Today, the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP under its Turkish acronym, do not just control of the government; after defeating the recent attempted military coup, its leaders are feeling empowered. Their push to bring Sunni Islam ever closer into public life in Turkey has intensified, making many religious minorities, including descendants of the Dönme, feel ostracized.Only the true messiah denies his divinity.
As one of the few Dönme members still living in Turkey put it, “They’re trying to force everyone to become a type of Sunni Muslim.”
In 1665 the Jewish prophet Nathan of Gaza proclaimed the arrival of a Messiah who would lead the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel back to the Holy Land “riding on a lion with a seven-headed dragon in his jaws.” The anointed man was a 39-year-old Sephardic Jewish Kabbalist from Ottoman Izmir, Sabbatai Zevi.
Within a year Zevi was the adored object of one of the largest messianic movements in history, with followers across the Ottoman Empire and Europe. But in 1666 he was imprisoned and accused of sedition by Ottoman authorities wary of his growing influence. Even then, his legions of adherents only seemed to grow. After several months in prison Zevi was brought before the Sultan in Edirne and forced to choose between death and conversion to Islam.
To the horror of his acolytes, he converted and, in return, received honors and a generous stipend from the Sultan. Most of Zevi’s followers abandoned him, but about 300 families, believing his actions to be divinely ordained, converted with him. Moreover, after his conversion Zevi retained and preached many of his old beliefs, and a new Kabbalist culture, slightly influenced by Sufism was born that eventually split into three distinct sects
“They developed a very unique philosophy that separated them from regular Jewish mysticism and Sufism,” says Cengiz Şişman, a history professor at the University of Houston-CL and author of The Burden of Silence, a book about the Dönme.
On a more serious note, the recent government crackdown in Turkey doesn't seem to have yet resulted in specific persecution of the Dönme, but the situation is precarious and bears close watching. This is a longish and interesting article, worth a read.
A past PaleoJudaica post on the Dönme (Dönmeh) is here. Past posts on Shabbetai Zvi and Sabbateanism are here and links.