History of Jews in Samarkand

The introductory article of the same name
book by Markiel Fazylov


Samarkand… many books have been written about this city. In ancient written sources Samarkand is famous as a center of concentration of scientific thought and culture. Here lived outstanding scientists of the East: Rudaki, Abu lais Nasr Ibn Muhammad, Alisher Navoi, Jami, Ulugbek, Giyasiddin Jamshid Kashi, Kazi-zade Rumi, Ali Kushchi, Omar Khayyam, Babur, al-Khorezm, Avicenna, Farabi, Sadriddin Aini and many other Poets, artists, travelers, conquered by the beauty and grandeur of Samarkand, called this city – “Rome of the East”, “Shining point of the earth”, “Eden of the ancient East”.

Like other centers of civilization – Athens, Rome, Babylon, Byzantium – Samarkand experienced violent events and upheavals. Its geographical location determined the great importance of the city as a link between East and West, the crossroads of the “Great silk road”. Many famous conquerors: Alexander the great, Darius, Kuteiba, Genghis Khan, who had a significant impact on the course of world history, considered it prestigious to conquer Samarkand. On his land were Massagets, Greeks, Arab soldiers, hordes of Tatar-Mongol. Greek written sources mention the ancient city of marocand in the Sogdian Kingdom. It is appropriate to note that nowadays “Sogdiana”is often used. The name comes from “Sogdian”, which in Persian language means “the people”. In the feminine of “Sogdiana” – a word that has no meaning and distorting the correct name – “Sogda”.

In the 14th century Samarkand became the capital of the Temur Empire, stretching from the Indus river to the Bosphorus. It is interesting that in the world there are several cities with the root “Samar»:

  1. Samarkand (Uzbekistan) is the capital of the commander Temur, who made it one of the most beautiful cities in the East. Samarkand, as a city, began to form since the 8th century BC. In 2007, the 2750th anniversary of Samarkand was celebrated.
  2. Samarra (Iraq) – the city is located on the banks of the Tigris river, about 125 km North of Baghdad. The capital of the Abbasid Caliphate and the Islamic world in the 9th century. In the 14th century, this territory was part of the Empire of Temur.
  3. Samara (Russia) – here in 1391 Temur defeated the Golden Horde Khan Tokhtamysh, opening the way to the rise of Moscow.
  4. Samaria (Israel) is a historical region and city of Israel. The name of the region comes from Shomron (probably from the Hebrew word “shamran” – “guardian”), which was the capital of the Kingdom of Israel in 875-722 BC.

The atmosphere of tolerance is typical for the peoples living in Samarkand. Various religious denominations coexist peacefully here. On this land there were Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and now continue to free religion representatives of traditional religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Preserved monuments of medieval architecture, mosques, churches, synagogues, as well as late architectural masterpieces of the 19th – early 20th centuries, are the result of the creation of geniuses of different peoples who lived in Samarkand. Uzbeks, Tajiks, Iranians, Jews, Hindus, Armenians, Russians, Azerbaijanis, Afghans, Turkmens, Uighurs and representatives of other nationalities have created unique monuments of material culture by their talent.

Three Holy places connected with the Jewish prophets appeared in Samarkand in an amazing way. One of the Holy places located near to Samarkand, is the “cave of Hazrat Dawood” (“Saint David”). Pilgrims come here to ask for help from St. David for healing from diseases or fulfillment of a secret desire. It is known that about 3000 years ago the future second king of Israel David was persecuted by the king Shaul. According to the Tanakh (Bible), David hid in the very cave. However, this story in the interpretation of local residents is shrouded in many legends.

Another sacred place – “Hazrat khizr,” which the Jews called “Kadamjai Ilovu Hanavi” (“the Place where the foot of the prophet Elijah”). The Jewish prophet Eliyahu lived in the Kingdom of Israel about 2,800 years ago. He became the only person simultaneously existing in two worlds: the upper world of the angels and the earthly world. Eliyahu monitors what is happening on earth and often comes into contact with people.

