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Uzbek Jews Face Uncertain Future

Life under late ruler Karimov was tightly controlled, but stable and largely free of ethnic conflict, local Jews say. 16 September 2016

Special prayers for Islam Karimov’s soul were recited in Uzbekistan’s synagogues following the president’s death two weeks ago. The country of 30 million has the largest Jewish population in Central Asia, and many Jews believe Karimov’s hardline rule helped protect them, JTA writes.

 

Speaking of Karimov’s role in the shooting deaths of hundreds of Muslim protesters in 2005 when demonstrations broke out in the city of Andjian, Shirin Yakubov, a Jew from Bukhara, praised him.

 

“He killed all of them, every last one,” she said, adding, “Our president acted exactly right.”

 

“The president had excellent relations with the Jewish community, in part because he went to school with many of its members and had many friends from its ranks, and this situation is expected to continue,” the country’s chief rabbi said.

 

Baruch Abramzaiov is not only the chief but the only official rabbi serving the country’s 13,000 Jews, JTA writes in a separate report carried by the Jerusalem Post. About 8,000 live in the capital, Tashkent, but the community has mostly been assimilated and few regularly attend services, he said.

 

Abramzaiov believes Jews need not worry about the change of leadership.

 

A synagogue in Bukhara. Image by upyernoz/Flickr.

 

“There are potential threats in the Islamic State and other radicals but Jews, as well as other minorities, receive government protection and will continue to get it,” he said.

 

Karimov’s regime left little scope for independent action whether in the political, cultural, or religious spheres.

 

“The government does not allow the community to have more than one rabbi, they want there to be only one person licensed to serve as rabbi, and this is limiting,” Abramzaiov said.

 

  • The number of Jews in Bukhara, an ancient cultural center for Jews and Muslims alike, has dwindled to no more than 150, JTA says.

 

  • About 75,000 Jews emigrated from Uzbekistan after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

 

  • Members of Tajikistan’s Jewish community say only 300 Jews remain there. The population was around 15,000 in 1989, Forward writes.

 

  • UN Human Rights Committee has condemned Uzbekistan’s persecution of believers, especially Muslims, such as “unlawful arrests, detentions, torture and ill-treatment and convictions on religious extremism-related charges.”

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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