History of the Turkish Jews

By Naim Guleryuz


On the midnight of August 2nd 1492, when Colombus embarked on what would become his most famous expedition to the New World, his fleet departed from the relatively unknown seaport of Palos because the shipping lanes of Cadiz and Seville were clogged with Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain by the Edict of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain.

The Jews forced either to convert to Christianism or to "leave" the country under menace "they dare not return... not so much as to take a step on them not trepass upon them in any manner whatsoever" left their land, their property, their belongings all that was theirs and familiar to them rather than abadon their beliefs, their traditions, their heritage.

The Welcome, Painting by Murat Akyildiz

In the faraway Ottoman Empire, one ruler extended an immediate welcome to the persecuted Jews of Spain, the Sepharadim. He was the Sultan Bayazid II.

Sultan Beyazid IIAs we approach 1992, the Discovery year for all those connected to the American continents North, Central and South world Jewry is concerned with commemorating not only the expulsion, but also seven centuries of the Jewish life in Spain, flourishing under Moslem rule, and the 500th anniversary of the official welcome extended by the Ottoman Empire in 1492.

This humanitarianism is consistent with the beneficence and goodwill traditionally displayed by the Turkish government and people towards those of different creeds, cultures and backgrounds. Indeed, Turkey could serve as a model to be emulated by any nation which finds refugees from any of the four corners of the world standing at its doors.

In 1992, Turkish Jewry will celebrate not only the anniversary of this gracious welcome, but also the remarkable spirit of tolerance and acceptance which has characterized the whole Jewish experience in Turkey. The events being planned, symposiums, conferences, concerts, exhibitions, films and books, restoration of ancient Synagogues etc will commemorate the longevity and prosperity of the Jewish community. As a whole, the celebration aims to demonstrate the richness and security of life Jews have found in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic over these morethanfive centuries, and show that indeed it is not impossible for people of different creeds to live together peacefully under one flag.

Next > A History Predating 1492

Naim Güleryüz is a researcher and writer, and vice president of the Quincentennial Foundation.