The dwindling population of Jews in Central Asia represents one of the oldest religious communities in the region -- established more than 2,000 years ago, even before the predominant Muslim faith.
Though there are only thousands of Jews left in Central Asia, they still have a chief rabbi. But as of April 10, Gurevich has no official right to serve the Jewish community.
The Justice Ministry had warned on April 5 that the accreditation for Gurevich -- who has lived in Uzbekistan since 1990 -- may not be renewed. The ministry says it has multiple complaints against Gurevich and the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Orthodox Judaism that he heads. Among those are that the group is not submitting its financial records, making its funding impossible to trace; that the organization meets at a different address than the one given to Uzbek authorities; and that Gurevich "says the laws of the Republic of Uzbekistan are not applicable to him."
Jalol Abdusattarov, the head of the Justice Ministry's Department of Religious Affairs, said on April 10 that Gurevich's activities exceeded his authority and were not in accordance with the stated goals and duties of his organization. He gave no specific examples of such activities.
'Not A Grain Of Truth'
Prior to the announcement that he was being stripped of his accreditation, correspondent Sadriddin Ashurov of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service spoke to Gurevich about the Justice Ministry's announcement. He said he had no idea why the ministry would refuse to prolong his accreditation.
Since the Justice Ministry mentioned the possible refusal of accreditation to the rabbi, the state press has published articles vaguely referring to the numerous violations of the law that Gurevich has committed and questioning whether Gurevich really has any official authority to head the Jewish community in Central Asia.
Gurevich said allegations that he violated the law are inaccurate. "None of the material written about us contains even a grain of truth," he said, "not a grain of truth."
The Jewish community in Uzbekistan has seen several setbacks in the last decade. When Uzbekistan adopted a new law on religion in 1998, it abolished the rabbinate, the Jewish community's administrative office. Subsequent attempts to reopen the rabbinate have failed, leaving the Jewish community without theological schools to train rabbis.
In February 2006, Avraam Yagudaev, a Jewish leader from Tashkent, was killed in an automobile accident that some said was suspicious. A few months later, tragedy struck again when Gurevich's secretary and her mother were found strangled to death in Tashkent.
Failed To Accompany Delegation
The news about Gurevich's accreditation problem came as more than 100 members of the World Congress of Bukharan Jews arrived in Uzbekistan, led by its president, Lev Leviev. The ancient Silk Route city of Bukhara is located in Uzbekistan, and the Bukharan Jews are perhaps the best-known Jewish group of Central Asia.
Gurevich said his current difficulties -- which the rabbi says also include visa problems -- prevented him from accompanying the delegation to the city, regarded as the Uzbek Jews' homeland. Gurevich said not even an April 4 meeting with Abdusattarov, of the Justice Ministry's Department of Religious Affairs, could clear up the accreditation problem and allow him to go to Bukhara.
State media outlets in Uzbekistan do not report on issues unless the government has a reason for the news to be made public. The campaign against Gurevich in the Uzbek press looks to be paving the way for Gurevich's eventual removal as head of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
As for the Bukharan Jewish community, it numbered some 40,000 when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Today, it is about half that as thousands took the opportunity to move to Israel, the United States, or elsewhere.
ACTIVISTS AND AUTOCRATS: Eric McGlinchey, assistant professor of government and politics at George Mason University, told an RFE/RL briefing that Islam-centered political movements present the most coherent challenge to autocratic governments in Central Asia.
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