Uzbekistan

Timeline. Through history.

If we don’t understand the past, how can we understand our present and future? To truly absorb, appreciate, and reflect on the country we are visiting, we need to look at pivotal moments in history. Begin your journey through the ages now.

  • Jewish timeline
  • General timeline

THE PERSIAN INFLUENCE

  • 100,000 First human inhabitants domesticate horses and are able to roam widely
    1000 Persian groups establish settlements along the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers
    Population and agriculture will remain based in fertile east, not the arid west
    Wealthy trading towns at Bukhara and Samarkand established
    Agriculture more settled, culture less nomadic than others in Central Asia
  • 700 According to tradition, Jews from Lost Tribes of Israel arrive in region
  • 600 Region will be for centuries loosely part of different (mainly Persian) empires
    Tajiki, a Persian dialect, will become dominant language of the region
    Local pop. and culture will remain strong despite different empires over centuries
  • 458 Another tradition holds that Jews arrive here from Persia fleeing persecution
  • 328 Short-lived conquest by Alexander the Great before Persians reassert control

ON THE SILK ROAD

  • 100 Uzbekistan is a key part of the Great Silk Road trade route from China westwards
  • The Isro’il (Israelites) flourish as traders and merchants
    They speak Tajiki with Hebrew influence, have Persian-Jewish culture
    Later, the Jews of Central Asia become known as “Bukharan Jews”

  • 224 Most locals follow Zoroastrianism, the official religion of Persian empires
  • Some Jews move to escape pressure to convert to Zoroastrianism
  • 550 Turkic tribes settle in area and play important role in developing Silk Road

THE RISE OF ISLAM

  • 710 Arab conquest introduces Islam but strong Persian, Turkic cultures remain
    751 Battle of Talas ends Chinese expansion, cements Muslim control of Central Asia
    819 The vast Samanid (Persian, Sunni) Empire takes control with Bukhara as capital
    Bukhara a major intellectual trade and cultural center of Islamic world
  • Jews protected and tolerated as dhimmi but subject to special taxes
    Jews, often artisans and merchants, forbidden from owning land
    999 Have limited contact with Jews of Muslim world, none with Europe

GENGHIS KHAN AND THE UZBEKS

  • 1220 Bloody Mongol conquest led by Genghis Khan
    1328 Legendary Mongol emperor Timmur the Lame born near Samarkand
    1360 Samarkand capital of his vast empire which stretches from Iran to Pakistan
    Samarkand and Bukhara famed for superb Islamic architecture and scholarship
  • A growth period for Jews, a magnificent synagogue built in Bukhara
    Jewish weavers and dyers, including many from Persia, help revitalize cities
    Bukharan Jewish women known for gold embroidery
  • 1510 Uzbek Shaybanid dynasty completes conquest of Central Asia
    Uzbeks, Mongol tribes originally from Siberia, become largest group
    They merge with Turkic tribes, speak Turkic languages, especially Chagatai-Uzbek
    Uzbek leaders (khans) known for military skill, Sunni religiosity, arts patrons
    Tajik-Persian speakers (incl. Jews) now minority along with other smaller groups
  • Under Uzbeks, contact between Bukharan and Persian Jews diminishes
  • 1538 Bukhara and its architecture thrives under last great Mongol khan, Abdullah II

CENTRAL ASIA NO LONGER CENTRAL

  • 1598 Abdullah’s death starts decline of the Shaybanid dynasty and wider region
    Landlocked: The Silk Road falls into disuse as ocean trade now dominant
    Area divided between local rulers and isolated from rest of Islamic world
  • Jews suffer from periods of discrimination and persecution
    Have to wear black cap and cord belt, slapped in face when pay annual tax
    Most Jews not allowed to live outside Jewish quarter in Bukhara
    Forced conversions to Islam create new, shunned group of chalas, crypto-Jews
    1720 Jewish community in Samarkand declines after earthquake
    Bukharan Jews isolated in world Jewry, own customs and identity weakening
    1793 Revival and reintegration led by Rabbi Yossi Maimon from Morocco
    He introduces Sephardi customs to replace forgotten Persian customs
    Recruits European religious teachers, encourages pilgrimages to Israel
    Population grows with Jewish refugees fleeing from persecution in Persia
    1849 2,500 families in Bukhara, Jews now allowed to live outside Jewish quarter
    A network of new schools and communities
    Not allowed to build new synagogues so pray in homes of wealthy families
    Economy boosted as Bukharan Jews have special trading rights in Russia

END OF THE ISOLATION: RUSSIA AND THE RAILROADS

  • 1850 The “Great Game”: Russia and Britain compete for control of Central Asia
    1876 Russian Empire directly or indirectly rules all of today’s Uzbekistan
    Uzbek khanates or regions have limited autonomy under Russia
  • 50,000 Jews in Samarkand, 20,000 in Bukhara enjoy civic equality
    Close ties with Russians make Jews a powerful trading class
    Uzbek leaders and population resent these ties, launch restrictions and attacks
  • 1900 Modernization: Railroads, telephones, press, telegraphs, new populations
    Arrival of Russian settlers and officials transforms Tashkent and other urban areas
    Resistance to Russia takes different forms including moderate Islamic groups
  • Railway connects Jews in Bukhara, Samarkand, and Tashkent
    Ties with rest of Jewish world strengthen. 30 synagogues in Samarkand
    Ashkenazim arrive from Russia looking for new opportunities and fleeing pogroms
    1914 Railroad also facilitates Aliyah. 1,500 Jews move to Land of Israel
  • 1916 Local uprising against Russian rule leads to massacres and suspicion on both sides

