Transcaucasia and Central Asia 2006
Although the recent history of the region
has not seen major antisemitic incidents, a number of developments seem to
point to a less positive attitude toward Israel and the Jews there. Moreover,
several cases of violence committed against members of Jewish religious
communities in the region in 2006 may have been motivated by antisemitism.
The eight national republics in Transcaucasia
and Central Asia gained their independence in the early 1990s after the
disintegration of the Soviet Union. Six of them have a Muslim majority
(Kazakhstan, 60 percent, Uzbekistan, 90 percent, Kyrgyzstan, 80 percent,
Tajikistan, 90 percent, Turkmenistan, 90 percent and Azerbaijan, 80 percent)
and two have a Christian majority (Armenia, 80 percent and Georgia, 60 percent).
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan share a long common border with Iran; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan adjoin Afghanistan.
The new republics created
national governments, preserving authoritarian regimes and 'Soviet' practices, including
intolerance for opposition movements and a restricted press. Turkmenistan,
considered to have one of the most totalitarian regimes in the world, is often
compared to North Korea; in Kazakhstan an opposition leader was assassinated by
the secret services on 13 February 2006; a political and economic embargo was
declared on Uzbekistan after the Andijan events (Uzbekistan was accused in May
2005 of murdering hundreds of civilians during an attempt to stop a militant
group which stormed a local prison and released their leader, calling on the
president to dismiss the local administration. Uzbekistan claimed that it had
been a radical Islamic coup attempt); in Kyrgyzstan three parliamentary members
were killed during the past year. Most of the republics have jailed political
leaders or independent journalists, or banned parties, which have been forced
to operate from exile. The popular revolutions which occurred in recent years
in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan might herald a change toward a more democratic future
in those republics.
The revival of long-buried
nationalistic movements and conflicts following independence in these countries
has led to civil wars in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Tajikistan; as a result, demarcation of their borders has not been completed. The issue of national
minorities is also very complex since there are more than one hundred national
groups in the region. Some (such as Karakalpaks in Uzbekistan and Ajarians in Georgia) have autonomous regions, while others created their own, unrecognized states (Abkhazians
and South-Osetians in Georgia and Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, the region in
dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan). Tajikistan's desire to regain the
cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, Armenia's to regain Armenian lands from
Turkey, the Azeris' aspiration to create an all-Azeri union (the majority of
Azeris live in Iran), and tensions between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
over the Fergana valley are all potential flash points.
It should be noted that
because of an embargo by Turkey and Azerbaijan (due to the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict), Armenia is forced to rely almost solely on its southern neighbor
There are also interstate economic
difficulties relating to taxes, transportation, and ownership and use of common
natural recourses. The question of the use of the Caspian Sea, for example,
involves Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, each of which has
different interests there. The region is rich in natural resources (oil and
gas) but they are not evenly divided among the republics. Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are very rich whereas the others are economically distressed.
situation provides fertile ground for the activity of radical political and
religious groups, some of which aspire to carry out a military coup and form an
Islamic government. Georgia's and Kyrgyzstan's economic problems led to public
unrest which developed into political upheavals, while in Uzbekistan,
Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan public protests were harshly repressed
by the government.
An anti-terrorist center was
set up in 2006 in Tashkent to coordinate the efforts of Central Asian
governments. Besides extremist Muslim groups, banned organizations include Christian
Evangelistic groups and Harry Krishna, which allegedly inflame
religious-nationalist tensions by trying to convert the local population to
Christianity or Buddhism.
Radical Islamic groups such
as Hizb ut-Tahrir (see ASW 2004) and IMU
(Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), which are inspired by
neighboring Iran, are threatening the region with Islamic revolution. Since
they are banned in the states in which they operate, they have been forced underground.
Targeting governmental/state interests, they have carried out several suicidal
terrorist bombings during the last decade in Uzbekistan. Two of the attacks were
against the American and Israeli embassies.
the Jewish Community
The Jewish population is made up of several sub-groups:
Bukharan, Georgian and Mountain Jews have been living in the region for
centuries while Ashkenazi Jews arrived mainly during and after World War II.
The Jewish population, which forms only a tiny fraction of the total population, has
decreased dramatically in recent decades due to political, social and
economic instability mentioned above. The massive emigration from the region
(not only of Jews, but also of Russians, Germans and Poles, among others) has left
a residue of some 30,000−50,000 Jewish residents, mostly Ashkenazi Jews living
in the capital cities. The decline in the Jewish population is most evident in
the poorer republics. In Bukhara (Uzbekistan), for example, only a handful of
Jewish families are left, and a similar situation exists in other regional
cities of Uzbekistan (such as Samarkand, Kokand and Fergana). Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan each have about 10,000 Jews; about one thousand remain in
Georgia and several hundred more live in Armenia, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, respectively.
Apart from Turkmenistan, the republics impose no limitations on the activities of local or international (such
as JAFI, the Jewish Agency for Israel; and the JDC, or Joint) Jewish
organizations which have representatives and offices in the capitals. Chabad is
the most active religious organization in the region, represented by at least a
dozen rabbis (in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia). Synagogues for Georgian, Mountain and Bukharan Jews have their own rabbis.