Another Holy place is the grave of the prophet Daniel “Mausoleum of Khoja Donier”. After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem about 2,600 years ago, the prophet Daniel lived in Babylon. It is believed that the spirit of St. Daniel buried in Samarkand protects the city, protects it, brings prosperity and prosperity. Samarkand people and many people who come there believe that the prayer service at the mausoleum will help to cope with diseases, difficulties and bring them good luck.
Jews, like other Nations, have a rich history in Samarkand. For centuries, there lived wonderful people involved in science, culture, medicine, religion, trade, industry, education and other areas. Many of them are written in the genealogical books (e.g. Kalandarovich, Fozilovich, Mullokandova) and three collections of “Years, people, facts” (1993, 1999, 2003), published in Samarkand under the editorship of M. Fazylova.

In 2013, Israel published a collection of selected works of writers of Bukhara Jews called “On the way to the truth”, which includes an article by M. Fazylov “Jews of Samarkand: episodes of ancient and modern history.” In 2015, a small book by R. Pinkhasov “Bukhara Jews of Samarkand” in Russian and English was published in new York. In the introductory part of this book is a brief essay on the history of Bukhara Jews (author M. Nosonovsky), the main part is a summary of the history of the Jewish community of Samarkand (author M. Fazylov).

However, there is no complete book that describes the history of the Jews of Samarkand from ancient centuries to the present time. Only the brochure of Professor Menashe Abramov “Bukhara Jews of Samarkand” (1993), covering the period from 1843 to 1917, is actually the only voluminous work that deserves deep respect. It was not by chance that the author chose 1843 as the starting date in the history of the Jews of Samarkand, because it was the year when the Jews acquired land to expand their quarter. Unfortunately, M. Abramov did not have time to complete his work: the Soviet period after 1917 remained unexplored.

It should be noted that many authors mistakenly consider 1843 the date of Foundation of the Jewish quarter. It seems as if the Jews had not had a place of compact residence in Samarkand before. But this is not true. Information about the Jewish community we find in different periods of the history of the city. However, in certain periods of time Jewish history in Samarkand was interrupted. The current situation, when Jewish communities practically disappeared in the cities of Central Asia, is a clear confirmation of this. It is quite possible that in some distant future, due to emigration processes associated with changes in political and economic life in the world, Jewish communities are formed there again.

Due to the lack of reliable information, historians often turn to legends. Successfully inscribed in the context, they adorn the narrative and enrich the content of the book. But this should be done with a big caveat and comments. On this occasion, the author of the book “Friends involuntarily: Russia and Bukhara Jews (1800-1917)”, historian A. Kaganovich writes the following:

“In the history of Bukhara Jews there are examples of how archival and printed sources can refute some family traditions and legitimize others. But for the specific delivery of such family legends are to successfully fulfill their social burden. The mythologization of its founder raises the consciousness of the genus and creates a basis for claims to an important position in the community of his descendants. Belonging to the heroic family rallies descendants on the basis of pride for the ancestor and the sacred memory of him.”
It is gratifying that M. Fazylov, a well – known public figure and journalist in Israel, undertook this work on the history of Jews in Samarkand. He was born and raised in the Jewish quarter of Samarkand and has extensive experience as the Chairman of the Jewish community of the city. Over the years, M. Fazylov has carried out many projects on Jewish education, the creation of the Museum of the heritage of Bukhara Jews, the improvement of the Jewish cemetery, the publication of Newspapers, magazines, documentaries, seminars, international conferences and festivals.

In 2012, on the initiative of M. Fazylov, the forum “Heritage of Bukhara Jews” was created, one of the tasks of which was the publication of books on the history of Jews in Central Asia. It is pleasant to note that among several books there was also mine, written together with M. Fazylov, the book “Famous merchants – Bukhara Jews” which became one of the most demanded and popular in our community.
I am sure that the book “History of Jews of Samarkand” will be very useful and interesting for all readers.

AMNUN KIMYAGAROV, Candidate of Technical Sciences, the Associate professor, the president of the American office of the International Academy on development of technologies, the Inventor of the USSR, the member of the Writers’ Union of Israel, the member of “The international association of the creative intellectuals”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.