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Dushanbe's Last Synagogue Demolished

  • Farangis Najibullah

Making way for the Palace of the Nation

Making way for the Palace of the Nation

Tajikistan's ancient Jewish community lost its only remaining synagogue in downtown Dushanbe, as authorities decided to tear down old buildings in the synagogue's neighborhood so that yet another presidential palace can be built.

The one-story synagogue was located in the city center, where authorities have begun construction of the so-called Palace of the Nation -- a luxurious presidential complex complete with parks and fountains.

For the city's several hundred Jews, the synagogue was both a place for religious services and a community center. Many of the Jews are elderly and poor, and the synagogue was a place where they could also get a free meal.

The Jewish community has been offered a plot of land on a distant edge of the city to build a new synagogue at their own expense. However, the members of the community -- who were not compensated for the loss of their synagogue -- say they cannot afford to build a new house of worship in the far-away area.

...There were court trials in the district and the city but they decided it was necessary to demolish [the synagogue]. The city appeals court, too, did not change the initial verdict. The decision remains the same: demolition

The demolition of the 100-year-old synagogue and all other buildings in the neighborhood took place under the Dushanbe city administration's long-standing and controversial urban-renewal project.

Hundreds Homeless

The project has caused a media frenzy and public protests since it was launched in 2005, leaving hundreds of residents in the city without homes.

The destruction of the synagogue actually began in February 2006 when the ritual bath, kosher butcher shop, and religious classrooms were bulldozed.

But pressure from regional and international Jewish groups as well as other international institutions -- including UNESCO -- led to the demolition process being temporarily halted.

But earlier this year, Dushanbe's Firdavsi district authorities sued synagogue leaders for disregarding the city administration's instructions to vacate the building.

David Kyselkov, the deputy rabbi of the Dushanbe synagogue, said both the district court and an appeals court ruled in favor of the local authorities.

"There were court trials in the district and the city but they decided it was necessary to demolish [the synagogue]. The city appeals court, too, did not change the initial verdict. The decision remains the same: demolition," Kyselkov said.

The synagogue was built in the early 1900s when there were at least two Jewish quarters in Dushanbe.

It was nationalized by the Soviet Union in 1952, giving the land ownership rights to the government. Two other synagogues in the city were closed down by Soviet officials.

Eventually, the Jewish community was allowed to use the house of worship, although the ownership of the land remained in the government's hands.

2,000 Years Of Tradition

Jews have lived in Tajikistan for more than 2,000 years. Central Asia's chief rabbi, Abe Davit Gurevich, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that "before the collapse of the Soviet Union there were some 15,000 Jews living in Tajikistan -- most of them Bukhari Jews whose language was Tajik."

But the Jewish community decreased dramatically in Tajikistan and the rest of Central Asia after the break-up of the Soviet Union, when most Jews immigrated to Israel or Western countries.

There are currently about 1,000 Jews living in Tajikistan and they say that more than anything else, their last remaining synagogue held great historic significance for them.

Despite that, many Dushanbe Jews have apparently resigned themselves to having lost the synagogue and remain hopeful that Tajik authorities will offer them a suitable place for a new synagogue -- and the resources to build it.

(RFE/RL's Tajik and Russian Services contributed to this report.)
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