ANKARA – Cheap cover prices and a rise in nationalist sentiment have made an unlikely best-seller in Turkey of Adolf Hitler’s infamous autobiography, “Mein Kampf.”
The book was first published here in 1939, when Axis and Allied countries were competing for Turkey’s soul as they tried to woo it away from the neutrality it would maintain until the very end of World War II.
But since January, the book has sold more than 50,000 copies and is No. 4 on the best-seller list drawn up by the DetR bookstore chain.
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“‘Mein Kampf’ has always been a sleeper, a secret best-seller,” said Oguz Tektas of Mefisto editions, one of several publishing houses to re-release the book Hitler wrote while in jail in 1925. “We took it out of the closet for purely commercial reasons.”
His company’s sole aim, he stressed, was “to make money,” which they did by slashing the cover price.
“Mein Kampf,” published by about a dozen companies over the years, always sold at a fairly steady annual rate of about 20,000 at some 20 New Turkish Lira (11.3 euros or $15) a copy.
And the readership? “Those who want to know about a man who wreaked death and destruction on the world,” Tektas said.
“Mostly young people,” said Sami Kilic, owner of the Emre publishing house, another company on the “Mein Kampf” bandwagon, which sold 26,000 copies from a run of 31,000 released in late January.
“The times we live in have a definite impact on sales,” Kilic said. “It is an astonishing phenomenon.”
He linked interest in the book to Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, seen by the right-wing as a desertion of national values, and rising sentiment against the United States and its ally Israel over the treatment they are perceived here as meting out to the Iraqis and the Palestinians, respectively.
“This book, which does not contain a single ounce of humanity, unfortunately appears to be taken seriously in this country,” political scientist Dogu Ergil complained in a recent newspaper interview.
He agreed that the unexpected popularity of “Mein Kampf” in this Muslim-majority country has its roots in a rise in anti-American sentiment sparked by the occupation of Iraq and anti-Semitism resulting from Israel’s Palestinian policy.
“Nazism, buried in the dustbin of history in Europe, is beginning to re-emerge in Turkey,” he warned.
But despite what the sales may imply, Turkey has never been an anti-Semitic country — on the contrary, it has been a safe haven for Jews ever since the 15th century, when Sultan Bayezit II first took in Spanish Jews fleeing the inquisition.
Throughout Ottoman times and the republic proclaimed in 1923, Jews fleeing pogroms and extermination camps were always welcome in Turkey.
Silvyo Ovadya, the head of Turkey’s Jewish community, said he was “troubled” by the book’s popularity.
But, he said, his complaints to the publishers have gone unheeded.
Most of Turkey’s 22,000 Jews – out of a total population of 71 million – live in Istanbul, where there are 18 synagogues.
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