The fact that Turkey had such an influence should not be surprising, as the Jewish history of Turkey is very long. As far back as biblical times, the people of Turkey were trading partners with the Israelites. During the time of the expulsion the Sultan Bayazid II of the Ottoman Empire offered refuge to the the Sephardic Jews being driven out of Spain and Portugal, where they would be free from persecution. In fact, over hundreds of years before the expulsion, Jews fleeing many countries found refuge in the land. Some of them included;
- Early 1300's. Karaites from Europe.
- 1370's. Jews expelled from Hungary.
- 1390's. Jews expelled from France by Charles VI.
- 1400's. Sicilian Jews who were expelled.
- 1530's. Jews from Italy arrived
The country of Turkey became an independent state in 1923, and have been able to maintain its history of neutrality and of being a refuge for those that need help. During World War II, Turkey became a safe haven for those fleeing the Nazis. Today the Jewish population of Turkey, which is over 90% Sephardic, numbers about 20-25,000. The majority are in Istanbul, but smaller communities are in places such as Izmir.
The Knowles Collection - Jews of Africa and the Orient is now beginning to add some records from Turkey. The records of Altindag Jewish Cemetery in the city of Izmir, are now being entered. These incredible records, thousands of them will soon be available.