Wayne Madesn has an excellent two part article on the Donmeh, the controlling force behind much of Turkey’s and Saudia Arabia’s history in the 20th century. Enjoy!
There is a historical “eight hundred pound gorilla” lurking in the background of almost every serious military and diplomatic incident involving Israel, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Greece, Armenia, the Kurds, the Assyrians, and some other players in the Middle East and southeastern Europe. It is a factor that is generally only whispered about at diplomatic receptions, news conferences, and think tank sessions due to the explosiveness and controversial nature of the subject. And it is the secretiveness attached to the subject that has been the reason for so much misunderstanding about the current breakdown in relations between Israel and Turkey, a growing warming of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and increasing enmity between Saudi Arabia and Iran…
Although known to historians and religious experts, the centuries-old political and economic influence of a group known in Turkish as the “Dönmeh” is only beginning to cross the lips of Turks, Arabs, and Israelis who have been reluctant to discuss the presence in Turkey and elsewhere of a sect of Turks descended from a group of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th and 17th centuries. These Jewish refugees from Spain were welcomed to settle in the Ottoman Empire and over the years they converted to a mystical sect of Islam that eventually mixed Jewish Kabbala and Islamic Sufi semi-mystical beliefs into a sect that eventually championed secularism in post-Ottoman Turkey. It is interesting that “Dönmeh” not only refers to the Jewish “untrustworthy converts” to Islam in Turkey but it is also a derogatory Turkish word for a transvestite, or someone who is claiming to be someone they are not.
The Donmeh sect of Judaism was founded in the 17th century by Rabbi Sabbatai Zevi, a Kabbalist who believed he was the Messiah but was forced to convert to Islam by Sultan Mehmet IV, the Ottoman ruler. Many of the rabbi’s followers, known as Sabbateans, but also “crypto-Jews,” publicly proclaimed their Islamic faith but secretly practiced their hybrid form of Judaism, which was unrecognized by mainstream Jewish rabbinical authorities. Because it was against their beliefs to marry outside their sect, the Dönmeh created a rather secretive sub-societal clan.
The Dönmeh rise to power in Turkey
Many Dönmeh, along with traditional Jews, became powerful political and business leaders in Salonica. It was this core group of Dönmeh, which organized the secret Young Turks, also known as the Committee of Union and Progress, the secularists who deposed Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II in the 1908 revolution, proclaimed the post-Ottoman Republic of Turkey after World War I, and who instituted a campaign that stripped Turkey of much of its Islamic identity after the fall of the Ottomans. Abdulhamid II was vilified by the Young Turks as a tyrant, but his only real crime appears to have been to refuse to meet Zionist leader Theodore Herzl during a visit to Constantinople in 1901 and reject Zionist and Dönmeh offers of money in return for the Zionists to be granted control of Jerusalem.
Like other leaders who have crossed the Zionists, Sultan Adulhamid II appears to have sealed his fate with the Dönmeh with this statement to his Ottoman court: “Advise Dr. Herzl not to take any further steps in his project. I cannot give away even a handful of the soil of this land for it is not my own, it belongs to the entire Islamic nation. The Islamic nation fought jihad for the sake of this land and had watered it with their blood. The Jews may keep their money and millions. If the Islamic Khalifate state is one day destroyed then they will be able to take Palestine without a price! But while I am alive, I would rather push a sword into my body than see the land of Palestine cut and given away from the Islamic state.” After his ouster by Ataturk’s Young Turk Dönmeh in 1908, Abdulhamid II was jailed in the Donmeh citadel of Salonica. He died in Constantinople in 1918, three years after Ibn Saud agreed to a Jewish homeland in Palestine and one year after Lord Balfour deeded Palestine away to the Zionists in his letter to Baron Rothschild.