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.
Avramoglu 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.
Two 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.
Rising 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 communities.
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.
“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.
For 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 dream.
“This store is everything for me,” he says. “It’s history.”
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