A groundbreaking Netflix series set among Turkey’s Jews has been an unexpected hit there, challenging taboos and enthralling audiences with its glimpse into a long-overlooked community.
The global success of Turkish television series – often with government-pleasing narratives – has made the country a small-screen superpower.
But “The Club” and its sumptuous recreation of 1950s Istanbul is a first, not least because some of the dialogue is in Ladino, the language of Istanbul’s Jews which derives from medieval Spanish.
While minorities once flourished in the cosmopolitan capital of the Ottoman Empire, they suffered persecution as it fell and discrimination ever since.
Jews have generally kept their heads down to protect themselves, sticking to the Turkish Jewish custom of “kayades,” meaning “silence” in Ladino.
But “The Club” – which is set around a nightclub in Istanbul’s historic European quarter – puts an end to that silence.
The attacks and persecution that drove many Jews, Greeks and Armenians to leave Turkey in the 20th century are dealt with, including a crippling 1942 tax on non-Muslims and a pogrom against Greeks in 1955 which also unleashed violence against all the other minorities.
“Silence has neither protected us from anti-Semitism nor prevented migration to other countries,” said Nesi Altaras, editor of Avlaremoz online magazine run by young Turkish Jews.
“We need to talk, including on political issues that previous generations wanted to avoid,” he told AFP.
Less than 15,000 Jews remain in Turkey, down from 200,000 at the beginning of the 20th century.
The majority are Sephardic, whose ancestors fled to the Ottoman Empire after they were expelled from Spain in 1492.
In a rare case of life imitating art, “The Club” became Netflix’s number one show in Turkey just as Ankara tried to repair ties with Israel.
While both countries have been historically close, relations have soured badly over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and remarks by the Turkish president criticised as anti-Semitic.
Indeed until recently, Turkish pro-government dailies regularly published stories seen to be anti-Semitic.
But Israeli President Isaac Herzog made a landmark visit to Turkey earlier this month, where he held talks with his opposite number, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Herzog even visited the Istanbul district in which “The Club” is set.