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In The New Republic, in “The Other Secret Jews,” Adam Kirsch reviews The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks by Marc David Baer.

A number of years ago, a friend in Istanbul mentioned several times that many of his friends and acquaintances in classical music, cinephile, and other high culture circles in the Turkish capital were crypto-Jews. I had no idea what he was talking about until I did some research into the Donme (or Donmeh or other variant spellings), and discovered that they were the descendants of followers of the Jewish False Messiah of the 1660s, Sabbatai Zevi (spellings vary), who after Zevi’s apostasy, had publicly converted to Islam but had continued to worship Zevi, and remained a small, relatively endogamous elite who played key roles in Turkish revolutions and subsequent life.

For example, the foreign minister in Turkey’s most recent Kemalist party government, Ismail Cem, was a Donmeh. (Perhaps a certain amount of the former neocon ardor for Turkey as the Good Muslim Country, which was so rudely interrupted in early 2003 when the Turkish parliament voted to not allow the U.S. to use its big base in Turkey to invade Iraq, much to the surprise and dismay of Paul Wolfowitz, had to do with Americans and Israelis being used to dealing with Turkish diplomats with many of whom they felt culturally compatible.)

The Donme are fascinating in an Umberto Eco sort of way, so, back in 2006, I wrote four long blog posts about them. The Donmeh are representative of how in the realm of the old Byzantine Empire, things are lot more, well, byzantine than we poor dumb Americans assume. We think of Muslim lands as uniformly Islamic, but there are millions of people there who are only vaguely Muslim, like the tens of millions of Alevis in rural Turkey and the ruling Alawi minority in Syria, not to mention the 50,000 Gnostics in Southern Iraq who believe in “planetary archons,” and the Lucifer-worshiping Yezidis in Kurdistan. Then there are the Samaritans of Israel and the Druze, who won’t tell you what they believe. There are people in the Middle East who worship a sword stuck into the ground and others who worship a large black dog. If it sometimes seems as if the U.S. government doesn’t have much of a clue what we are dealing with over there, well, one reason is that it doesn’t.

Kirsch’s review confirms the history of the Donmeh I reported, but when he gets to recent generations after Kemal’s revolution, he more or less announces, “Nothing to see here, folks, just move along, nothing to see. This topic is much more boring than it sounds. It’s purely of antiquarian interest.”

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Donme 
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For years, I’ve been hearing the name “Sibel Edmonds,” without being able to make sense out of her story, in part because the U.S. government has been blocking its publication under the State Secrets Act. Now, the London Times has run a long article, “For sale: West’s deadly nuclear secrets,” about the West Asian-born American citizen who worked for the FBI as a translator in 2001-2002. And it’s hot stuff:

One of Edmonds’s main roles in the FBI was to translate thousands of hours of conversations by Turkish diplomatic and political targets that had been covertly recorded by the agency.

A backlog of tapes had built up, dating back to 1997, which were needed for an FBI investigation into links between the Turks and Pakistani, Israeli and US targets. Before she left the FBI in 2002 she heard evidence that pointed to money laundering, drug imports and attempts to acquire nuclear and conventional weapons technology.

“What I found was damning,” she said. “While the FBI was investigating, several arms of the government were shielding what was going on.”

The Turks and Israelis had planted “moles” in military and academic institutions which handled nuclear technology. Edmonds says there were several transactions of nuclear material every month, with the Pakistanis being among the eventual buyers. “The network appeared to be obtaining information from every nuclear agency in the United States,” she said.

They were helped, she says, by the high-ranking State Department official who provided some of their moles – mainly PhD students – with security clearance to work in sensitive nuclear research facilities. These included the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory in New Mexico, which is responsible for the security of the US nuclear deterrent.

In one conversation Edmonds heard the official arranging to pick up a $15,000 cash bribe. The package was to be dropped off at an agreed location by someone in the Turkish diplomatic community who was working for the network.

The Turks, she says, often acted as a conduit for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s spy agency, because they were less likely to attract suspicion. Venues such as the American Turkish Council in Washington were used to drop off the cash, which was picked up by the official.

Edmonds said: “I heard at least three transactions like this over a period of 2½ years. There are almost certainly more.”

