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Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Hidden Jews of Turkey

The Donme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular TurksThe Donme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks by Marc Baer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the Thracian city of Edirne , a want to be messiah is given a choice, conversion or death. Seems harsh but considering that Sabbtai Tzvi was talking of over taking the Sultan then the penalty seems rather reasonable . The Jewish messiah converted . His followers were in disarray and of those he had many. The mainstream Jewish establishment opposed him for his heretical views and changes to the Jewish religion .

Some Jewish followers returned to the fold. Others converted along with him. Some completely left the fold. Many Ottoman Jews were of Spanish Descent so converting to another religion was deemed an acceptable way to save your life.

Those Jews who converted to Islam and secretly followed his teaching were called the Donme. Outwardly they were Muslims but in private they followed Shanbtai Tvi's teaching in secret. For two hundred plus years the Donme had a twisting and turning history in Turkey.

Alienated from other Jews and quasi excepted by Turkish Muslims the Donmeh were able to carve out a niche for themselves. There were three sects of Donme. The kapnanci, Karakas and Yakubi.

The first two groups of Dinmeh allied themselves with certain school of Sufi Islam. The Kapansi were allied with the Bektashi school. The second Karakas was allied to the Mevlevi school. The Yakubi were unaligned.

The Dinme kept themselves apart from everyone else in the Ottoman Empire. They married amongst themselves, went to their own schools, built their own mosques, had their own graveyards and neighborhoods. The different groups did not even mix with the other groups of Donme.

The Karrakas group openef the Tarraki school. The Kapanci opened their own school called something like Teriket. The schools taught a progressive curriculum of European languages and business acumen. They also taught morals and the values of hard work.

Each group of Dinmeh lived in their own neighborhood. Their style was rich and some what different then the rest of the Turks. Many of the houses were interconnected with underground tunnels. This served for rituals , secret meetings and safety.

The Dinme were not recognized as having their own millet. They were considered Muslims albeit with some suspicion as to how sincere they were. The Dinme had their own mosque with their own variation on Jewish practice and Muslim practice. They also had their own communal leader complete with their own laws and jails. The Turks frowned on such autonomy.

The Dinme became part of Ottoman society , even rising I to high positions of government . They were also successful business people, often times importing tobacco and timber. The Donme were also well travelled.

Their main city of habitation was in Salonica , located on the Grecian part of the Ottoman Empire . In 1909 change was in the air. Many Donme played an active role in Young Turks and their reform. So did the Sufis and the Masons. Many Donme were Masons. The Masons took an active role in helping the Young Turks come to power.

It was during this time that serious suspicions fell upon the Donmeh. The Islamist accused them of promoting immorality and undermining the spirit of Islam. The secularist felt they were not genuine Turks and were trying to undermine the Turkish nation

World War I would bring profound changes for all Ottoman citizens. Armenians and Greeks were massacred. The treaty of Lausanne innaygurated a swap of populations between Greece and Turkey. Muslims to Turkey and Christians to Greece. It was not easy for newcomer and neither side really trusted the Dinme. People were short changed on property exchanged and new comers with different customs were not always welcome with open arm.

The World War II years brought even more negative change. Being Turkish was a racial category. Jews, Donme , Armenian , and Christians were given a wealth tax and forced into conscripted labor. In the end the Dinme were forced to assimilate.

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One blond hair blue eyed Calfornian who totally digs the Middle East.