Although Turkey’s largest and most important Jewish communities—Istanbul and Izmir foremost among them—were located on the country’s western coast, Ankara was also once home to a sizable Jewish population. In the 1930s, it numbered some 5,000 souls, most of whom lived in a separate neighborhood in the old part of the city; now only two dozen are left. Jeyan Idil Aslan, a resident of Ankara, recounts a visit to the now-decrepit Jewish quarter:
The existence of the Jewish population in the city dates back to the 1st century BCE. They [came under the rule of] the Ottoman empire during the [14th century]. Sephardi Jews who moved to the region [following the expulsion from Spain in 1492] had an important place in the city’s economy. In the 19th century, their number decreased as a result of many disasters and epidemics. . . . Jews were [also] engaged with many different types of craftsmanship. . . . They were heavily affected by the fire that destroyed the most beautiful neighborhoods of the city in 1916.
Visiting the neighborhood left me with a feeling of sadness. To see the beautiful houses leaning to their sides as a result of neglect; not to be able to see the garden of the synagogue, let alone to go inside. The Jewish Quarter is in the middle of the city, but it appears today an abandoned space. This history falls to the ground brick by brick every day.