The Pakistani operation was led by General Mahmoud Ahmad, then the ISI chief.

Intercepted communications showed Ahmad and his colleagues stationed in Washington were in constant contact with attachés in the Turkish embassy.

Intelligence analysts say that members of the ISI were close to Al-Qaeda before and after 9/11. Indeed, Ahmad was accused of sanctioning a $100,000 wire payment to Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, immediately before the attacks.

The results of the espionage were almost certainly passed to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist.

Khan was close to Ahmad and the ISI. While running Pakistan’s nuclear programme, he became a millionaire by selling atomic secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea. He also used a network of companies in America and Britain to obtain components for a nuclear programme.

Khan caused an alert among western intelligence agencies when his aides met Osama Bin Laden….

In researching this article, The Sunday Times has talked to two FBI officers (one serving, one former) and two former CIA sources who worked on nuclear proliferation. While none was aware of specific allegations against officials she names, they did provide overlapping corroboration of Edmonds’s story.

One of the CIA sources confirmed that the Turks had acquired nuclear secrets from the United States and shared the information with Pakistan and Israel. “We have no indication that Turkey has its own nuclear ambitions. But the Turks are traders. To my knowledge they became big players in the late 1990s,” the source said.

According to Google News, this story that appeared in a famous English newspaper on Sunday has not appeared in the American mainstream media yet as of late Monday. Am I breaking the law by quoting the London Times?

Justin Raimondo has lots more background here at, including the claim that the crooked spy who was #3 in the State Department was Marc Grossman, who had been U.S. ambassador to Turkey in 1994-1997. Pakistan blew off its first nuclear bomb in May 1998, so the timing of his ambassadorship is interesting (but infinitely far from conclusive). Grossman is now vice-chairman of the Cohen Group lobbying-consulting firm, headed by former Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Something that finally dawned on me in in recent years is that a lot of the countries that Americans don’t take seriously, such as Italy, Mexico, and Turkey, are actually very interesting places. We Americans think of Italy as populated by comic Mario Brothers characters, but to Italians today, and to anyone who has tried to make sense of the Niger Yellowcake Forgery, it’s still almost as Machiavellian a place as it seemed to Shakespeare. As I wrote in 2005:

Most Americans feel a deep aversion toward conspiracy theories. To label something as a “conspiracy theory” is to dismiss it out of hand. Americans believe they believe in high-minded principles and believe their enemies believe in evil ideologies. Thus, when members of our government decided to respond to 9/11 by invading Iraq, lots of educated Americans suddenly decided that Osama and Saddam were united by their ideology of Islamofascism, thus justifying the Iraq Attaq. Nobody, including all the alleged Islamofascists, had ever heard of “Islamfofascism” before, but the term quickly became popular among certain classes of Americans. Suggestions that the various players in the Bush Administration were motivated by less principled reasons were denounced as conspiracy theories.

In Italy, in contrast, conspiracy theories are most people’s preferred explanation for how the world works, for the simple reason that, in their part of the world, conspiracies are the main mechanism for actually getting anything done. The notion that political operators would favor something on principle seems laughable. The political is personal, in the sense that if you want to understand historical events, you need to understand the connections among the players.

Similarly, we think of Turkey as the Mexico of Europe (and we try to think of Mexico as little as possible), but Turkey turns out to be just as byzantine as you would expect the old Byzantine Empire to be.

For example, Turkey’s foreign minister from 1997-2002, Ismail Cem, was a member of the Donmeh, a tiny, little-known, but powerful hereditary group of Salonikan crypto-Jewish followers of Sabbetai Zevi, the 17th Century false messiah and apostate. The strong ties between Israel and the Turkish state are helped by the ethnocultural affinities of a sizable fraction of the Turkish elite.

Does any of this make Sibel Edmonds’ story true? No, but it’s some background to consider when contemplating the Imperial Fun House.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Donme 
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American politicians and federal officials are still trying to get straight in their heads that confusing Shia vs. Sunni thingie, but it turns out that the Middle East has a whole bunch of living religions that aren’t exactly part of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism.

