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Hitler Finds an Audience in Turkey

Speculation about why his 'Mein Kampf' is on bestseller lists includes anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism or maybe just the piddling price.

March 16, 2005|Amberin Zaman | Special to The Times

ANKARA, Turkey — "Mein Kampf," Adolf Hitler's notorious work outlining his anti-Semitic world view, has become a bestseller in this officially secular but mostly Muslim nation. Its sudden rebirth has alarmed the country's small Jewish community and raised concern among officials in the European Union, which Turkey aspires to join.

Remzi and D & R, Turkey's two largest bookstore chains, rank the work among the top 10 on their bestseller lists this month, as they did in February.

At the Ada bookshop in a popular Ankara shopping strip, "Mein Kampf," or "Kavgam" as it is called in Turkish, has sold out.

"It's our fifth-highest-selling book," said Serkan Oznur, the store manager.

Though nationwide sales numbers are not available, the number of publishers releasing editions of "Mein Kampf" in Turkey has grown to 13. One of them, Manifesto, announced a press run of 50,000 for its version, which jockeys for shelf space with such titles as "Hitler's Secretary" and "The Unknown Hitler." The German dictator's work appears prominently in most bookstore displays here.

Silvio Ovadyo, a spokesman for Turkey's 20,000-member Jewish community, said he couldn't explain why publishers had decided to promote Hitler as an author.

"It's anti-Jewish propaganda. Naturally, we are very concerned," he said in a telephone interview. "Turkey is our country, our home."

Why this nation -- which welcomed millions of Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition and was the first Muslim country to recognize the state of Israel -- now appears so fascinated with Hitler is a question that sparks heated debate. Booksellers said buyers tended to be men between the ages of 18 and 30.

Like several other vendors here, Oznur insisted that the newfound popularity of "Mein Kampf" was a factor mostly of price. Sales soared after several new translations were published at the beginning of the year and priced at about $3.50 a copy. Most books of a similar length cost nearly double that.

Some analysts say the appeal of "Mein Kampf" probably has to do with the rising anti-Americanism here, a result of the U.S.-led invasion of neighboring Iraq. Among the work's chief rivals on the bestseller lists is "Metal Storm," a gory thriller that depicts a U.S. invasion of Turkey. The hero, a Turkish spy whose training includes shooting his puppy, avenges his homeland by leveling Washington with a nuclear device.

In a country where conspiracy theories are commonly used to explain international politics, "it is accepted wisdom in some circles that Israel dictates U.S. policy," said Dogu Ergil, a Middle East expert at Ankara University. Thus, his theory goes, anti-Americanism morphs into a hybrid strain of anti-Semitism that in turn arouses curiosity about Hitler.

Others say Turks are drawn more by the book's nationalistic message than its anti-Semitic rants. Nationalist sensitivities have been sharpened by European Union demands that Turkey ensure greater freedom for the country's religious minorities and restive Kurds as conditions for its membership in the alliance.

"Nationalist reflexes have been triggered, there are fears the country will be dismembered," said Nilufer Narli, an Istanbul-based sociologist.

Though Ovadyo said members of the Jewish community were not yet planning legal action against the book, German officials said they would like to see it withdrawn.

The German state of Bavaria, which controls the copyright, has long fought the publication of "Mein Kampf" around the world, and officials there reportedly plan to take the campaign to Turkey.

"The book's wide availability and popularity ought to be a matter of serious concern," said a German Embassy official here who requested anonymity.

Oznur, the bookstore manager, disagrees.

"Anyone who reads 'Mein Kampf' realizes what a psychopath Hitler was," he said. "If more people had read it, there might have been no [Second] World War."

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