Jewish Heritage Turkey
The history of the Jews in Anatolia started many centuries before the migration of Sephardic Jews. From as early as the 4th century BC, archaeological finds indicate Jewish settlement in the Aegean region.
Ancient synagogue ruins have been found in Sardis, Miletus, Priene, and Bursa on the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts. A bronze column found in Ankara shows the rights accorded to the Jews by Emperor Augustus.
During the Ottoman Empire expansion, mostly Romaniot Jews were incorporated more and more into the Ottoman lands.
In 1492, Sultan Bayezid II offered refuge to the Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition; their arrival altered the structure of the community and the Romaniot Jews were totally absorbed. In 1535, approximately 56,000 Jews lived in Istanbul.
The reforms of “Tanzimat” in the 19th century brought equality to all Ottomans citizens. The Turkish Republic, founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, accorded minority rights to the three principal non-Muslim religious minorities and, after adoption of the Swiss Civil Code in 1926, the Jewish community renounced its minority status on personal rights.
While the community numbered 150,000 in 1920, today it is estimated at around 20,000.