Sure, we’ve all heard of the Samaritans in Israel, the mysterious and pugnacious Druze of Lebanon, the heretical Alawites who rule Syria, the Lucifer-worshipping Yezidis of Kurdistan, the millions of angel-worshipping Alevi of Turkey, and the Donme, the crypto-Jewish followers of the False Messiah who wield much influence in modern Istanbul.

But according to this NYT oped “Save the Gnostics,” in 2003 there were also 50,000 Gnostics, known as Mandaeans, who lived in Southern Iraq. They revere Adam, Noah and John the Baptist, and reject Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Wikipedia informs us, “While they agree with other gnostic sects that the world is a prison governed by the planetary archons, they do not view it as a cruel and inhospitable one.” So, they’ve got that going for them, which is nice…

Wait a minute, did that just say “planetary archons?”

A planetary archon, it appears, is a demiurge, in-between humans and God, who created and rules the world, and does a pretty bad job of it. (It’s basically the same idea as John Tierney’s recent NYT article hypothesizing that our universe is just a simulation game, like World of Warcraft, being played by some superintelligent computer geek somewhere.) The point of the Gnosis or secret knowledge is to get around the layers of bureaucracy in the middle and talk directly to God.

But now thanks to America spreading democracy to Iraq, the Gnostics are being persecuted by the Shia Muslims and are fleeing to Syria. Whether they blame their fate on America or on a planetary archon is not specified. (Better not mention this term to Bill Kristol or he’ll make it the basis of his whole political platform and worldview. The Weekly Standard will run cover stories on “America’s Destiny: Apocalypse or Planetary Archonship? We Must Choose Now!”)

Meanwhile, at GNXP, Razib chips in with “Obscure Middle Eastern religious cults – part n,” in which he unveils the million or so people in Iran who are called various names: Yarsan/Yaresan, Kakeyi, Ahl-e Haqq or Ahl-i Haqq. They believe in reincarnation.

In the comments on GNXP, tommy asks about the Shabak near Mosul, who appear to be sort of like the Yazidis, but also like kind of Muslims, except they drink alcohol and have their own sacred book, written in Turkoman. The Sunnis are beheading them in large numbers.

Are we totally sure we knew what we were getting into over there?

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Byzantine, Donme, Iran, Iraq, Israel 
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From the Forward:

Shrine of False Messiah in Turkey May Be Razed
Jay Michaelson | Fri. May 18, 2007

Far away from the eyes of the Jewish mainstream, in modern-day Turkey there live hundreds, if not thousands, of crypto-Jews — and today, one of their most sacred shrines is in danger. Article tools

This is the hidden, fascinating tale of the doenmeh, descendants of the faithful followers of the 17th-century false messiah Sabbetai Tzvi, who converted to Islam in 1666. Tzvi’s own conversion came under duress: The Ottoman sultan demanded that he don the turban or die after nearly one-third of European Jewry had come to believe he was the messiah and had begun swarming into Turkey, expecting the long-awaited triumph of the Jews.

Tzvi chose to convert, and most of his followers lost hope — but not all of them. Many saw the conversion as a heroic act of tikkun, or repair, and followed their messiah’s lead by outwardly becoming Muslims while secretly maintaining their messianic Jewish faith. They were called doenmeh, meaning “turncoats”— a pejorative term not unlike marrano (“pig.”) Among themselves, they were called ma’aminim, “believers.” Sabbateanism did not die out in 1666, or even 10 years later when Tzvi himself died. There were subsequent messiahs — largely forgotten men like Baruchiah Russo and Jacob Frank — and, as recent scholarship has shown, Sabbateanism greatly influenced the 18th-century emergence of Hasidism. And then there are the doenmeh, who live on until the present day, in secretive communities, at first primarily in Salonika and today almost entirely in present-day Turkey.

A move to tear down the Turkish home where Tzvi is said to have lived, however, may now disturb the balance the community has cultivated for centuries.

