Turkish Jews: A Spanish right of return redux

15 Oct

istipol-synagogue-istanbulİştipol in Istanbul

When I first came across this idea of that Spain was granting Sephardic Jews Spanish citizenship I was mildly condescending, thinking that it was the most pointless kind of Western guilt for the past and that maybe Europe had better things to think about.

Then a friend sent me this article about the shrinking Jewish community of Istanbul from Young Turkish Jews trickling away from shrinking community from the Times of Israel:

Turkey’s economic boom in the first decade of the 21st century has slowed, and its currency has lost 20 percent of its value against the dollar in the past year alone.

As tuition prices in Turkey’s increasingly competitive universities have skyrocketed in recent years, the quality of education lags behind schools in western Europe, the United States and Canada.

Like many middle-class Turks, Turkish Jews have contributed of the country’s brain drain.

“There’s no doubt anti-Semitism is a motivating factor,” said Louis Fishman, an assistant professor at Brooklyn College who has split his time in the last decade between New York, Istanbul and Tel Aviv. “But there are other groups [in the Jewish community] that are leaving because they’re part of the middle class, they can go to school in the US and get a job abroad.”

T., a 30-something resident of Istanbul who, like other Turkish Jews, preferred to speak anonymously for fear of backlash, works in a multinational company, which he said offers many Turks a means of emigrating with financial security.

“Almost all my friends think about what to do next,” said T., especially after the 2010 and 2014 anti-Israel uproar in Turkey. “Even though we are staying here, everyone is thinking of their next move.” He said that in the past five years he’s noticed a marked rise in Jewish emigration from Turkey.

Another indicator of the anxiety pervading the community is the number of Turkish Jews who have jumped at the opportunity to acquire Spanish citizenship. The vast majority of Turkey’s Jews are descendants of Spanish exiles who were welcomed into the Ottoman Empire.

Earlier this year the Spanish government announced its intention of extending citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled in 1492. Shortly thereafter 5,000 Turkish Jews — roughly a third of the community — applied for dual citizenship, potentially opening the doors to life in Europe, according to a recent Financial Times report. [my emphasis]

I don’t know why this idea — that Spanish citizenship would open the doors to life or work anywhere in the European Union — completely skipped my mind; it’s the reason that I got my Greek citizenship (along with a little bit of a more personal tug, granted…)  Maybe it’s because all discussion of the issue was focused on the Israelis that would be granted citizenship and I totally forgot about the only real Jewish community in the Muslim world (aside from Iran) that still exists.

Still, the article gives you enough to worry about in terms of minority life in Turkey: the people who wouldn’t go on record for the writer is just one.  And, I wonder if having dual citizenship is actually allowed in Turkey and if you’re not setting yourself up for trouble.  In 1964, Turkey expelled all Greeks who held both Greek and Turkish citizenship from Istanbul, in such an over-night fashion that it effectively meant confiscation of their property as well.   Next time you’ve found the perfect Airbnb space in Pera or Tarlabaşı, ask the owner if he knows anything about the building’s history.

Below is my first post on “Spanish right of return” and below that a 1964 article from The New York Times article on the Greek expulsions.

Turkish synagogueMembers of Turkey’s Jewish community pray at Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul on October 11, 2004, during a ceremony to mark the official reopening of the synagogue (AP/Murad Sezer)

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A Spanish right of return for Sephardic Jews?

9 Feb

Boy, that’s a wild idea…

And I can’t help but think it’s EU-ish political correctness taken to the point of silliness.  Don’t you folks have a few other things to think about right now?

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“Why make a fuss about Spain’s ostensible effort to atone for bad behaviour, even if it’s about 524 years too late?” asks this Al Jazeera article about the Spanish offer, as it also examines some of the other complexities, ironies and…hypocrisies…behind the whole notion:

“To be sure, atonement in itself is far from fuss-worthy. Goodness knows this world could use more apologies, reparations, and truth-telling – and in fact, 1492 is not a bad place to start.

“That year happens to be rather synonymous with the decimation of indigenous populations in the Americas in the aftermath of a certain nautical expedition, authorised by the very same Ferdinand and Isabella who expelled the Jews from Spain.

“This is not to say, then, that the repercussions of centuries-old injustice aren’t alive and well; it’s merely to point out the ironies of an international panorama in which Mossad officials are granted additional homelands in Spain while Palestinians languish in refugee camps for nearly seven decades.”

