The Turkic migration is the expansion of the Turkic tribes in Europe and Middle East between 6th and 11th centuries. The region of origin of the Turks is Central Asia, Xinjiang, Mongolia and Siberia.
The Khazars were a national group of general Turkic type, independent and sovereign in Eastern Europe between the seventh and tenth centuries C.E. During part of this time it was alleged that the leading Khazars professed Judaism. The name is frequently pronounced with an a-vowel, as in the Greek Χάξαροι and Arabic Khazar (Ḥazar), but there are traces of a different pronunciation in Hebrew (Kuzari, pl. Kuzarim), Greek (Χότξιροι), and Chinese (Kʿo-sa). During the first half of the eighth century, the Khazar’s converted to Judaism. The Khazar kingdom essentially became a new Jewish kingdom. Some scholars trace the origins of Ashkenazi Jews to the conversion of the Khazars. The influence of the Khazar conversions are significant enough to be a major topic of research for scholars today.
(The processes of inventing Jews, the Talmud, and Judaism is explained in the following article: The Invention of Judaism in Babylonian Iraq and in another article Replacing Semitic Judeans and Torah with Turkic Jews and Talmud )
It was first suggested in the late 1800’s that Ashkenazi European Jews may have a link to the Turkic Khazars, as it was believed that nomadic Khazar leaders had converted to Judaism in the 8th or 9th century CE. This thesis that Jews were descended from Khazars was widely publicized in Tel Aviv University Professor Shlomo Sand’s 2008 book “The Invention of the Jewish People”.
Certainly identified Turkic tribes were known by the 6th century and by the 10th century most of Central Asia was settled by Turkic tribes. The Seljuq dynasty invaded Anatolia starting in the 11th century, ultimately resulting in permanent Turkic settlement there. Meanwhile, other Turkic tribes either ultimately formed independent nations, such as Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan or formed enclaves within other nations, such as Chuvashia. Turkic peoples also survived in their original range, such as the Uyghurs in China and the Sakha Republic of Siberia, as well as in other scattered places of the Far East and Central Asia.
At midnight August 2, 1492, when Columbus 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 Christianity or to “leave” the country under menace “they dare not return… not so much as to take a step on them not trespass upon them in any manner whatsoever” left their land, their property, their belongings all that was theirs and familiar to them rather than abandon their beliefs, their traditions, their heritage. In the faraway Ottoman Empire, one ruler – Sultan Bayazid II- extended an immediate welcome to the persecuted Jews of Spain, the Sephardim.
Jewish communities in Anatolia flourished and continued to prosper through the Turkish conquest. When the Ottomans captured Bursa in 1324 and made it their capital, they found a Jewish community oppressed under Byzantine rule. The Jews welcomed the Ottomans as saviors. Sultan Orhan gave them permission to build the Etz ha-Hayyim (Tree of Life) synagogue which remained in service until 50 years ago.
Early in the 14th century, when the Ottomans had established their capital at Edirne, Jews from Europe, including Karaites, migrated there.1 Similarly, Jews expelled from Hungary in 1376, from France by Charles VI in September 1394, and from Sicily early in the 15th century found refuge in the Ottoman Empire. In the 1420s, Jews from Salonika then under Venetian control fled to Edirne. In 1470, Jews expelled from Bavaria by Ludvig X found refuge in the Ottoman Empire.
Ottoman rule was much kinder than Byzantine rule had been. In fact, from the early 15th century on, the Ottomans actively encouraged Jewish immigration. Western European Jews received three invitations to settle in the Ottoman Empire. Two were from Muslim sultans, Muhammad (Mehmet) II in the middle of the 15th century and Bayazid II in 1492. The third came in a letter sent by Rabbi Yitzhak Sarfati (from Edirne) in 1454 to Jewish communities in Europe in the first part of the century that “invited his coreligionists to leave the torments they were enduring in Christiandom and to seek safety and prosperity in Turkey.” Rabbi Sarfati wrote that “here every man dwells at peace under his own vine and fig tree.”
When Mehmet II “the Conqueror” took Constantinople in 1453, he encountered an oppressed Romaniot (Byzantine) Jewish community which welcomed him with enthusiasm. Sultan Mehmet II issued a proclamation to all Jews “… to ascend the site of the Imperial Throne, to dwell in the best of the land, each beneath his Dine and his fig tree, with silver and with gold, with wealth and with cattle…”.
Turkey A Haven for Sephardic Jews
Sultan Bayazid II’s offer of refuge gave new hope to the persecuted Sephardim. In 1492, the Sultan ordered the governors of the provinces of the Ottoman Empire “not to refuse the Jews entry or cause them difficulties, but to receive them cordially.” According to Bernard Lewis, “the Jews were not just permitted to settle in the Ottoman lands, but were encouraged, assisted and sometimes even compelled”.
Immanual Aboab attributes to Bayazid II the famous remark that “the Catholic monarch Ferdinand was wrongly considered as wise, since he impoverished Spain by the expulsion of the Jews, and enriched Turkey.” The arrival of the Sephardim altered the structure of the community and the original group of Romaniote Jews was totally absorbed.
These Jews settled in various Ottoman cities, such as Salonika, but it was not until the late sixteenth century that they moved to Smyrna, which has become a major port city. The arrival of the Sephardim altered the structure of the community and the original group of Romaniote Jews (descendants of Greek-speaking Jews) was totally absorbed.
