Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen Meets Turkish Relatives in Istanbul

Jan 31, 2012

Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen Meets Turkish Relatives in Istanbul

On January 7, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen visited Turkey for the first time, and met, also for the first time, her Turkish relatives in an Istanbul reunion organized by the Turkish Coalition of America.

During the lively and sentimental gathering, TCA President G. Lincoln McCurdy introduced Chairwomen Ros-Lehtinen to 15 members of her extended family and two leaders of the Jewish community in Turkey.

“I am very happy to find my roots and to meet my family,” said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, who expressed her appreciation to TCA for organizing the unique gathering.

In 1913, Ros-Lehtinen’s Jewish maternal grandfather, Celebi Adato, left the city of Kirklareli (In what is now northwestern Turkey) for Cuba, fleeing the devastation and economic collapse caused by the First Balkan War, which began in October 1912 when the Balkan League— comprised of Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro—declared war on the Ottoman Empire.

Ros-Lehtinen’s grandfather and his family belonged to one of the Balkans’ thriving Jewish communities, During the Balkan Wars, these communities were almost completely destroyed, and her relatives who did not flee to Cuba were forced to spend the winter of 1913 in a refugee camp.

During the reunion, McCurdy recognized the unique historical connection that exists between Turkish and Jewish peoples. He noted that the history of Ros-Lehtlnen’s relatives parallels that of numerous Turks, who suffered greatly during the Balkan Wars. During those conflicts, approximately 1.5 million Ottoman Muslims in the Balkans died, and another 400,000 became refugees.

For more information on the Balkan Wars, please see the attached WA Briefing Note.

TCA Briefing Note: The First Balkan War

• The First Balkan War broke out in October 1912 when the Balkan League-comprised of Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro- declared war on the Ottoman Empire, The war of 1912, together with the Second Balkan War, settled the question of who would rule “Ottoman Europe."

• Within just a month of the start of hostilities, the Ottoman army collapsed. Bulgarian troops pushed the Ottoman army to the Catalca line of defense which lay just thirty kilometers from the capital Istanbul. Bulgarian forces also besieged the old Ottoman capital of Adrianople (modern-day Edirne; recovered during the Second Balkan War)

• The Serbs advanced into Macedonia and reached Manastir. The Montenegrin army, together with Serb forces, occupied Novi Pazar and Scutari, Greek forces advanced into Thessaly and Salonika, the centre of Spanish-speaking Jewry, who had been saved from the Spanish Inquisition by the Ottomans and settled there.

• According to reports of the Union des Association Israelites, great suffering was inflicted upon the Jewish community with the taking of Salonika which was accompanied by plunder, extortion, as well as murder (The Jewish Yearbook, No. 5674, p.193). A Greek policy of “Hellenization” ensued after 1912, causing much hardship for the Sephardic Jewish community of this city (Mark Mazower, Solonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950, p,28S).

• By December 1912, the Ottomans lost all areas to the west of Istanbul.

• The war ended with the signing of the London Treaty. Virtually all possessions of the Empire in the Balkan territories, which had been Ottoman for over five hundred years, were partitioned among the allies. The treaty also recognized an independent Albania within its present day borders.

• Although the League was victorious in the First Balkan War, old differences between the allies soon emerged over the division of territorial acquisitions which lead to its effective break-up and the start of Second Balkan War. The Ottomans profited to some extent managing to recover Eastern Thrace up till the Maritsa (Meric) river. Nevertheless, the loss was huge: eighty percent of “Ottoman Europe” was lost.

• The Balkan Wars saw a great diminution of the Muslim population caused not only by forced migration, starvation and disease, but also mass massacres (Justin Mccarthy, Death arid Exile, p.138). It is estimated that a total of 1.5 million Muslims died as a result of the Balkan Wars (Dennis P. Hupchick, The Balkans: From Constantinople to Communism, p.321). Although the wars caused many different ethnic and religious groups to flee their homes, half of these peoples- estimated at 400,000 - were Muslims, Out of fear of atrocities, the Muslims followed the retreating Ottoman army, and those who survived gravitated towards Constantinople. (Erik-Jan Zurcher, “Greek and Turkish Refugees and Deportees 1912-1924”, p. 2).

• According to reports of the Union des Association Israelites, Ottoman Jews also suffered from great brutality during the Wars,4though [they were) not so ruthlessly massacred as the Mohamniedans”, The same reports note that the Jews were separated from “an empire under whose tolerant sway they had lived for four centuries.” (The Jewish Yearbook, No. 5674, p.89, 188).

Turkish Coalition of America