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Turkey welcomes last Jew from Afghanistan, granting him visa

October 18, 2021 at 2:47 pm

Afghan Jew Zebulon Simentov looks at the Torah scripture at a synagogue in Kabul, Afghanistan on 5 April 2021 [WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images]

The last Jew from Afghanistan arrived in Turkey yesterday, after being granted a visa by the Turkish government.

62-year-old Zebulun Simantov, who hails from Herat province near the Afghan border with Iran and has been living in the capital, Kabul, arrived at Istanbul Airport yesterday by a flight from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Having been welcomed by the Ashkenazi Jewish rabbi of Istanbul, Mendy Chitrik, and some of his relatives, he was later seen departing the airport in a private car.

Simantov has been the last Jew in the country since his fellow Afghan Jew, Isaac Levy—his rival, who he was reportedly on bad terms with—died in 2004.

Over the decades of conflict in Afghanistan—the Soviet invasion, the bloody civil war, the first Taliban government and, then, the US-backed former Afghan government—Simantov continuously refused to leave the country; even after the Taliban’s recent takeover, he insisted that he would stay.

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Eventually, however, after receiving threats from Daesh in Afghanstan, Simantov agreed to be evacuated and took 30 others with him. With assistance from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, he was then issued a visa by Ankara.

According to reports, he only has a 90-day visa and so is expected to stay in Istanbul for a while, before considering later options. It is reported, however, that he has relatives in the United States and that his wife and children emigrated to Israel in the late 1990s. Simantov has, in the past, alluded to possibly going to either of them.

Turkish media hailed the granting of a visa to and arrival of Simantov as yet another example of the country’s historical assistance to persecuted or exiled Jews, referring to the Ottoman Empire’s welcoming of exiled Jews from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century and the refuge of Jews during World War Two.

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