ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has launched a quiet but concerted campaign to qualify for full membership in the Task Force for International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research.
The ITF, as it’s known, was founded in 1998 at the initiative of Sweden. It currently has 31 members, including Canada, Germany, Israel, Poland, Britain, France and the United States.
Three countries, Turkey, Portugal and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, have been granted observer status in the ITF, whose honorary chair is Israeli Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer.
Turkey, the sole Muslim state in this intergovernmental body, has been an observer since 2008, when its bilateral relations with Israel were at a peak.
“We’re preparing to upgrade our status,” said Ertan Tezgor, a seasoned Turkish diplomat who represents Turkey in the ITF. He made his comment in a recent interview at the Turkish foreign ministry.
At the moment, Turkey is seeking to raise its status to “liaison country,” one level below full membership, said Tezgor, Turkey’s former ambassador to Georgia. “We have not yet decided when we will apply for full membership.”
In its quest to attain this objective, Turkey – a secular republic and NATO member that remained neutral almost until the end of World War II – is taking concrete steps to fulfil ITF core principles.
In Holocaust education, Turkey has created a working group to enlarge references to the Holocaust in Turkish history textbooks.
This effort is being spearheaded by the ministry of education in collaboration with the ministry of foreign affairs, said Tezgor, who, while acknowledging Ankara’s solidarity with the Muslim world, takes pride in Turkey’s “excellent relations with the Jewish people” and in its venerable Jewish community.
Turkey, in partnership with Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, also plans to host teachers’ seminars on the Holocaust in Istanbul.
And next year, the first group of Turkish teachers is scheduled to go to Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies.
A delegation of Turkish teachers was due to arrive in Yad Vashem in the spring of 2010, but abruptly cancelled the trip in the wake of the Mavi Marmara incident, during which Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish ship in a flotilla of vessels trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
In the field of remembrance, the Turkish government marked the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by sending Tezgor to the former Nazi concentration camp in Poland in January 2010.
Two months ago, several Turkish universities staged an exhibition on Anne Frank, the young Jewish diarist who perished during the last days of the Holocaust.
Earlier this year, Turkish state TV broadcast Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, an epic documentary watched by about five million local viewers, Tezgor said.
Since 2011, Turkey’s missions abroad have sponsored the screening of Turkish Passport, a documentary that amplifies Turkey’s role in assisting Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.
The film, shown to Jewish and Turkish audiences in Canada last year, has been broadcast on Turkish television and screened in movie theatres in Turkey.
With respect to research, Turkey is in the process of assembling a team of Turkish scholars to study Turkey’s response to the Holocaust. According to Tezgor, Turkish archives from this period will be opened to researchers within five years.
And in the future, universities in Turkey will offer courses on the Holocaust.
“It’s important to open up history,” said Tezgor, who keeps lines of communication open with Yad Vashem, Anne Frank House and Project Aladdin, a cultural initiative launched in 2009 under the patronage of UNESCO to counter Holocaust denial, fight all forms of racism and intolerance and promote dialogue among Muslims and Jews in particular.
Tezgor, who described the Holocaust as a “very tragic matter,” added, “We want to open all the files so that everyone can see things clearly. A country’s past should not be hidden.”
Suggesting that Turkey can play a special role in the ITF, Tezgor said, “We’ll be a bridge between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds and thereby add value to the ITF.”
Turkish membership in the organization may well encourage more Muslim states, such as Morocco, Jordan and Azerbaijan, to join the ITF, he noted.
Claiming that Turkey had no ulterior motives in joining the ITF, Tezgor said its membership has no bearing on its desire to join the European Union.
Turkey’s bid for full membership is ardently backed by Turkish Jews, said Sami Herman, the president of the Jewish community. “We have to support Holocaust education so as to prevent tragedies from occurring in the future,” he said in an interview in Istanbul.