History of the Jews in Azerbaijan – Wikipedia, the free …

Posted By on August 13, 2015

History of the Jews in Azerbaijan dates back to Late Antiquity.

Historically Jews in Azerbaijan have been represented by various subgroups, mainly Mountain Jews, Ashkenazi Jews and Georgian Jews. Azerbaijan at one point was or still is home to smaller communities of Krymchaks, Kurdish Jews and Bukharian Jews, as well Gers (converts) and non-Jewish Judaistic groups like Subbotniks. In 2002, the total number of Jewish residents in Azerbaijan was 8,900 people with about 5,500 of them being Mountain Jews.[2] A few more thousand descend from mixed families.[3] In 2010, the total Jewish population in Azerbaijan was 6,400.[4] Jews mainly reside in the cities of Baku, Sumqayit, Quba, Ouz, Goychay and the town of Qrmz Qsb, the only town in the world where Mountain Jews constitute the majority. Historically, Jews used to live in and around the city of Shamakhi (mainly in the village of Mc), but the community has been non-existent since the early 1920s.[3]

Azerbaijani Jewry traces its roots back to the existence of Caucasian Albania, an ancient and early medieval kingdom situated in what is now Azerbaijan, and populated with predecessors of modern Lezgins, Tsakhurs, Azeris, Udis, et cetera. Archaeological excavations carried out in 1990 resulted in the discovery of the remains of the 7th-century Jewish settlement near Baku and of a synagogue 25 kilometres to the southeast of Quba.[3] The first religious meeting-house in Baku was built in 1832 and was reorganized into a synagogue in 1896; more synagogues were built in Baku and its suburbs in the late 19th century. The first choir synagogue in Baku opened in 1910.[5]

From the late 19th century Baku became one of the centres of the Zionist movement in the Russian Empire.[5] The first Hovevei Zion was established here in 1891, followed by the first Zionist organization in 1899. The movement remained strong in the short-lived Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (19181920) marked with the establishment of the Jewish Popular University in 1919, periodicals printed in Yiddish, Hebrew, Judo-Tat and Russian, and a number of schools, social clubs, benevolent societies and cultural organizations.[3]

During the construction of a stadium in the town of Guba mass grave was discovered. Two main wells and two canals with human bones were uncovered. The finds indicate that 24 skulls were of children, 28 were of women of various ages. Besides ethnic Azerbaijanis, there were also Jews and Lezgis killed and buried during March Days in 1918.[6] The names of 81 massacred Jewish civilians were found and confirmed.[7]

After Sovietization all Zionism-related activities including those of cultural nature that were carried out in Hebrew were banned. In the early 1920s a few hundred Mountain Jewish families from Azerbaijan and Dagestan left for Israel and settled in Tel-Aviv. The next aliyah did not take place until the 1970s, after the ban on Jewish immigration to Israel was lifted (see: Refusenik (Soviet Union)). Between 1972 and 1978 around 3,000 people left Azerbaijan for Israel. 1970 was the demographic peak for Azerbaijani Jews after World War II; according to the census, 41,288 Jews resided in Azerbaijan that year.[3]

Many Jewish migrs from Azerbaijan settled in Tel-Aviv and Haifa. There are relatively large communities of Mountain Jewish expatriates from Azerbaijan in New York and Toronto.

A new Jewish synagogue, which became the biggest synagogue of Europe was opened in Baku on March 9, 2003. There is also a Jewish school, which has been operating in Azerbaijan since 2003. Currently, there are three synagogues in Baku, two in Quba and one in Oghuz.[8]

Different theories have been brought forward regarding the origin of Mountain Jews and the exact date of their settlement in the Caucasus. The commonly accepted theory views Mountain Jews as early medieval immigrants from Persia and possibly the Byzantine Empire forced out by Islamic conquests. They settled in Caucasian Albania, on the left bank of the Kura River and interacted with the Kypchak Kaganate of Khazaria, which lied to the north. It was through these early Jewish communities that the Khazars converted to Judaism making it their state religion.[3]

In the following centuries, Mountain Jews are believed to have moved further north making way to mass migration of Oguz Turks into the region. Their increase in number was supported by a constant flow of Jews from Iran. In the late Middle Ages Jews from Gilan founded a settlement in Oguz. Throughout the medieval epoch Mountain Jews were establishing cultural and economic ties with other Jewish communities of the Mediterranean. Agriculture and fabric trade was their main occupation until Sovietization. Some families practiced polygamy.[3] In 1730, Huseyn Ali, the ruler of the Quba Khanate (then newly separated from the Safavid Empire), issued a decree according to which Jews could own property in the khanate.[9]

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