Ottoman Empire Background

Osman I, a Seljuk Turk, began the longest-lasting Muslim empire around 1299 CE. The Seljuks had arrived from the Asiatic steppes (today’s Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan) in the 11th century CE, and had been in Anatolia for generations. Their reign was prevalent from the 11th – 14th centuries and served a trifecta purpose during the Middle Ages. They prevented Europe from being attacked by the Mongolians, fought against the Crusaders, and through military actions, guaranteed Shi’ite Islam would not become dominant. The Seljuks were Christians until they converted to Sunni Islam in the 10th century CE.

For more than 600 years, the Islamic Ottoman Empire power-house expanded into North Africa, Eastern Europe, and large swaths of the Middle East. In 1453, Mehmed II the Conqueror led the Ottoman Turks in seizing Constantinople, the Byzantine capital, thus ending the 1,000-year-old reign of the Byzantine Empire. Under Ottoman rule, advances were made in arts, technology, and architecture. Controlling lucrative trade routes ensured the empire riches for centuries. The regime waxed and waned with its treatment of non-Muslims; the 1915 Armenian Genocide was its most brutal campaign against Christians.

The Ottomans’ relationship with Jews vacillated depending on economic conditions and the reigning ruler of the time.  In 1492, when King Ferdinand & Queen Isabella expelled their Jewish citizens, 150,000 Jews were rescued by the Ottomans through a naval operation ordered by Sultan Bayezid II, who sent ships to Cadiz, Spain. Jewish migration to the Ottoman empire from Inquisition-affected countries lasted several decades. In 1501, Sultan Bayezid II accepted Jews who fled from France.

The following quote is attributed to Sultan Bayezid II… “The Catholic monarch Ferdinand was wrongly considered as wise, since he impoverished Spain by the expulsion of the Jews and enriched Turkey.”

  • Jews, considered dhimmi status (second-class status), were relatively protected within the Empire outside of Palestine, so long as no real push for Jewish sovereignty was expressed within Palestine.

  • The Jews of the Galilee villages suffered under the Ottomans in the late 18th and into the 19th century; they were forced to leave their homes through expulsion, persecution, and increase of taxes. Formal restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine was not restricted until 1882, though Jewish residence in Jerusalem was attempted to be regulated periodically.
Ottoman Empire Saved Sephardic Jews from Inquisition
Sultan Bayezid II sent Kemal Reis to save the Sephardic Jews of Spain from the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 and granted them permission to settle in the Ottoman Empire.

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Market in Jerusalem, Ottoman Times
Market in Jerusalem (Ottoman Empire)

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Jewish Turkish Family 1916 Izmir, Turkey
Hodera Family in Izmir, Turkey (1916). Courtesy of Beit Hatfutsot, the Visual Documentation Center

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Sephardic couple Sarajevo 19th century
Sephardic couple from Sarajevo (late 19th century)

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Replica of the Pact of Umar in Jerusalem
Replica of the 637 CE Pact of Umar; Jerusalem

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Sephardic Jewish Expulsion to Ottoman Empire Lands
Sephardic Jewish Expulsion to Ottoman Empire Lands1

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