17 Mart 2012 Cumartesi

İshak Alaton: Wealth Tax biggest blow to non-Muslim minorities


Victims of a wealth tax implemented in 1942 are demanding an apology from the state 69 years later.
Many well-known families in Turkey are among the victims of this discriminatory tax and the punishments that ensued if they failed to pay it. One such victim is Hayim Alaton, father of Alarko Holding’s executive board chairman İshak Alaton. Hayim Alaton was sent to Aşkale in Erzurum in order to perform manual labor after he failed to pay two separate taxes imposed on him. After he stayed there for a year, his business went bankrupt and he spent the rest of his life greatly depressed, silent and full of resentment. Now, 69 years later, İshak Alaton tells us the tragic story of the hardships endured by his father.

Traumatic experiences stemming from the Wealth Tax, passed on Nov. 11, 1942, still continue, even though the law only remained in effect for a year and a half (and was repealed on March 14, 1944). İshak Alaton, who was 15 years old at that time, said his father worked in the yarn trade. “We were living in a small flat in Osmanbey. We were on a lease. My father was a yarn importer. He would import cotton yarn from Manchester in the UK and sell it to women in Anatolia, where it would be used as raw material for the production of thread or flannel. In other words, yarn for household purposes was hard to find in Turkey, which lacked any textile industry,” he said.

He noted that his father was one of the emerging tradesmen of the 1930s and was also an active member of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). “My father would shut down his shop in the evening and teach French to the young people who were members of the CHP’s youth branches for free,” he said.

Pressure increased under İsmet İnönü

The Alaton family’s days of happiness were numbered. İsmet İnönü took office after the death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1938 and began to implement a policy of repression against non-Muslim minorities. These years mark the start of the “black years,” as İshak Alaton puts it.
Pointing out that the Wealth Tax came as no surprise, Alaton explained: “After Atatürk died in 1938, İsmet İnönü’s despotic and tyrannical days started. We began to feel ever-increasing pressure. Finally, the blow came in 1942.” He described the day the law was passed. “My father brought the news of the blow in the morning. He said, ‘Two tax payment notices came simultaneously.’ One was from the Hocapaşa tax office. They wanted him to pay TL 16,000 in taxes. The other was from the Eminönü tax office, which wanted him to pay TL 64,000. Two separate tax offices wanted him to pay TL 80,000 in total,” he said.
Alaton recounted that after the two tax payment notices were received at his father’s three-story workplace in Eminönü, his father went to the revenue office. He said: “My father told the officials there that ‘you cannot get two fells from one sheep. Why have you sent two separate tax payment notices? I may be able to pay the TL 16,000, but I cannot pay the other one.’ The men there looked at my father’s face and said, laughing, ‘You will pay both.’ They didn’t feel ashamed in the least as they said it. My father returned home. ‘They have apparently lost their way. There is nothing we can do’.”

Pressure in Gülhane Park and being sent to Aşkale

The law gave taxpayers 15 days to pay their allotted taxes. Those who can pay the taxes during the allocated time are saved and those who fail to do so see their homes and workplaces sequestered. Alaton said his father was only able to pay TL 11,000. “Before long, we faced sequestration imposed by the tax office as it sought to collect the remaining debt. Both our store and home were sequestered. Everything in the store and the goods in stock were sold at auctions. They came to our home. Our house was sold. All of the items at home, including our bed frames, were sold. Even the kitchen utensils were sold. Our lamps were dismantled and sold. Only our mattresses were left behind. It was a horrible incident. My mother and her four children could do nothing but just stand there.”
A while later, Hayim Alaton was taken from his home and sent to a tent camp established in İstanbul’s Gülhane Park. İshak Alaton told us what his father went through during this period. “We called these tents pressure camps. They exerted pressure on my father, telling him to give them the money he had hid. They kept my father there for two months. They would not give meals to my father, so I would bring him meals from home. One day, I went to take him a meal, but when I got there, I saw the tent was empty. They had abruptly taken him to the Haydarpaşa train station without informing anyone. They put people into cattle cars and sent them to Aşkale in Erzurum.”

Stone-cutting at 30 below

Speaking of his father’s days in Aşkale with wet eyes, İshak Alaton said those who were sent away were forced to perform physical labor. “My father stayed there for two winters and one summer. A captain would take them to a hill where they were forced to cut stones at minus 30 degrees Celsius in winter,” he recalled.

Alaton in wretched condition upon return

The Alaton family did not receive news of their father for a year. During this period, the dead bodies of some 20 people came back from Aşkale. They were able to learn from these people’s relatives, who had contacts in Aşkale, that Hayim Alaton was still alive.

One year later, Hayim Alaton returned home in a wretched state. İshak Alaton remembers that moment. “One evening, a man who was dressed like a beggar came to our flat. There was a knock on our door and a gray-haired, aged, tired, wretched beggar stepped in. We wondered who he was and looked at him with curiosity. He started to speak and I understood from his voice that he was my father. He said, ‘They released us and the journey back lasted three days.’ He stank. ‘Let me wash myself first,’ he said. Thus, we were reunited,” he said.
He reiterated that his father was hard to recognize when he returned and that his black hair had turned gray.
He noted that the family business went bankrupt and his father could not leave home due to depression. “Long after his return, he rented a place on the clerestory of Fındıklıyan Han next to Mısır Çarşısı. He died running a small store, where he sold a small inventory of imported goods.”

The Wealth Tax biggest blow to non-Muslim minorities

İshak Alaton said the Wealth Tax was the biggest blow to non-Muslim minorities. He observed that “at the time, 40 percent of İstanbul was non-Muslim. There were 300,000 Greeks and some 100,000 Jews in İstanbul, which had a population of 1 million. They were living together in a civilized manner, but their coexistence was disrupted in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Behind this is the single-party administration of the CHP. İsmet İnönü led on this front.”
Alaton lays all blame on the CHP administration and İsmet İnönü. He voiced harsh criticism of İsmet İnönü. “İnönü was a narrow-minded fascist who came from Anatolia. Even as he transferred power to Adnan Menderes, he said in a fascist mindset, ‘Where the hell does this guy come from?’”

It is the CHP that must apologize

İshak Alaton calls on the CHP to apologize as he sees it as the main perpetrator of these tragedies and victimizations. “An apology that recognizes past errors will exalt the position of the affected people and institutions. Under the current circumstances of the democratization of Turkey, I advise the opposition party not to miss this opportunity to bring such exaltation. This is because this wealth tax issue is the CHP’s sin,” he said.
İshak Alaton pointed out that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has taken many positive steps to improve the situation of non-Muslim minorities. “If the current government offers an apology for this incident, it will have assumed the CHP’s sin, which is the wrong thing to do. It is the CHP that must say ‘mea culpa’,” he said.
Alaton and a group of his friends went to the Haydarpaşa train station on Nov. 11 in order to keep the memories of these tragic events alive. He was accompanied by lawyer Cem Murat Sofuoğlu, Professor Serap Yazıcı, Professor Ergun Özbudun and others.

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