AZERBAIJAN, one of the independent states of the C.I.S.; formerly part of Persia and the Soviet Union. It gained its independence with the breakup of the U.S.S.R.
Former northwestern province of Iran. There have been Jewish settlements in Azerbaijan ever since Jews first settled in Persia. However, their presence is attested by documentary evidence only from the 12th century. *Benjamin of Tudela (c. 1165) refers in his Travels to a chain of "more than a hundred congregations in the Haftan mountains up to the frontiers of Media," which included Persian Azerbaijan. *Samuel b. Yaḥyā al-Maghribī relates that David *Alroy (12th century) found adherents for his messianic movement in such cities as Khoi, Salmas, *Tabriz, Maragha, and Urmia (*Rizaiyeh).
When after 1258 Hūlāgū Khān established his residence in Tabriz, the new center attracted many Jewish settlers. Saʿad al-Dawla (d. 1291) made his career there as courtier. Tabriz, Sulṭāniyya, and other places in Azerbaijan continued to be a scene of Jewish events in the 13th and 14th centuries. Azerbaijan was also a *Karaite center. Under the Safavids, Jews are mentioned in several districts.
The Jews in Azerbaijan survived persecutions in the 17th century. Between 1711 and 1713 an emissary (shali'aḥ) from Hebron, Judah b. Amram Dīwān, visited many communities in Azerbaijan. The sufferings of the Jews under the Kajar dynasty (from 1794) in Maragha, Urmia, Salmas, and Tabriz is graphically described by Christian missionaries and various travelers of the 19th century, including *David d'Beth Hillel. The dialect of the Jews in various communities in Azerbaijan has been the object of investigations by western scholars such as *Noeldecke, Socin, Duval, *Gottheil, Maclean, and J.J. *Rivlin.
[Walter Joseph Fischel]
Soviet Socialist Republic, eastern Transcaucasia, from 1921. It was ceded to Russia in 1813 and finally incorporated in it in 1828; before the 1917 Revolution it formed the governments of (provinces) *Baku and Yelizavetpol. Up to the late Middle Ages this region was called Albania, Azerbaijan then comprising only the present Persian area. When the region was first annexed by Russia the Jewish population mainly consisted of Tat-speaking *Mountain Jews. Their main centers were the city of *Kuba and district as well as the villages of Miudji and Miudji-Aftaran in the government of Baku, and the village of Vartashen in the government of Yelizavetpol. The Jewish residents in Kuba and district numbered 5,492 in 1835, of whom 2,718 lived in the city itself, which had a separate Jewish quarter. In 1866 a Jewish traveler reported 952 Jewish households in Kuba, 145 in Miudji, and 190 in Vartashen, while a Russian traveler recorded that year 6,282 Jews in Kuba, 957 in Miudji, and 1,396 in Vartashen. The Jews of Azerbaijan generally engaged in agriculture, petty trade, and manual labor; on average, their economic position was poor. They also suffered from persecution by the local Muslim population, and were often the victims of violent attacks. The region was closed to residence for Jews from European Russia during the czarist regime (see *Pale of Settlement). With Baku's rapid growth as an oil-producing center, however, a considerable number of European Jews took an active part in developing the industry. The census of 1897 records 12,761 Jewish residents in Baku government and 2,031 in Yelizavetpol. The largest urban communities were in Kuba (6,662 Jewish residents) and Baku (2,341). A secular Jewish-Russian school was opened in Kuba in 1908.
During the civil war following the 1917 revolution and in subsequent years, many Jews in Azerbaijan left their villages, mainly for Baku, which also attracted Jews from European Russia. Miudji was completely deserted, and about 3,500 Jews left Kuba; Baku then became the most important Jewish center in Azerbaijan. After the establishment of the Soviet
[Yehuda Slutsky /
In 1970 there were 41,288 Jews in the Azerbaijan S.S.R. and in 1989 30,800 (of whom 22,700 were Ashkenazi Jews living in Baku). In the wake of the continuing warfare between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1989, 1,981 Jews (97.5%, or 1,933 of them, from Baku) emigrated. In 1990, 7,673 Jews emigrated to Israel from Azerbaijan and in 1991 5,968 (with 5,513 of them coming from Baku). Baku had a Jewish culture club, called "Alef." In 1992 Azerbaijani Jews began issuing the newspaper Aziz (an abbreviation of "Azerbaijan-Israel"). In deference to local nationalism, the newspaper published anti-Armenian articles. The government and the Popular Front of Azerbaijan publicly condemned antisemitism and the Jewish Agency was allowed to operate openly in Baku.
In June 1993, as a result of a coup, Geidar Aliev, a former top Communist Party official, became president. Aliev's relatively favorable stance vis-à-vis Iran resulted in an increased number of Iran-financed periodicals, including Islamic World and Word of Truth, with antisemitic and anti-Israel contents. In October 1993 the newspaper And launched a series of articles signed by a certain Eloglu (The Nation's Son), the first of which attributed the problems of Azerbaijan to the "Jewish mafia, Armenians, and the Russian Empire." Antisemitism, however, did not constitute a problem in the country.
There were an estimated 17,300 Jews in Azerbaijan at the end of 1993. The rate of emigration from Azerbaijan to Israel continued to be high, with an estimated 7,500 Jews remaining in 2003.
[Daniel Romanowski (2nd ed.)]
Fischel, Islam, passim; idem, in: PAAJR, 22 (1953), 1–21; Lowenthal, in: HJ, 14 (1952), 61–62; J.J. Chorny, Sefer ha-Massa'ot (1884), 106–25, 263–4, 324–31; Benyamini, in: Aḥdut, 3 (1912), 14–15, 47–48; V.F. Miller, Materialy dlya izucheniya yevreyskotatarskogo yazyka (1892), includes bibliography. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: U. Schmelz and S. DellaPergola, in: AJYB, 95 (1995), 478; AJYB, 103 (2003); Supplement to the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, 2 (1995); Institute of Jewish Affairs, Antisemitism World Report 1994, 137–38.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.