Over the years, most of the doenmeh assimilated into Islam; many more were annihilated during the Holocaust, and still more have, in modern-day Turkey, come to see their background as a curious but largely irrelevant heritage. But even those who did assimilate usually maintained some knowledge of their ancestry, and doenmeh were among the founders of the secular Turkish republic. Today, many doenmeh are among Turkey’s elite, though it is taboo to speak their names; since doenmeh are regarded as traitors by both Muslims and Jews, it is scandalous to accuse a person of being one of them, even if his or her identity is an open, unspoken secret. (Recently-deceased Turkish foreign minister Ismail Cem, for example, was “outed” by several Turkish newspapers, but he denied being a Sabbatean, and Iglaz Zorlu’s best-selling 1999 memoir, “Yes, I am a Salonikan,” stirred controversy throughout the country.) But the secret is open, like the doenmeh cemeteries outside of Istanbul, with their distinctively unadorned gravestones, and the mosques where doenmeh are known to pray.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Byzantine, Donme 
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The port city at the north end of the Aegean Sea, spelled Thessaloniki since Greece seized it from the Ottoman Empire before WWI, would be a fine setting for an Umberto Eco novel or a Dan Brown knock-off of an Eco novel.

Salonika had an appropriately Byzantine social history a century ago. It was the home of both Mustafa Kemal, founder of modern Turkey, and of the Donme, the crypto-Jewish followers of the 17th Century false messiah Sabbetai Zevi, who comprise much of the secular elite of Istanbul today. (In Turkey today, “Salonikan” is a synonym for Sabbatean.) Also, Masonic Lodges in Salonika played a role in the emergence of both the Young Turks who deposed the Sultan and, more indirectly, of the modern yogurt industry. I haven’t found any links between Salonika and the Knights Templar yet, but I’m sure I just haven’t burrowed deep enough into the fever swamps.

Salonika is back in the news as the birthplace of new French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s beloved maternal grandfather Benedict Mallah, who was the scion of a wealthy Sephardic Jewish family in that remarkable city. Salonika was about half Jewish early in the 20th Century, before the great fire of 1917 scattered much of the Jewish community, and then the rest were murdered by the Nazis. (The Donme, as nominal Muslims, were shipped to Turkey in the population exchanges of 1923 that, at great cost, brought peace between Turkey and Greece, so they escaped the fate of the Salonikan Jews.)

Sarkozy’s father, an anti-Communist Hungarian refugee of castle-owning minor aristocratic stock, abandoned his family, so little Sarkozy grew up in the small mansion of his maternal grandfather, who had converted to Catholicism upon marrying a French war widow in 1917 and then became a respected Parisian clap doctor.

“To this day many Mallahs are still active Zionists around the world,” says the Australian Jewish News:

Sarkozy’s grandfather, Aron Mallah, nicknamed Beniko, was born in 1890.

Beniko’s uncle Moshe was a well-known Rabbi and a devoted Zionist who, in 1898 published and edited “El Avenir”, the leading paper of the Zionist national movement in Greece at the time.

His cousin, Asher, was a Senator in the Greek Senate and in 1912 he helped guarantee the establishment of the Technion – the elite technological university in Haifa, Israel.

In 1919 he was elected as the first President of the Zionist Federation of Greece and he headed the Zionist Council for several years. In the 1930’s he helped Jews flee to Israel, to which he himself immigrated in 1934.

Another of Beniko’s cousins, Peppo Mallah, was a philanthropist for Jewish causes who served in the Greek Parliament, and in 1920 he was offered, but declined, the position of Greece’s Minister of Finance. After the establishment of the State of Israel he became the country’s first diplomatic envoy to Greece.

During the Holocaust, 57 members of the Mallah family were murdered by the Nazis. Sarkozy’s grandfather, who had changed his name to Benedict upon his conversion, had to lie low during WWII to keep from being caught by the Nazis in France.

Nicolas was especially close to Benedict, who was like a father to him. In his biography Sarkozy tells he admired his grandfather, and through hours spent of listening to his stories of the Nazi occupation, the “Maquis” (French resistance), De Gaulle and the D-day, Benedict bequeathed to Nicolas his political convictions.

During a visit to Greece in 2006, a visibly moved Sarkozy received a family tree album from a delegation of Thessalonikian Jews, saying “My roots are here.”

By the way, each time I’ve tried to post something about Salonika, my computer acts up and tries to swallow my entry. I blame albino monks.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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