6,200 out of 15,500 Jewish citizens of Turkey preparing to leave the country

Tofre Begadim Askenazi Synagogue in İstanbul.

6,200 out of 15,500 Jewish citizens are preparing to leave Turkey. According to a report by Forward news outlet forty percent of the Turkey’s steadily shrinking Jewish community is looking for a possible exit route from the country that has harbored Jews since Ottoman times.

“Over the past 15 months — a stormy political stretch culminating in a disputed vote to expand President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s already substantial executive powers — close to 4,700 Turkish Jews applied for or received passports from Spain, Portugal and Israel. When children of applicants to Spain are added in, the number balloons to over 6,200,” wrote Forward.com.

“The number is cause for concern in a community that totals just 15,500, a remnant of hundreds of thousands of Jews who lived in the region during Ottoman times, when the sultan gave refuge to thousands of Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition,” reported the news outlet.

According to Forward, several forces are motivating Turkish Jews to take out an insurance plan on their future. “Turkey is more authoritarian, less liberal, less democratic and more Islamic,” explained Yoram Zara, an attorney who moved to Israel from Turkey and specializes in Sephardic citizenship. Zara pointed to the weakening economy as another reason Turkish Jews, especially the younger generation, are seeking citizenship abroad.

In 2015, applications for foreign passports began to surge after Portugal passed a law making it easier to establish Sephardic heritage than in Spain. Between March 2016 and December 2016, an estimated 13% of the Jewish community applied for passports. In the same period, Spain approved 2,400 Turkish Jews whose applications were pending. The prize is an EU passport that allows Turks to travel, work and live throughout the European Union.

Forward listed the the reasons for Turkish Jews to pursue an exit plan. Some excerpts from the news report as follow:

“A common thread is fear. Erdoğan, the former prime minister and leader of the ruling Islamic AKP party, is relentlessly consolidating his authority with mass purges and a clampdown on the news media following a failed coup attempt against him by a group of military officers last July.

“Those powers have led to the dismissal of more than 130,000 people from their jobs and to the arrest of about 45,000; to the shutdown of independent news outlets and arrests of journalists, and to the injection of religion into secular institutions, eroding the separation of Islam and state.

“The crackdown continues with regular roundups and decrees, such as the recent blocking of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and a ban on TV dating shows.

“These moves are breeding an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, not just for Jews but also for secular Turks, who make up nearly half the population. Many say it’s all too common to discover that friends who lost a job or worry they’ll be rounded up are moving away. And there are trumped-up political threats. Zara recounted how a blackmailer targeted his wealthy, elderly aunt, threatening to turn her over to police unless she paid up. “She paid and fled to Israel,” said the attorney. “People are losing trust in law and order.”

May 7, 2017


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