A historic amendment to Spain’s civil code has cleared the path for Spanish citizenship for Turkish Sephardi Jews, whose ancestors had to flee the Western European country in the late 15th century.
According to the new civil code, the Spanish government considers Jews of Spanish origin a "special case." Diplomatic sources and legal advisers who have helped Jews apply for Spanish citizenship said that by declaring the Sephardi Jews a "special case," the government has removed its typical two-year residency requirement for citizenship. The head of Turkey’s Jewish community, Silvyo Ovodya, confirmed that some Jews living in Turkey have acquired Spanish citizenship, but would not reveal their number, citing the privacy of personal information. "Among those who have acquired this right, none has gone to Spain yet," Ovodya told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "They acquire Spanish citizenship not to settle there, but to enjoy EU’s benefits."
Spain has been a member of the European Union since 1986 and co-chairs the Alliance of Civilizations with Turkey. Jews were forced to leave Spain in 1492 after the fall of the Umayyad Dynasty.
Sephardi Jews living in Turkey who want to apply for Spanish citizenship must first get a document of origin from Turkey’s Chief Rabbinate to prove that their ancestors came from Spain. They then have to apply to Spain’s Citizenship Directorate via the Consulate General of Spain or the Spanish Embassy in Turkey. The Spanish Justice Ministry examines the applications, paying special attention to surnames, which are symbolic and often represent a flower, a fruit tree or some other aspect of nature. If the ministry determines that the applicant’s origin lies in Spain, his or her file is sent to the government, and the Cabinet grants the Spanish citizenship. Since the majority of the Sephardi Jews in Turkey live in Istanbul, the city’s Consulate General of Spain receives most of the applications.
According to officials, 15 Sephardi Jews have acquired Spanish citizenship in 2008. Spain previously enacted a similar law, called "Historical Memory," to offer Spanish citizenship to people whose ancestors left the country because of the civil war. These people mostly settled in Latin America or European countries.
In 1492, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon signed the Alhambra Decree which ordered all Jews to leave Spain without taking along any jewelry, or face execution by the Inquisition. Jews started to immigrate to North Africa, while others went to Portugal, Holland, Britain. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Sultan announced that the Ottoman Empire would grant citizenship and the right to work to Jews coming from Spain. A majority of the 230,000 Spanish Jews chose Ottoman lands as their new home.