A SOVIET CREATION: UZBEKISTAN

  • 1917 The Russian Revolution: Russian Communists seek control of Central Asia
    1918 The Basmachi Rebellion: Fierce local resistance against Communist Red Army
  • Many local Jews initially support Russian Communists, fear local Muslim control
    This leads to riots against Jews
  • 1922 The Red Army triumphant. Soviets establish “divide and rule” policy in Central Asia
    1924 USSR divides Central Asia into 5 separate Soviet Republics including Uzbekistan
    Islam suppressed, Russian officials brought in to control local Communist Party
    Uzbekistan nationalism develops alongside local, linguistic, and Islamic identities
  • Synagogues, Jewish newspapers, schools, culture suppressed
    Hopes in Soviets diminish, 4,000 Jews secretly move to Israel
  • 1930 Population of Soviet Uzbekistan c. 4.7 mil. Capital Tashkent heavily Russian
    A command economy: Stalin demands entire economy based around cotton
    Agricultural collectivization and over-reliance on cotton crops leads to famine
    Local resistance and Islamic life driven underground but remains strong
    1937 Stalin’s Purges: Local leaders, nationalists, intellectuals executed
    1941 World War II: Hundreds of thousands sent to Eastern Front to fight Germans
    A time also of new arrivals: Soviet move factories and Russian workers to Tashkent
    Stalin forcibly exiles “suspect” Chechens, Koreans, Tartars to Uzbekistan
  • A new Siberia: Stalin sends political prisoners, incl. many Jews to Uzbekistan
    More than 1 million Jews fleeing Holocaust pass through Uzbekistan
    1945 While most leave, others stay. Jewish population peaks at 200,000
    Two separate Jewish communities: “Bukharan locals” and Ashkenazi newcomers
    Ashkenazim tend to be wealthier, more educated, less religious
    Both groups suffer from Muslim and Soviet anti-Semitism
  • Estimated 550,000 soldiers and civilians from Uzbekistan killed during WWII

UZBEKI STALINISM WITHOUT STALIN

  • 1953 After Stalin’s death, less fear but little freedom
    1959 Sharaf Rashidov, an Uzbeki, rules local Communist Party for next 34 years
    Nepotism, corruption, repression, environmental problems thrive under his rule
    Economy built on providing USSR with cotton leads to massive overuse of water
    Aral Sea, one of world’s largest inland rivers, loses 90% of water in next decades
  • 93,344 Jews, 1.2% of total population. 50,445 live in capital Tashkent
    Yiddish and Russian are now main first languages of local Jews
    A minority (19,266) speak Judeo-Tajik, traditional language of Bukharan Jews
    1967 Six Day War leads to upsurge of Soviet and local anti-Semitism
    1972 Ban on Aliyah temporarily relaxed. 8,000 Jews leave for Israel
  • Rashidov receives huge funds from USSR due to “miraculous” cotton harvests
    1983 Great Cotton Scandal: He dies while suspected by Moscow of falsifying records
    USSR purges local communist leaders
    Islam strengthening with growth of religious practice, identity, and education
    1985 Uzbek replaces Russian as language of education

A NEW NATION, OLD AUTHORITARIANISM

  • 1989 Islam Karimov, an Uzbeki, takes over local Communist Party
    Gorbachev’s calls for glasnost (openness) opposed by hard-line Karimov
    1991 USSR collapses. Karimov declares Uzbekistan independent state
    Uzbekistan is the largest of the “five stans,” the Central Asian states formerly part of USSR
    Karimov renames Uzbekistan Communist Party the People Democratic Party
    Same leaders and tactics: Authoritarian, secular, tied to corruption and nepotism
    Opposition banned, including both moderate and militant Muslim parties
    Karimov wins series of flawed elections, remains in power until death in 2016
    Economy stagnant as reliance on cotton, now sold on world market, continues
    With rising Uzbeki nationalism and language laws, many minority groups emigrate
    Many ethnic Russians leave. They drop from 14% of pop. in 1959 to 2% in 2017
  • Great majority of Jews leave, mainly for Israel and US (esp. Queens, New York)
    1997 Jewish population, 95,000 in 1980, drops to 35,000. Emigration continues
  • 2001 US allowed to use Uzbekistan’s air bases in war against Taliban in Afghanistan
    US aid and other diplomatic ties increases
    Unspoiled heritage: Khiva, Samarkand, Bukhara UNESCO World Heritage sites
    2004 Islamicist attacks increase. Suicide bombers hit US and Israel embassies
    2005 Hundreds of anti-govt. protesters killed by govt. troops in Andijan
    US condemns killings. EU temporarily places sanctions on Uzbekistan
    Claims that 1 million children and adults each year forced by govt. to harvest cotton
    2014 Karimov’s daughter accused of plundering state assets worth $65 billion
    2016 Karimov dies. His deputy takes control, introduces limited liberalization
    2017 GDP per capita $6,900, 158th in world. Pop 32.1 million, was 15.4 million in 1970
    2018 Ethnic Uzbek 84% of population. Just 5% listed as Tajiki (may be far higher)
    First language Uzbek 75%, Russian 14%
    88% Sunni Muslim, 9% Christian (Eastern Orthodox)
    50% of pop now urban. Was 34% in 1960. Tashkent has 2.5 million residents
  • Jewish communities in Samarkand, Tashkent, and Bukhara
    Most Jews speak Russian, some still speak Judeo-Tajik
  • Population of Uzbekistan: 33.5 million
  • Jewish Population: c. 3,000-8,000
 

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