Thursday, October 11, 2007

How the Turks Saved the Jews from Genocide


A guest post from my friend.

By Shelomo Alfassa / Oct. 11, 2007

In the fall of 1921 a Turkish steam ship sailed into New York harbor named the SS Gul Djemal, the name of the ship meant "Beautiful Rose." On that ship, was my great-grandmother Rosa and her brother Eli; their father Isaac had arrived sometime earlier, all were Spanish speakers, all set sail from Turkey.

My family spoke the Spanish language because their ancestors had fled Spain in the late 15th century when the Spanish government committed one of the most heinous acts in history, the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population of Spain through near-total displacement of its Jews. Although the Jews had existed in Spain prior to the invention of the Spanish language or even the arrival of Christianity, in 1492 they were subject to mass violations of human rights and were forced to flee--or as the Spanish government put it, they would "incur the penalty of death."

In the end, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Spain, leaving behind what would amount in today's monetary system as billions of dollars in assets. These assets included private property such as homes, furnishings, jewelry, books, family objects, clothing, etc; and communal property such as businesses, real estate, synagogues, etc.

The only reason why I am able to sit here in 2007 and write this essay is because at the time when the Spanish government advised the Jews they would have to flee their homeland or face death, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire--the leader of the state that existed before the modern Republic of Turkey--allowed my family and our people to seek refugee in his lands. Not only were the Jews allowed to go to Turkey freely, but the Ottoman Empire sent ships to the west to assist the Spanish refugees in their terrible plight.

Sultan Mehemet stated: "Who among you of all my people that is with me, may his God he with him, let him ascend to Constantinople, the site of my royal throne. Let him dwell in the best of the land, each beneath his vine and fig tree, with silver and with gold, with wealth and cattle. Let him dwell in the land, trade in it, and take
possession of it."

When the most powerful nation in the world, 15th century Spain, openly and publicly threatened genocide against the Jewish people for the stated crime of practicing their own religion-Judaism, it was a Muslim government, the Ottoman Empire, which stepped in and saved the Jewish people from destruction. It was the Ottoman Empire that saved the Jews of Spain and to a great extent, Portugal, from certain death which the goverment threatened them with.

Unlike the Christian kingdoms of Spain and Portugal, the Ottoman Empire never had a system of government-sponsored hatred against the Jewish people. Even though Jews were dhimmis, the government of the Ottoman Empire never set in place specific targeted anti-Jewish policies such as those that existed in Christian Europe. It is a sad reality that today many people only remember the Ottoman Turks for alleged bad treatment of minorities, when clearly, they have done many positive things that we today hundreds of years later should continue to praise.

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