Channel News Asia
10 March 2004
Freemasons, targeted by bombing, viewed with suspicion in Turkey
ISTANBUL : Freemasons, targetted by a suicide bombing in Istanbul, are viewed with suspicion in Turkey, a secular state with strong Muslim traditions, and all the more so by Islamic extremists who accuse them of having pro-Zionist aims.
In a country of 70 million people, freemasons number no more than 14,000, belonging to three groups.
The lodge hit by two would-be suicide bombers late Tuesday belongs to the largest of these groups, the Association of the Grand Temple of Free and Accepted Masons of Turkey.
Two people were killed in the attack, including one of the bombers, and six others were wounded.
"It's a shock, a major surprise," an Ankara-based freemason told AFP.
The attack was carried out because "the man in the street thinks masonic rites are akin to Judaic rites and linked to Israel, which isn't the case," the man, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
His theory appeared to be backed by some words uttered by the surviving attacker, who was rushed to hospital after losing an arm and suffering abdominal injuries in the explosion.
He was shown on television yelling "Damn Israel, long live..." as he was wheeled into the hospital Tuesday night.
Many Jewish businessmen and intellectuals are believed to belong to Turkey's masonic orders.
The first masonic lodge was set up in what was then the Ottoman Empire in 1721 by French and British traders.
The empire occasionally cracked down on them because of their perceived foreigness or atheism. In 1740, Sultan Mahmud I outlawed their meetings throughout the empire.
A national freemason's movement emerged in 1909 at a time when the "Young Turks" were challenging the power of the sultans.
Following the creation of modern Turkey out of the ashes of the shattered empire, the government outlawed freemasons for some 10 years in the early 1930s because of their perceived "threat" to the young Republic's nationalist principles.
Lodges were officially reopened in the 1960s.
In 1965, the Grand Lodge of Turkey split and some of its members founded the now larger Grand Temple of Free and Accepted Masons of Turkey.
A women's lodge was set up in 1991.
Hurriyet newspaper on Wednesday carried a story highlighting the fact that freemasons continued to be viewed with suspicion.
The army recently asked local authorities to keep tabs on many "potentially subversive" organisations, including freemasons, the paper said.