Tajikistan, one of the five central Asian countries
of the former Soviet Union,
is bordered by Uzbekistan, Kyrgzstan, Afghanistan,
and China. Of its population
of five million, the Jewish community stands at approximately 2,000.
Map of Tajikistan
The Jewish community of Tajikistan is made up of Bukharan and Ashkenazi Jews. The Bukharan Jews have a long and complicated history in Central
Asia, particularly in the Turkistan region. The Ashkenazim arrived in
Tajikistan during World War
II to escape the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe.
Bukharan Jews are an ethnic group in Central Asia, mainly in Uzbekistan
and Tajikistan. The term “Bukharan Jewry” was conceived by
European travelers when the Jewish community lived under the rule of
the Emir of Bukhara. The group's ancestry can be traced to an Israelite
tribe exiled during the Babylonian
Exile in the 6th century B.C.E., who made their way to Central Asia.
Bukharan Jews call themselves Isro'il or Yahudi and speak Bukhori or Judeo-Tajik, a distinct dialect of the Tajiki-Persian
language that incorporated a number of Hebrew words. The group is concentrated in Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe.
The history of the Jews in the modern country of Tajikistan is difficult
to discern due to the region's constantly changing borders and rulers.
The Tajik territory was defeated by the Mongols in the 13th century
and came under the khanate of Bukhara in the 16th century. While
Central Asia remained Sunni Muslims, Persia was taken over by Shiite Muslims.
This led to the isolation of the Jews of Central Asia from the rest
of the Jewish world for hundreds of years. For generations, the Bukhara
Jews have developed their own unique culture and traditions.
The region was divided into several weak khanates in the mid
19th century, and, by the 1880s and 1890s, Russia had taken control of the Tajik lands. The Jews generally welcomed the
Russians, as the conquest signified the end of their oppression under
In addition, as the Jews had a tradition of being traders, they had
established a warm trading relationship with Russia that had existed
for centuries. The Russian conquest helped establish a powerful tradesman
class of Bukharan Jews, yet also impoverished the majority of the Jewish
community, as their cloth-dying businesses were replaced by Russian
Initially, the Russians did not restrict Jewish autonomy, but with
the large influx of persecuted Jews moving into the newly created Turkistan
region, the government ordered the expulsion of unregistered Jews from
a number of Tajik cities. The order was never fully implemented, and
many Jews paid off the authorities to allow them to remain in the territory.
In general, the Russian authorities treated Bukharan Jews better than
Under the Soviets
After the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, Tajikistan came under Soviet occupation. The Jews'
situation drastically declined and thousands of Jews fled the region
throughout the 1920s and 1930s, due to virulent anti-Semitism,
persecution, property confiscation, and imprisonments. Jewish activity
halted. With the onset of World War II in 1938-39, Jewish newspapers were shut down and, in 1940,
the publication of Judeo-Tajik books was terminated and Judeo-Bukharan
schools were closed. The loss of Jewish culture led to increased assimilation
into the local communities. Despite this, the Jewish community grew
tremendously due to an influx of Ashkenazi Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler settled in Tajikistan.
The majority of the Jewish population of Tajikistan is located in the
capital, Dushanbe, with smaller communities in Shakhrisabz, Leninabad
Oblast and the Fergana Valley. Approximately 40 percent of Tajik Jews
are Bukharan; the rest are Ashkenazi.
In September 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan
declared its independence. In December of that same year, the country
joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
While the fall of Communism brought more freedom to the Jews, almost
immediately after independence the country was plunged into a civil
war between government forces and Islamic fundamentalists. Continuous
military conflicts have kept Tajik Jews in severe poverty and in fear
of their lives for years. A mass exodus of Tajik Jews has occurred.
In 1989 through 2000, 10,800 Jews have made aliyah out of the 20,000 in the country. In 1992, a secret airlift operation
brought a small number of Jews to Israel.
The approximately 900 remaining Tajik Jews are for the most part elderly,
poverty-stricken and subject to anti-Semitic attacks and persecution.
Community centers working with the Joint Distribution Committee and
other Jewish organizations send food packages and try to care for the
aged. The Jewish community of Tajikistan is barely able to function
and relies on the aid of world Jewish organizations for support.
Only one synagogue remains
in the country and is located in Dushanbe.
However, in the summer of 2004, the Tajik
government announced its intent to demolish
the 100-year-old structure to make room
for a presidential palace. The community
of 500 Jews in Dushanbe, as well as the
world Jewish community, and the U.S. and
Israeli embassies in Tajikistan intervened
to prevent the destruction of the historic
synagogue, but in early 2006 the government
demolished the mikve and several classrooms.
Despite pleas from the Jewish community and
international organizations, the remaining
structures were due to be demolished to make way for a new presidential palace.
The city has offered alternate sites at the
edges of the city but won’t provide
compensation for the buildings and the community
is too small and poor to build a new synagogue.
UNESCO had written the Tajikistan
authorities to halt the construction project,
calling the synagogue’s destruction
a “contradiction with existing international
standards for the protection of cultural
heritage.” UNESCO never received a
reply from the Tajikistan government and repeated the appeal, but it appeared
too late to stop the destruction. Tajikistan's lone synagogue was demolished in June 2008 to make way for a park. The government has promised to allocate land for a new synagogue, though details on the plan are sketchy.
Relations with Israel
Tajikistan and Israel maintain full
diplomatic relations. Israel is represented in Tajikistan by its embassy
in Uzbekistan. The majority
of the Taijk Jewish population has made aliyah to Israel and
established a sizable community in Jerusalem.
Proletarsky Street, Dushanbe
Nazyina Khikmeta Street 26
23 Bainal Minal Street
Community of Dushanbe
Nazima Khikmata str. 26
Dushanbe, Tajikistan 7340001
Tel.: (992 372) 21-76-58, 21-20-26, 21-31-64
of Jewish Communities of the CIS
“Tadzhikistan,” “Bukharan Jews” Encyclopedia
Zaidner, Michael (ed.) Jewish
Travel Guide 2000: International Edition. Vallentine Mitchell
and the Jewish Chronicle. Great Britain: 2000.
Hilary Leila Krieger, “Tajikistan moving
ahead with demolition of only shul,” The Jerusalem
Post, (March 1, 2006).
“Lone Tajik synagogue razed,” JTA (6/26/08).