Jews in Uzbekistan
There’s a fair bit of coverage concerning the death in Tashkent of Avron (Avraam, or Avraham) Yagudayev, a prominent member of the city’s community of Bukharan Jews. This has raised concern as it follows shortly after an attack on Grigori Akilov, the son of Tamara Akilova, head of Simho, the Bukharan Jewish cultural centre. Akilov remains hospitalized.
However, the reaction of Shoazim Minovarov, Chairman of the Uzbek Committee for Religious Affairs, seems a bit odd. According to Minovarov:
“There are no Yagudayevs among chairmen of Jewish communities or among rabbis. There is only one Yagudayev I know of, and he is shoemaker at the city marketplace … These religious communities [Bukharan Jews in Tashkent] have Boris Shimonov and Arkady Isakharov for chairmen and do not include an Avraam Yagudayev.”
Very possibly Minovarov may be misinformed; then again, as chairman of the state body for religious affairs he is presumably au fait with Uzbekistan’s main religious leaders, especially those of one of the country’s oldest religious communities. Furthermore:
“Members of the Jewish community are not worried or anything because Jews have been living on the territory of Uzbekistan since the time out of mind – without any conflicts or clashes with the population, much less with the authorities.”
This is true – the Bukharan Jewish community is very old, but it has been steadily shrinking since the collapse of the USSR. According to the 1989 Soviet census there were some 65,000 ‘European’ Jews (Ashkenazim) and 28,000 ‘Central Asian’ Jews (Bukharan) in the Uzbek SSR; now there may be less than, what, 10,000 in total? Emigration to Israel and the USA (espec. Queens, New York) accounts for the decline and, frankly, it shows no sign of stopping. The slow death of a once vibrant indigenous Jewish culture in Central Asia has been one of the least regarded aspects of the post-Soviet era, but intensely fascinating nonetheless.