Ancient Jewish cemetery in western Turkey to be restored to honor community

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ISTANBUL
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A Jewish cemetery in the southwestern city of Muğla dating back to the early days of the Ottoman Empire will undergo restoration in a project to honor the Jewish community, which has long left the city.

The cemetery in the town of Milas will be restored for the project entitled "Silent Witnesses of Milas Jewry," and local officials plan to turn it into a faith tourism destination.

The cemetery houses about 170 graves, some dating back to as far as the 16th century. Milas Mayor Muhammet Tokat, whose municipality coordinated with a Jewish foundation and local governorate, told reporters that Milas, on the southwestern tip of Turkey, was home to a large Jewish population in the near past. "We had Jewish neighbors. They were mostly merchants. I remember them well, but future generations should also be aware that Jews once lived in Milas. Researchers will study the graves and experts will renovate it as part of our project," the mayor said.

Sami Azar, leader of the Jewish community in the western city of İzmir where a larger population of Jews live, visited Milas on Friday to meet the mayor to discuss the project. Azar said cemeteries are deemed sacred in every religion, and his community was ready to contribute to the restoration project. "Every nation, every community who lived in these lands left their trace in Anatolia and this cemetery is also a part of Anatolian culture, just like Jews themselves. I am very pleased with the decision for restoration," he said. Professor Engin Berber, a consultant for a local museum, said a special section was devoted in the museum for the town's Jewish history.

Dr. Siren Bora is among the historians conducting research at the cemetery. She said the history of it dated back to four centuries ago, and they would examine the gravestones to shed light on Jewish culture. "Jewish gravestones give insight into the past of the deceased as they are very detailed in describing the buried, from their occupation to their family history et cetera," she said.

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