Monday, January 01, 2007

Spotlight on the Jews of Uzbekhistan

The Jews of Uzbekistan face an uncertain future in a volatile society riven by ethnic tensions, JTA News reports (with thanks: Albert):


FERGANA, Uzbekistan, Dec. 28 (JTA) — As soon as he discovered his passenger was Jewish, the cab driver issued a warning.

“When we come to Fergana, don’t tell anyone you are Jewish,” said Jamshi, 33, a Muslim from Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent. “I don’t mind it, but some Muslims there have a different view. They think Jews are evil.”

The government in Tashkent, and those who have followed the development of Uzbekistan in the 15 years since its independence from the Soviet Union, believe the region known as the Fergana Valley is a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism.

But the Jews who live here don’t seem panicked.

Semyon Abdurakhmanov, who heads the Fergana Jewish community, said local Jews have no specifically “Jewish” problems and that the most important issue facing both Jews and non-Jews in the country isn’t radical Islam but the poor economic situation.

Abdurakhmanov, 53, a lawyer and financial inspector, runs a tiny community office in a one-story building in the center of this city of 200,000 people about 260 miles east of Tashkent.

As if to prove that Jews do not have to hide in the predominantly Muslim valley, a sign in Uzbek and Russian above the door to the community office reads “The Jewish National Cultural Center.” The office has no security, and through the window passers-by can easily see a large Israeli flag hanging on the wall alongside an Uzbek one.

But the idyllic impression is misleading.

In recent decades, the Fergana Valley, a densely populated, multiethnic region split among Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, saw violence and bloodshed that harshly affected ethnic groups of Muslims as well as Jews.

In 1989, interethnic clashes between Uzbeks and the Meskhetian Turks, a Muslim people exiled to Central Asia from the Caucasus during Josef Stalin’s rule, resulted in approximately 150 deaths.

The following year, anti-Jewish pogroms took place in the city of Andizhan, some 50 miles from Fergana.

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