A new book, published in Turkey in English, provides a detailed look at the small and almost forgotten Jewish cemetery in the town of Bodrum, on Turkey’s Aegean coast south of Izmir.
Written by the researcher Dr. Siren Bora and translated, photographed, and designed by the artist and researcher C. M. Kösemen, the book, simply titled “The Bodrum Jewish Cemetery,” was published in January by Turkey’s Libra Books. (Alas, the purchase price is more than $100, which will put it out of reach of many potential readers.)
It includes photographs of the several dozen surviving gravestones in the cemetery, as well as translations and analysis of every legible epitaph. It also provides background information on the history of Bodrum’s Jews, Jewish funerary traditions, and other details.
The book is based on a paper by Dr. Bora, delivered in 2013 at a Turkish history symposium in Bodrum and published in 2014. Kösemen has translated and expanded that text and added his photo documentation.
Bora writes that 19 of the tombs belong to the family of the historian and Member of Parliament Avram Galante (1873-1961). A blogger who recently visited the cemetery writes:
from his 1945 book – ‘Bodrum History’, we know that in 1894 from a total Bodrum population of 6003, 3608 were Muslim, 2264 were Orthodox, 86 were Jewish and 45 were ‘foreign’. When the law was passed that made Turks take surnames, Galanti chose Bodrumlu.
She also notes that she discovered a new gravestone included in Kösemen’s photos, which apparently turned up in the cemetery between the time of her research and when he took the pictures in 2916. This stone, commemorating Zinbul, wife of Avraam Romano, was also not included in an inventory of the cemetery carried out in 2012 by the Izmir Jewish community, which counted 41 stones. Bora thus believes that the stone was probably brought back to the cemetery between 2012 and 2016, after being found elsewhere in the town.
Watch a video slide show of the cemetery.
A Jewish presence in Bodrum dates back to ancient times; the community is believed to have grown with the arrival of Romaniote Jews during the Byzantine era and later by an influx of Sephardic Jews after the expulsion from Iberia. According to Bora, the Bodrum Jewish population was “completely ‘Sephardized'” after the 15th and 16th centuries.
Many of the grave markers in the cemetery are horizontal slabs or sarcophagi in the Sephardic manner.
The authors note that the book also documents fascinating cases of cross-cultural contact between Bodrum’s Muslim and Jewish communities: two gravestones where the traditional Hebrew phrase, “Baruch Dayan Ha-emet,” is used together with “Ruhuna Fatiha,” a Muslim request for prayer (from the Surat-al-Fatiha in the Koran).
Kösemen writes that he had read of these syncretic tombstones in Bora’s original article and had wanted to document them:
“In August 2016, I visited the site and saw the tombstones in person as I was taking pictures. I wondered if these people had converted to Islam at some point of their lives, or if the had Muslim spouses. As I learnt later, neither was the case. The requests for the Fatiha prayers were instead placed on the tombstones at the insistence of Bodrum’s Turkish merchants, who saw and accepted these Jewish men, also merchants, as one of their own. It was a poignant reminder of a bygone era.”