Other religious functions include mikvehs and kosher food.
ChBaD also operates four
Jewish schools (in Tashkent, Alma-Ata, Baku and Tbilisi) and some ten Sunday
schools and kindergartens in the capitals and the periphery. This large-scale
activity is possible due to massive funding by the Israeli businessman and
philanthropist Lev Levaev, who has personal investments in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan and direct access to their presidents. Another two schools in Uzbekistan (in
Tashkent and Bukhara) are sponsored by Midrash Sfaradi (the Israeli Sephardic
religious organization); one school in Kyrgyzstan (in Bishkek) is supported by a
private Jewish donor from Belgium who lived in Bishkek during WW2, while another
in Azerbaijan (Baku) is funded by the anti-Zionist Vaad ha-Hatsala, based in the
US and Israel. Sunday schools are also operated by JAFI and by the Israeli
All countries of the region
maintain diplomatic relations with Israel and Israel has permanent delegations
in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The positive attitude toward
Israel of both the authorities and the public stems from admiration of its
long confrontation with militant Islamic groups. On the other hand, the shift
toward the east and toward Russia, which has replaced an American-European
orientation, may portend a less pro-Israel stand. The first signs of this change
became visible in 2006 with the Second Lebanon War (see below). The suffering
of the large Armenian minority in Lebanon in the summer 2006 war, for instance,
had a negative impact on local attitudes toward Israel in Armenia.
On 7−20 February 2006
the authorities of Dushanbe (Tajikistan) demolished the Jewish ritual
bathhouse, classroom and kosher butchery in the city and the hundred-year-old
synagogue was scheduled to be demolished by June 2006, in order to clear the ground for new presidential offices. In early March the city authorities postponed
the demolition order for the synagogue until an alternative location is found.
In general, with a few exceptions, the recent
history of the region has not seen major antisemitic incidents. This may be
ascribed to the fact that many local ethnic groups are engaged in national and
territorial conflicts in the region, while Jews remain uninvolved. According to
a common sentiment in Georgia: "The Jews have lived among us for more than two
millennia and now they are asking nothing for themselves - unlike other
nationalities who arrived in the region only a few hundred years ago and now
want to uproot us from our land" (referring to South Osetians, Abkhazians, Ajarians
However, the word 'Jew'
often appears in the context of discussions on 'global conspiracies' or 'American
world domination'. It is also used pejoratively by the general public,
especially when criticizing their presidents. For example, it is quite common
in Uzbekistan to call President Islam Karimov a 'Jew' and accuse Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev of having a 'Jewish wallet' (referring to the patronage
of Eduard Mashkevich, a local Jewish oligarch and president of the Euro-Asian
Jewish Congress). Similar censure is often heard about exploitation of the
region with 'Jewish money', such as that of the SOROS Foundation. A simple
search on Google, using as keywords the name of one of the presidents and 'Zhid'
(derogatory term in the Russian language for 'Jew') leads to hundreds of
talkbacks blaming all the ills of the world − such as the sickness of Turkmenistan's president, the war in Iraq and the Russian Revolution − on a 'Jewish
On 30 April 2006 Rabbi
Menakhem Mendel Gershovich found a letter at the entrance to ChaBaD house in Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan), which contained phrases such as "Jews get out of Kazakhstan" and "Kazakhstan for Kazakhs - this is not the place for Jews". The rabbi later said he had
decided not to file a complaint since antisemitic incidents in Kazakhstan are very rare.
In Azerbaijan, former Interior Minister (1992−93) Iskendar Gamidov, chairman of the National
Democratic Party (Boz Gurd), made antisemitic and anti-Israel statements on 27
July. He accused the Jews of owning all the land in northern Azerbaijan, of trying to get hold of other assets and of acting as if they owned the world. In Baku, the capital, several anti-Israel demonstrations took place on 27 July, and 3 and 7
August (the period of the Second Lebanon War − see General Analysis).
On 18 August and 14
September Molotov cocktails were tossed at the synagogue in Dushanbe (Tajikistan). Although Armenia is predominantly Christian, posters supporting Hizballah were
hung in the center of Yerevan during the Second Lebanon War (see General Analysis).
Several violent attacks on
Jewish religious communities in the region in 2006 may have been
motivated by antisemitism. In Tashkent (Uzbekistan) alone: Avraham Yegudaev was
killed in February in a hit and run incident near the synagogue (his relatives
are convinced that the motivation was antisemitic), and the secretary of the
chief ChaBaD rabbi and her elderly mother were murdered in their house on 8 June;
in addition, several members of the Jewish community were beaten. The authorities and Chief Rabbi of Uzbekistan David
Gurevich rejected the possibility of antisemitism as a motive in the case of
the secretary, which was solved surprisingly quickly: the police claimed it was a
burglary. In other cases the perpetrators were not found.
The unveiling in Yerevan in 2006 of a joint monument to victims of both the Holocaust and the genocide of the Armenians in Turkey is a recent example of efforts to find similarities between the two events.