When they set off that dark night at the close of the fifteenth century, none of them knew that their journey would make history. They only wanted to be able to practice their religion freely, name their children in the way they wanted, and pass their traditions on to their children. Yet, they were no longer wanted in the lands where they lived and worked for decades.
The journey scattered them around the world. Some went west to North Africa, some to Portugal, some to Holland, Great Britain and even Scandinavia. But not even this escape brought the hoped-for relief. Those who went to Portugal had to face bigger problems just five years later, while those who went to North Africa suffered heavy death tolls due to the unforgiving climate.
When they first heard that there was a country willing to take them without denying them their identity or faith, it seemed brighter days could be just ahead. Yet the country was so far away: If they set out alone, they could meet the same end as those who chose North Africa. But they never had to face that dilemma, for the ships were already waiting in port. Those ships, belonging to the Ottoman fleet, set off back to Ottoman soil, carrying their passengers away from tyranny and oppression.
So while King Ferdinand II of Spain wanted them out of his country, without even allowing them to take their possessions or gold, Sultan Bayezid II embraced them with open arms. The Ottoman ruler issued a decree (ferman) to ensure that Jews would be well protected on Ottoman soil.
The Jewish migrants 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, Jews played a great role in Turkish history.
The Ottoman Empire embraced these sincere and hardworking people, giving them important and key positions, especially in the various administrations. The Sultans, in many cases, even trusted Jews with their lives. For instance, Moses Hamon was the personal physician of Bayezid II and Selim I; and his grandson, Moses Hamon Junior, performed the same duty for Suleiman I.
Jews, returning the favor, were always very loyal to the Ottoman sultans.
Don Joseph Nasi, Solomon Ben Natan Eskenazi, Salomon Aben Yaeche, Ester Kira, David Passi, Shlomo Alkabes, Joseph Ben Ephraim Karo and Jacob Berav. These are but a few of Jews who secured themselves a significant place in Ottoman history. The fact that Jews founded the first printing house in the Ottoman Empire is one example of the unforgettable place of Jews in Ottoman history.
Jews lived peacefully throughout the lifespan of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, in particular in light of the ordeal faced by their coreligionists in the Christian-dominated Europe. And they never hesitated to stand up for and protect Turkish lands.
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire and subsequent rise of the Turkish Republic didn't change 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 continue their work at Turkish universities.
Many Turkish diplomats such as Behiç Erkin, the Paris ambassador during the WWII, 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 Jewish history - saving Turkish Jews from Nazi oppression. And they didn't only save Turkish Jews, but others as well, by stretching the limits of the regulations under which they were operating. Indeed, Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalemawarded one of these diplomats, Selahattin Ulkumen, the title of Righteous Gentile in a magnificent ceremony held on June 26, 1990.
Today, there are fewer Jews living in Turkey than 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
improve with each passing day, and both sides are making efforts to eliminate the remaining sticking points.
It is important to understand 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 natural allies.
The Turkish government could never harbor any hostility towards the Israeli people and the Jews. Their friendship is of a selfless and brotherly nature, just as it was back in 1492. Occasional disagreements over certain issues can never permanently hurt this kind of love.
Adnan Oktar is a leading Muslim commentator from Turkey. He has written more than 300 books in 73 languages on political, faith-related and scientific topics.
Follow him on Twitter: @harun_yahya