History of the Uzbekistan Jewish Community
The special sub-ethnic group of Bukharian Jews formed on the territory of Uzbekistan. The first authentic evidence of Jewish presence in the region belongs to the 4th century A.D. A large Jewish community in Samarkand is first documented in the 12th century. By the time Central Asia was annexed by Russia (1865-1873), the Bukharian Jews were a minority with diminished rights, and a small part of them, living in the Bukharian emirate, were forcibly converted to Islam (the so-called “tchala”). Jews were living densely in Bukhara, Kattakurgan, Samarkand, Tashkent, Karshi, Shakhrisabz, Kokand, Margelan, and other cities.
The discriminatory edicts, existing previously in the Bukharian emirate with regard to the Bukharian Jews (referred to as “indigenous Jews”), were canceled in the areas annexed by the Russian empire. After the region came under Russian rule, Ashkenazi Jews appeared there as well. At the same time the term “Bukharian Jews” emerged – used to define Jews arriving to Russian-ruled areas from the Bukharian emirate.
In the end of the 19th century there were approximately 16 thousand Bukharian Jews; at the end of the 1920–1930s there were about 20 thousand. According to the 1926 census there were 38.2 thousand Jews living in Uzbekistan. During WWII, Ashkenazi Jews from Nazi-occupied republics and USSR areas were evacuated to Uzbekistan. As a result, in 1959 the Jewish population of the republic approximated to 94.3 thousand. By 1970, it had grown to 102.9 thousand.
In the 1970s, about 10 thousand Bukharian Jews emigrated to Israel. The 1979 census showed 95 thousand Jews still living in the republic, and the same number in the 1989 census (26 thousand of these – Bukharian Jews).
The state’s first legal Jewish secular organizations emerged in the years 1988–1999. May 1990 saw nationalistic riots, damaging, among others, the Jewish quarter in Andijan. During the period of mass emigration (late 1980s – early 1990s) no less than 80 thousand Jews left the republic. The emigration is continuing to this day. Beside Israel and the US, small groups of Jewish emigrants have settled in Russia; there are also small communities in Austria and Germany.
Today’s Jewish population in Uzbekistan is estimated at 13 thousand, no more than 3,000 of which are Bukharian Jews. Tashkent has a relatively large community (about 8,000). There are smaller communities in Samarkand and Bukhara, and quite little ones in Fergana, Andijan, Namangan, Margelan, Kokand, and Navoiy. The communities contain both Bukharian and Ashkenazi Jews. Most of the Jews in Tashkent are Ashkenazi, Bukhara has more Bukharian ones, and the community of Samarkand is more or less equally divided.