Portuguese Ambassador to Ankara Paula Leal da Silva

Some 2,000 Turkish Jews have applied for Portuguese citizenship after Portugal’s government decided to grant nationality through naturalisation to the descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Portugal and Spain in the 15th century, Portuguese Ambassador to Ankara Paula Leal da Silva has said.

The ambassador said she believes some 17,000 Sephardic Jews currently live in Turkey. Some of the applicants among the 2,000 have received the citizenship since the law was adopted two years ago, while some others’ acceptance process is still ongoing, da Silva told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview.

“The story is very simple, but at the same time very sad. Jews are people that have always been persecuted. Portugal, unfortunately, followed that route. We expelled the Jews and we told them that if they wanted to stay in Portugal, they should be converted to Christianity. It’s a dark page in our history,” the ambassador said.

“So now, what the government decided to do was to tell those people, the great-grandchildren of those people, “Listen, we expelled you from here, but you are welcome to come back. You are welcome to have the Portuguese nationality. This is the story. Spain did the same,” da Silva stated.

Knowing the Portuguese language is not a precondition to acquire the nationality, she noted.

“Because we don’t find it fair. If we expelled them five centuries ago, how can these people speak Portuguese? We only say, “if you want this nationally, which is yours because you were here centuries ago, you just have to present some documents and it will be issued,” she added.