Tag Archives: Tel Aviv

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

Belgrade: Random notes from July 2014

7 Sep

beograd-1910Belgrade 1905 (click)

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“Post”-something. Not post-apocalyptic or Blade Runner-ish or all the nonsense that people used to write about the city in the nineties or after the war (when, maybe, I don’t know, it did feel like that), but definitely the sense that something is over and no one has any real idea of what this is now or what’s coming next. A certain optimism about the future though, which is probably just an inherent trait of its inhabitants, both leavened and sobered by the kind of biting black humor that’s not the only thing that reminds me of Russians.

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You’re already one foot out of, or may have already left the Balkans here. This was particularly striking to me after seeing so much of the southern Balkans just a month or so ago. Where I have come from, I mean, to compare to? Argyrocastro is an Ottoman jewel in stone; Ochrid a truly archontiko little city. The rest: Tirana, Podgorica, Tetovo, Skopje, the garish hideousness of Priština; were all obviously Ottoman wood-and-plaster hovels until the communist cement blocks went up.

Here you’re in Mitteleuropa already, in a city in that never was — except for temporary occupations — but could’ve been, a handsome Hapsburg town. It’s most beautiful from the opposite shores of the rivers that hem it in all around, with the city high on the bluffs overlooking its entire region. It reminded me of Kiev a little in this sense, though a much more recent city in terms of basic architectural stock and without Kiev’s glut of spectacular Baroque churches; in fact, until the first Serbian uprisings of the early nineteenth century, the population was predominantly Muslim. (Actually there’s hardly any religious architecture of any quality or beauty at all. There’s the small, pretty Baroque cathedral of the city just outside the walls, in what was probably the suburb where Christians were allowed to live in Ottoman times and that’s about it. All the city’s other churches that I saw are these genuinely grotesque Neo-Serbo-Mediaeval monstrosities of Orthodox nationalism; the kind they’re building all over Greece now too.)

Knez Mihailova and Kralja Petra Streets — the main pedestrianized drags — and the Cathedral spire at bottom.  (Click on all)

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But you understand a great deal about Serbian history just by standing up on the peak of the Kalemegdan fortress, the sprawling castle that covers the highest, northernmost peak of the peninsula and you realize that you’re standing on the last, frontline hill of Balkan rock, where the Danube meets a whole huge complex of river networks from north and south and that the expanse of green mixed with suburb spreading out in front of you is the beginning of the vast Pannonian plain that stretches out to the Carpathians in one direction and eventually the northern European flatlands that flow all the way to the Baltic in the other. (See map at top.) Apparently and according to Misha Glenny, the Ottomans called Belgrade the “darul-al-jihad,” the House of War (though why this wouldn’t apply to so many other places, I don’t know) and you can see how easily defensible but also temptingly assailabale the site is; it’s the one place you have to control to continue your drive either north or south.

Belgrade-Kalemegdan-at-dawnThe Kalemegdan (click)

Kalemegdan from across Sava(click)

You also realize just how far north – when you think that Stefan Dušan’s empire stretched as far south as the Gulf of Corinth and he often held court east of Salonica at Serres – the center of gravity of the Serbian nation has shifted over the centuries, to lands so completely different, even ecologically, the flora and fauna, that it becomes easier to isolate a glorious mediaeval past in some mythic compartment in the nation’s head – the two sides of the Aegean, in our case, for example, were never so different – and that that can have all sorts of psychological consequences. I’m, of course, thinking of Kosovo mostly, but more on that later…

DusanTerritory_14cStefan Dušan’s empire at its height (click)

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Lots of leafy attractive streets, at least in the neighborhoods that stretch immediately south and east of the Kalemegdan. Funky sidewalk cafes and bars. Only a couple of very late nineteenth-century neo-classical structures. Most of the city seems to be a twentieth-century creation: attractive Art Nouveau and Art Deco apartment houses; some later stuff that could kind of be described as late Bauhaus-y even, like some neighborhoods of Tel Aviv; more proof that Yugoslavia was far cooler than any other communist country and more reason to be pissed off that things ended they way they did. A certain shabbiness, that I thought only added to its charm, but that made me wonder what’s going on economically. There’s way too much high quality housing stock in potentially high quality neighborhoods sitting there looking empty and uncared for and under the right circumstances the whole place seems primed to launch into a massive gentrification and real estate boom. If I had any extra cash lying around I’d buy something now. In any event, for a city that’s been beaten up badly three times in less than a century – maybe not as bad the third time but in a manner just as morally reprehensible – it’s looking ok.

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IMG_0828The Rakia Bar, my favorite spot in all of Belgrade, delicious rakia made from anything imaginable, quince was my favorite, lugged three bottles of it with me, supposedly to share with friends in New York, but they all got swilled down in Russia.  The Rakia Bar is the site of the famous: …rakia with M., and what’s with me and all the Djoković… post from July.  (I think whether you say ‘rakia” or rakija” is a regional dialect difference, with the palatization that the “j” represents more common in “south-western” dialects: — western Bosnian, Herzegovinan, Montenegrin. — but not sure.  I know that “river” is “reka” in some regions and “rjeka” in others.)

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And some of the city’s few remaining Ottoman-era, or at least Ottoman-style, buildings.  The top being the residence of some saint or something — the bottom the royal residence of some Obrenović mistress I think.  Very uncharacteristically of me, I just wasn’t into too much historical research while there.  The city is just too much fun.

