal. The EU was “publicly silent on the suspension [of rights] and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey.” Human Rights Watch noted that the EU’s primary concern was to stop the movement of asylum seekers from Turkey to the EU. In short, the EU was bribing Turkey to keep the problem in Turkey. Neither Turkey nor European states were conducting their affairs in line with international humanitarian law. Refugees have a right to apply for asylum.
Greece is now at the frontline of a crisis created by Turkey and fueled by the EU. As it tries to prevent the orchestrated crisis from growing at its borders there is posturing by Turkish special forces and Turkish jets overflying the border areas near the Evros River and elsewhere along the border.
Turkey is ratcheting up the Holocaust rhetoric, downplaying the murder of six million Jews and comparing it to the suffering of the migrants. This language is particularly cruel for the actual history of Jews in Greece where 50,000 were murdered during the Holocaust. Eighty-seven percent of the Jewish population were exterminated.
Turkey’s use of Holocaust imagery shows a lack of education in Turkey about the actual Holocaust and the use of its memory for political ends. In 2017, the Turkish president called the Netherlands a “remnants of Nazism” after Holland banned a Turkish political rally in favor of a referendum in Ankara. Turkey also called modern Germany “Nazis” in 2017.
The situation on the Greek-Turkey border continues to be a crisis as migrants are used as pawns by Turkey to get concessions from the EU. Bulgaria has flooded the Evros River, and migrants are wondering when Turkey will reverse course and shut them back in. Turks who are fleeing the increasing authoritarianism of Turkey are also suffering at the border.
Turkey has imprisoned tens of thousands of dissidents in recent years, including artists. One Turkish woman attempted to flee to Greece and said she was forcibly returned to Turkey. While Turkey accuses Greece of being Nazis, some Turkish citizens appear to prefer fleeing to Greece than remain in Turkey.