When they set off that night, no one knew that their journey would be one that made history. The only thing they wanted was being able to practice their religion freely, name their children the way they wanted and pass their traditions to their children. Yet, they were no longer wanted on the lands they lived and worked for decades.
With this journey, they scattered around the world. Some of the two thousand people went westward to North Africa, some to Portugal, to Holland, Great Britain and even to Scandinavia. Yet, this escape didn't bring the expected relief, and those that chose Portugal had to face bigger problems only five years after their original journey, while those that went to North Africa suffered a heavy death toll due to wild animals and the harsh climate conditions.
When they first heard the news that there was a country willing to accommodate them without interfering with their identities or faith, it was felt like brighter days might be lying just ahead. Yet that country was so far away: If they set out alone, they could meet the same end as those that chose North Africa. However, they never had to make that choice, because there were already ships waiting in the port ready to pick them up. Ships belonging to the Ottoman fleet embarked on their journey towards Ottoman soil under the lead of Kemal Reis, carrying their passengers away from tyranny and oppression.
So there was the King of Aragon, Ferdinand II, who wanted them out of his country, without even allowing them to take their possessions or gold with them. And then there was Beyazid II, who embraced them with open arms. The Ottoman Sultan published an issue (ferman) to ensure that Jews would be well protected on Ottoman soil.
The Jewish immigrants were resettled in various parts of the Ottoman lands, most notably in Istanbul, Edirne and Thessaloniki and in İzmir, Manisa, Bursa, Gallipoli, Amasya, Patros, Korfu, Larissa and Manastır. From that day on, the Jews played a great role in Turkish history.
The Ottoman Empire embraced these sincere and hardworking people with tolerance and gave them important positions in key positions, especially in the various administrations. The Sultans trusted the Jews so much, in most cases, they would trust them with their lives. For instance, Moses Hamon was the personal physician of Bayezid II and Selim I; another, Moses Hamon Junior (grandson of the Moses Hamon) was the personal physician of Suleiman I.
Jews, returning the favor, were always very loyal to the Ottoman sultans and prioritized Ottoman interests in foreign relations.
Don Joseph Nasi, Solomon Ben Natan Eskenazi, Salomon Aben Yaeche, Ester Kira, David Passi, Shlomo Alkabes, Joseph Ben Ephraim Karo and Jacob Berav are only a few of those important Jews that had a significant place in Ottoman history. The fact that Jews founded the first printing house in the Ottoman Empire proves that Jews played an unforgettable part in the Ottoman’s history.
The Jews in the Muslim Ottoman Empire lived quite peacefully throughout the lifespan of the Ottoman Empire, especially considering the ordeal of the Jews living in Christian-dominated Europe. And they never hesitated to stand up and protect the Turkish lands just like their own.
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire and subsequent rise of the Turkish Republic didn't change anything in the love and trust felt by Turks towards the Jews. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, ensured that famous Jewish scientists fleeing Nazi Germany could come to Turkey and continue their careers in Turkish universities.
Many Turkish diplomats such as Behiç Erkin, the Paris Ambassador during the WW2, Cevdet Dülger, the Consul General to Paris, Namık Kemal Yolga the Vice-Consul to Paris, Necdet Kent, the Consul to Marseilles, all have a special place in the Jewish history; these diplomats managed to save Turkish Jews from Nazi oppression. And they didn't only save the Turkish Jews, but other Jews as well, by stretching the limits of the regulations they were operating in. Indeed, the Holocaust Institute and Museum in Jerusalem, in honor of these efforts, gave one of these diplomats, Selahattin Ulkumen the title of Righteous Gentile with a magnificent ceremony held on June 26, 1990.
Today, the number of Jews living in Turkey is less compared to before. Yet, there is no change in the love or friendship the Turkish people feel towards these valuable people. Today, relations between Turkey and Israel are getting better each day and both sides are making efforts to eliminate any remaining problems. It is important to know that the history of these two countries is full of examples of mutual love and cooperation on an unprecedented level. On top of that, Turkey and Israel are the two strongest countries in the region and are natural allies. The Turkish government can never harbor any hostility towards the Israeli people and the Jews. The friendship of the two people is one of a selfless and brotherly kind, just as it was back in 1492 and occasional disagreements over some issues can never hurt this kind of love.
Adnan Oktar's article on YNet News: