THE SEPHARDIC DIASPORA OF CONSTANTINOPLE
by Italo Rondinella
The decree expelling all Jewish citizens from Spain and Portugal came into force at midnight on 2 August 1492.
The decree was signed in the Alhambra palace in Granada by the Catholic King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile.
The Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula were called Sephardi, from the name Sefarad. In the Jewish tradition this biblical toponym identifies Spain.
Historians are largely in agreement that about 120,000 Jews left their homes, lands and fortunes. It is said that they only took their house keys, in the hope of one day returning home.
The majority of those expelled headed for Eastern Europe and, for the most part, found refuge in the great capitals of the Ottoman Empire. Legend has it that Sultan Bayezid II opened the doors of Constantinople to the Sephardi and ordered his ambassador to thank King Ferdinand who, by driving the Jews out of Spain, had impoverished his own kingdom and enriched someone else’s.
In 2015, 523 years after the Catholic sovereigns’ expulsion decree, the Spanish parliament approved a bill granting nationality to the descendants of Sephardic Jews who had been expelled in the 15th century. This officially reconnected them with the land of their ancestors, regardless of their Spanish residential status and without the need for them to renounce citizenship of another country.
Işıl Emanuel is a Turkish journalist who works for Şalom, a Hebrew newspaper that is published in Istanbul every Wednesday. It is written in Turkish but includes an insert in Ladino (the ancient Judeo-Spanish language). She made a formal request and obtained citizenship based on her documented Sephardic origins. Together with her, a small minority of Spanish Jews who are ‘Constantinople citizens’ and therefore Turks, keep a centuries-old culture alive. It has rich musical and gastronomic traditions based around its language.