Ilya Avramoglu’s bra and corset shop in Istanbul has survived much antisemitism in the past; this time, however, the antisemitic threat is (allegedly) coming from his Catholic landlord, Sophia Jones writes in the Huffington Post:
Avramoglu’s Kelebek shop in downtown Istanbul : threatened with eviction
In one of the wood-paneled walls at the back of the shop, just below a
poster of a smiling woman in a black bra, is a small hole. It’s all
that is left from an attack on the minority-owned shop 60 years ago. It
was nearly his grandfather’s downfall.
In early September 1955, rumors spread like wildfire that the home of
Kemal Ataturk, the widely loved founder of modern Turkey, was set ablaze
by Greeks (the rumor was entirely false). What ensued was a slew of
attacks on homes, churches, schools and shops of Greeks, as well as
Armenians, Georgians and Jews. The actual death toll of what is now
known as the Istanbul pogrom is unknown; at least a dozen people were
killed. Istiklal, then home to many shops owned and run by foreigners
and minorities, was totally destroyed.
Kelebek was ransacked, its
money and merchandise stolen. Nothing was left except debris and broken
glass, and there was a hole in the wood paneling — which Avramoglu now
proudly shows off as a mark of defiance.
holds up a photo of his grandfather standing in Kelebek Corset Shop
after it was destroyed by a mob in 1955 during the Istanbul pogrom.
faded black and white portraits, one of his grandfather, and another of
Ataturk, hang in the shop like a silent reminder of the time.
generations later, Avramoglu says he still isn’t safe from persecution.
He vividly recalls two major anti-Semitic attacks in particular: In
1986, two gunmen locked the doors of an Istanbul synagogue and open
fired during Sabbath prayers, killing at least 21. And then in 2003,
twin car bombs exploded near two synagogues in central Istanbul.
Avramoglu’s sister, who was attending a bar mitzvah in one of the
synagogues during the attack, survived. But more than 24 people were
killed and 300 wounded, the majority of them Turkish bystanders.
levels of anti-Semitism have rocked Turkey’s Jewish community. Scores
of Jews have left home, bound for Europe, the United States and Israel
in search of religious freedom and a better life. In some cities, like
Antakya, there are only a few remaining members of the ancient
Avramoglu’s family started a
petition pleading to Pope Francis to rescind the eviction order, and
they plan to go to court. His lawyer tells him they’ll lose, he says,
somberly. “The law is against us.”
Avramoglu cannot support his
large family if he gets evicted. A local Jewish foundation is already
pitching in to help pay his son’s university tuition.
Avramoglu hangs fliers condemning his eviction order.
Thursday, Avramoglu taped up his eviction order in the storefront and a
poster in Turkish reading, “Where is the mercy? Where is the
conscience?” Passersby stopped and watched him, whispering among
“We support you fully,” a woman said to Avramoglu, briefly poking her head into the store.
“An era is ending,” murmured a man who has been coming to Kelebek for 48 years.
Avramoglu, his shop is a monument, not just to bras and underwear, but
to religion and identity — which is what he’s fighting for. Kelebek is
his life’s work, and he’s proud to have achieved his grandfather’s
“This store is everything for me,” he says. “It’s history.”