The Other Secret Jews2


For the most part, however, Baer has little to say about Dönme origins and religious beliefs. He focuses instead on the Dönme in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and on institutions like schools and businesses that are officially documented. When some exotic feature of Dönme practice does come into view—for instance, the allegation that they celebrated a certain holiday with orgies—Baer is quick to note that such sexual sins are always imputed to religious schismatics, in the Muslim world as in the Christian world. (The word “buggery,” for instance, derives from the medieval Christian heretics known as Cathars, who were from Bulgaria.)Office 2007 download is on sale now!

In Baer’s hands, the story of the Dönme becomes, instead, a rather familiar modern morality play—a story of strangeness annihilated by the pressure of sameness. For centuries, the Dönme lived their communal life in Salonika without interference from the Ottoman Empire, which accepted them as Muslims and did not inquire too closely into their private convictions. That began to change in the late nineteenth century, as the corrupt and cosmopolitan empire started to turn into a modern national state. The Dönme, who were prominent in the tobacco and textile industries, were initially strong supporters of political reform. Baer discusses the pro-reform articles in Dönme newspapers and literary magazines and notes that Dönme schools in Salonika were some of the most progressive in the Empire. (Ataturk attended one of those schools, though the evidence seems to prove that he was not a Dönme himself.)

Most important, several Dönme were leading members of the Committee for Union and Progress, the revolutionary party known as the Young Turks, who in 1908 forced the Sultan to grant a constitution. The Dönme, like Jews and Freemasons, sympathized with the CUP’s scientific, reformist program, though Baer emphasizes that the CUP was not a Dönme party—any more than the Russian Bolsheviks, though they included many Jews, were a Jewish party. Even so, some prominent Young Turks were Dönme, including the editor of the Party’s newspaper and the finance minister in the new CUP government.

This newfound prominence came just as the old Dönme community in Salonika was uprooted. In 1912, the city was conquered by Greece, which changed the name to Thessaloniki and set about expelling the Muslim population. The Dönme were forced to abandon their shrines and homes, and most of them resettled in Istanbul. Now in the public eye as never before, they were the subject of a number of muckraking newspaper articles and books, which Baer examines. In 1919, one anonymous publication accused them of being inbred to the point of biological degeneracy: “Muslims who give their daughters in marriage to those among whom tuberculosis and neuralgia/neural disorders are widespread are committing murder,” the writer warned. At the same time, the Dönme were said to be “always occupied with commerce. Because they do not consider others to be human, they consider it among the laws and praiseworthy qualities of their religion to cheat other nations with various intrigues and schemes."

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