Over the centuries an increasing number of European Jews, escaping persecution in their native countries, settled in the Ottoman Empire. In 1537 the Jews expelled from Apulia (Italy) after the city fell under Papal control, in 1542 those expelled from Bohemia by King Ferdinand found a safe haven in the Ottoman Empire.8 In March of 1556, Sultan Suleyman “the Magnificent” wrote a letter to Pope Paul IV asking for the immediate release of the Ancona Marranos, which he declared to be Ottoman citizens. The Pope had no other alternative than to release them, the Ottoman Empire being the “Super Power” of those days.
The Life of Ottoman Jewry
For 300 years following the expulsion, the prosperity and creativity of the Ottoman Jews rivaled that of the Golden Age of Spain. Four Turkish cities: Istanbul, Izmir, Safed and Salonica became the centers of Sephardic Jewry. The Tu B’Shevat seder was developed in Izmir in the seventeenth century. The creator may have been Shabetai Zvi, the pseudo Messiah and founder of the Sabbatean movement. In reaction to Zvi, Izmir’s Jews withdrew from any secular pursuits.
Jews DoctorPrayerLeft: Jewish Doctor – 1568 (Woodcut from “Nicolay de Nicolay”, page 185); Right: Prayer offered for the Victory of Turkish armies in the war against Russia with the presence of the Sadrazam (Prime Minister) Ibrahim Edhem Pasha Ahrida Synagogue (London Illustrated News 9.6.1877) Most of the court physicians were Jews: Hakim Yakoub, Joseph and Moshe Hamon, Daniel Fonseca, Gabriel Buenauentura to name only very few ones. One of the most significant innovations that Jews brought to the Ottoman Empire was the printing press. In 1493, only one year after their expulsion from Spain, David & Samuel ibn Nahmias established the first Hebrew printing press in Istanbul.
Ottoman diplomacy was often carried out by Jews. Joseph Nasi, appointed the Duke of Naxos, was the former Portuguese Marrano Joao Miques. Another Portuguese Marrano, Aluaro Mandes, was named Duke of Mytylene in return of his diplomatic services to the Sultan. Salamon ben Nathan Eskenazi arranged the first diplomatic ties with the British Empire. Jewish women such as Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi “La Seniora” and Esther Kyra exercised considerable influence in the Court.
In the free air of the Ottoman Empire, Jewish literature flourished. Joseph Caro compiled the Shulkhan Arukh. Shlomo haLevi Alkabes composed the Lekhah Dodi a hymn which welcomes the Sabbath according to both Sephardic and Ashkenazi ritual. Jacob Culi began to write the famous MeAm Loez. Rabbi Abraham ben Isaac Assa became known as the father of Judeo-Spanish literature.
On October 27, 1840 Sultan Abdulmecid issued his famous ferman concerning the “Blood Libel Accusation” saying: “… and for the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation, whose innocence for the crime alleged against them is evident, to be worried and tormented as a consequence of accusations which have not the least foundation in truth…”.
Under Ottoman tradition, each non-Moslem religious community was responsible for its own institutions, including schools. In the early 19th century, Abraham de Camondo established a modern school, “La Escola”, causing a serious conflict between conservative and secular rabbis which was only settled by the intervention of Sultan Abdulaziz in 1864. The same year the Takkanot haKehilla (By-laws of the Jewish Community) was published, defining the structure of the Jewish community.
Equality & A New Republic
Efforts at reform of the Ottoman Empire led to the proclamation of the Hatti Humayun in 1856, which made all Ottoman citizens, Moslem and non-Moslem alike, equal under the law. As a result, leadership of the community began to shift away from the religious figure to secular forces. World War I brought to an end the glory of the Ottoman Empire. In its place rose the young Turkish Republic. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was elected president, the Caliphate was abolished and a secular constitution was adopted.
Recognized in 1923 by the Treaty of Lausanne as a fully independent state within its present-day borders, Turkey accorded minority rights to the three principal non-Moslem religious minorities and permitted them to carry on with their own schools, social institutions and funds. In 1926, on the eve of Turkey’s adoption of the Swiss Civil Code, the Jewish Community renounced its minority status on personal rights.
During the tragic days of World War II, Turkey managed to maintain its neutrality. As early as 1933 Ataturk invited numbers of prominent German Jewish professors to flee Nazi Germany and settle in Turkey. Before and during the war years, these scholars contributed a great deal to the development of the Turkish university system.
During World War II, Turkey served as a safe passage for many Jews fleeing the horrors of the Nazism. While the Jewish communities of Greece were wiped out almost completely by Hitler, the Turkish Jews remained secure. Several Turkish diplomats, Ambassadors Behic Erkin and Numan Menemencioglu; Consul Generals Fikret Sefik Ozdoganci, Bedii Arbel, Selahattin Ulkumen; Consuls Namik Kemal Yolga and Necdet Kent, just to name a few, spent all their efforts to save from the Holocaust the Turkish Jews in those countries, and succeeded.9 Mr. Salahattin Ulkumen, Consul General at Rhodes in 1943-1944, has been recognized by the Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile (“Hassid Umot ha’Olam”) in June 1990. Turkey continues to be a shelter, a haven for all those who have to flee dogmatism, intolerance and persecution.