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The food is great; predictable but always competent and consistently delicious. A bodybuilder’s paradise: every plate comes piled so high with a mountain of grilled protein that no normal-sized person can be expected to pack it away, but appetites here, in every sense, are big. A vegetarian’s nightmare: and if you persist in your adherence to that silly creed, expect to eat a lot of very good tomatoes – in the summer at least – with huge grated piles of a great cheese they have that’s somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between feta and brindza. If you’re a vegan…and/or have gluten issues too so you can’t eat the great bread either or even try the börek, then maybe arrange for sessions to be fed intravenously at a local hospital or just don’t come at all.

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On the sign and menu of an otherwise sedate, old-fashioned feeling Bosnian restaurant with great ćevapi, the ubiquitous little köfte, a homey cellar place that feels like an old Moscow traktir or something… If anyone can explain the symbolic intention behind it, they get my Umberto Eco semiotics award for 2014.  Really, can anyone tell whether this is supposed to be a joke or not?

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Much more in keeping with Serbs’ smart, cerebral, black humor: this t-shirt, marking the hundredth anniversary of the start of WWI, which I thought was priceless: “It’s a matter of Princip.” Fantastic…

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The language is – excuse my language – a total hard-on. I’ve already got my affinity for Slavic phonemes from my Russian days — though sometimes it seems they came out of the womb with me – and on top of it it’s tonal, too, with rising and falling stress and long and short vowels like classical Greek. The combination is magically sexy and something I could listen to for hours dumbly without understanding barely a word. It also makes it, unless you’ve dedicated some serious study to it phonetically, almost impossible to pronounce correctly. The street I lived on was called “Dobračina,” for example, in Dorćol (from the Turkish “dört yol” — “four roads.”)  And taking my cues from my Russian, which is really no great help since it has free stress and constantly surprises you also, I would say: “Do-bra-či-na.” But whenever it was repeated back to me it sounded like “Do-bra-či-na” or Do-bra-či-na” or even some combination of both, but never like what I had said; the lack of dynamic stress makes it sound like emphasis comes scattered in varying degrees of strength all over a word and not just on one syllable. Tempting to take it up. But I have to resist NikoBako tendencies to scatter my energies all over the place at once and never quite acquire full mastery of anything. Maybe later.

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The place’s greatest pleasure is its people. They have a quality that I’ve always struggled to express in English but is nearly impossible and makes me constantly have to resort to other languages. The somewhat dated Spanish “altanero” works – “alto” is your cue there – as does the more popular term still in use in Spain, the complex of traits referred to as “majo,” which I’ve tried to describe several times elsewhere (such as in this post: Un Verano en Nueva York).  “Αγέρωχη” works, the word Cavafy uses to describe Anna Comnene, which Keeley and others, I think, mistakenly translate as “arrogant” or “haughty,” but which for me means something like “breezily confident” and again could almost be a cognate for the Spanish “airoso.” But it’s a type of confidence that isn’t entirely about your ego, but one that obliges you to be open and generous and welcoming with others as well. The media and its pundits have fed us so much crap since the nineties about Serbs’ pathological and self-aggrandizing sense of their own heroism, that it’s impossible to even tell what’s true or not. But if they are that conscious of their heroic mantle, they certainly wear it lightly, like a people who have nothing to prove to you or really could give a shit about what you think of them. This means almost none of the tough guy, hyper-butchness we might be conditioned to expect. In fact, despite the borderline cockiness, women and men are almost always polite and unfailingly warm; sweet and tender even, like Russians when they get in their Russian moods. And with Serbs you don’t have to pry off the cast-iron mug first to get to the sweet part like you have to do with Russians.

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One great thing about Serbian women, aside from leggy and sexy and gorgeous and everything else you’ve heard: they’re real pals. This is going to sound totally sexist to some, but I didn’t mind the first time I was called sexist in my life and it certainly won’t be the last. They have this uncanny ability to hang out comfortably with guys. They’re not cloyingly clingy. They don’t demand attention through passive-aggressive silence or sulking and they speak freely but without forcing themselves into the center of the conversation. It’s not an attempt to ingratiate themselves with their man or his friends. It’s simply this extremely attractive capacity to go along with the rhythms and patterns of male camaraderie without sacrificing any of their femininity. Serbian men should consider themselves extremely lucky.

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And on a related and final note: it’s not a myth; it’s a fact that I’m sorry to report is true. One out of three people you pass on the street deserves a head-turn and a second looking-over; you simply can’t stop yourself. One out of…I dunno, I’m just stupidly throwing out numbers here…six or seven…or at least one person in every kompaniya/parea or “ekipa” let’s say, are simply knock-outs: tall, long-and-strong-limbed, great noses, good jaws and a higher percentage of crazy green-hazel eyes than I’ve seen in any other country. It’s dizzying. And they know it too and there’s no false humility about it either and of course that only concentrates the effect.

Sorry, only the one pic below, which isn’t even mine.  I’m still too shy to photograph people without having a press i.d. round my neck.

Anyway, there are places you go to and say: “That was nice…” and then they go into your travel archives.  And then there are places that you know, as you’re leaving, you’re not finished with.  Belgrade I’m not finished with.

Belgrade street scene(click)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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