And just another thought: it could hypothetically mean a minor flood of Sephardic Jews from Argentina, say, or other Latin American countries, looking for better economic possibilities.  But in Spain?  At this particular moment?  I think the days of heavy Latin American emigration to Spain have been put on hold for a while.

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ISTANBUL, Turkey, Aug. 8 —Harassment and deportation of Greek nationals in Istanbul in retaliation for Turkish set­backs on Cyprus was declared today “an open policy” of the Government.

Unless a solution to the strife between Greek and Turkish Cypriotes is found soon, the Greeks here fear that their community, once numerous and prosperous, will be dispersed before winter.

“The pressure on the Istanbul Greeks will be gradual,” said a spokesman for the Foreign Min­istry in Ankara.

Tactic Held Ineffective

Sources close to Premier Is­met Inonu said the Government believed “pressure on Greek na­tionals” was the only way left to Turkey to force Athens and the Greek‐dominated Cypriote Government to accept a satis­factory compromise.

Istanbul’s Greeks have many Turkish friends who believe the new tactic will prove as ineffec­tive as it is harsh. The consen­sus among the Greeks them­selves is that Turkey is using Cyprus as “an excuse to do what they have long wanted to do—get us out.”

This week 58 more Greeks were added to nearly 1,000 who had been deported on short no­tice since March.

New lists are expected within a few days, and the 9,000 re­maining Greek nationals are sure their days here are num­bered. Turkey has canceled, effective Sept. 15, a 1930 agree­ment under which Greeks have been privileged to live here.

There is fear now in the hearts of 60,000 Turks of Greek descent, They, too, complain of harassment, “tax persecution” and ostracism, although Premier Inonu has declared repeatedly that these minority nationals will not be discriminated against.

In the business districts of Istanbul, many Greek‐owned shops may be seen under pad­lock. They were closed on Government order or because the owners were summarily or­dered from the country. Wives and other dependents are in many cases left destitute.

Many Born in Turkey

Every morning large numbers of Greeks crowd into the arcaded foyer of the Greek Consulate to ask help and advice. Some ac­cept an emergency dole provided by the consulate; others are well dressed. Some are old and frail.

Most of those deported so far were born in Turkey, according to the consulate, and many had never been to Greece. They have no particular place in Greece to go, and they say they have no idea what to do when they get there.

Greeks scan the Istanbul newspapers for published lists, fearing they will find their names. When they do, they go to the police to be fingerprint­ed, photographed and asked to sign deportation statements. They are given a week to leave the country, and police escorts see that they make the dead­line.

Asset Sales Difficult

Families of deportees protest that it is impossible to sell businesses or personal property in so short a time. “Few want to buy from us, and no one wants to pay a fair price,” one victim said. A deportee may take with him only his cloth­ing, 200 Turkish lira (about $22) and his transportation ticket.

At first the Government de­nied that these deportations had anything to do with the dispute over Cyprus. AU the deportees were charged with “activities harmful to the Turk­ish state.”

The Greeks have found wry humor in this claim. According to a source close to the con­sulate, the deportation lists have included the names of six per­sons long dead.

There have been 121 deportees more than 70 years old and 20 over the age of 80.

Many charges have been raised against the Greek aliens: smuggling money out of the country, for example, or evad­ing taxes and military duty. The Turkish authorities say the Greeks have invested their wealth abroad and that this has damaged the Turkish economy.

Wealth Put at $200 Million

Turkish estimates of Greek wealth here have gone as high as $500 million. But recently this figure has been reduced to $200 million. Greeks say the Turks “reduced their inflated estimates when they realized that someday they might have to settle for properties taken from us.”

They blame Turkey for not having offered better invest­ment opportunities.

In addition to abrogating the 1930 agreement on residence, trade and shipping privileges, Ankara has suspended a 1955 agreement granting unrestricted travel facilities to nationals of both countries. A number of Greeks caught outside Turkey when this suspension took ef­fect are reported to be unable to return.

More seriously, Ankara re­cently decided to enforce strictly a long‐overlooked law barring Greek nationals from 30 professions and occupations. They cannot, for example, be doctors, nurses, architects, shoe­makers, tailors, plumbers, caba­ret singers, ironsmiths, cooks or tourist guides.

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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