TAJIKISTAN: Dushanbe Jews ordered to vacate synagogue by July
As the city authorities in the capital Dushanbe order the local Jewish community to vacate their century-old synagogue by July to clear the site for a new presidential palace, the synagogue's rabbi has pleaded to allow it to remain. "The authorities could meet the Jews half-way and not demolish Tajikistan's only synagogue," Mikhail Abdurakhmanov told Forum 18 News Service. He stressed that the synagogue had been built by believers and that today's remaining Jewish community is too small and poor to rent a new building or build another synagogue. The city's senior religious affairs official told Forum 18 the synagogue is of "no historic value" and that there was no way it could be included in the reconstruction plan "because it would spoil the entire layout of the complex".
Shamsuddin Nuriddinov, the head of the department for religious affairs at the Dushanbe city administration, claims that the synagogue is of "no historic value" and that there was no way in which it could be included in the reconstruction plan. "Unfortunately, it is impossible to leave the synagogue standing alongside the newly-built palace of nations, because it would spoil the entire layout of the complex," he told Forum 18 from Dushanbe on 9 May.
But Gurevich rejects this. "It has been hinted to me that many people in Dushanbe simply find it unpleasant that a synagogue should stand alongside the palace of nations," he told Forum 18.
Abdurakhmanov reports that the synagogue formally belongs to the state, following its nationalisation in 1952. However, the Dushanbe rabbi believes that "by law the synagogue should belong to the Jews who built it out of their own funds around 100 years ago". A commission of the hakimiat (administration) of the city's Ismail Somoni district originally approved the demolition in January 2003 (see F18News 28 August 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=129 ).
Abdurakhmanov said the authorities have now offered a plot of land where the Jewish community could build a new synagogue. But following the mass emigration of Jews at the beginning of the 1990s, there are only around 500 Jews left in the whole of Tajikistan. "Virtually all of them are very poor, elderly people," he told Forum 18. "The authorities need to understand that the Jewish community in Tajikistan today simply does not have the money either to build a synagogue or to rent a building."
City officials claim to be seeking a "reasonable compromise" with the community. "We are ready to give the Jewish community 0.15 hectares of land for construction of a synagogue, and also to offer it a building to rent in which to hold religious services until such time as the Jews build a new synagogue," Nuriddinov told Forum 18. He said they are awaiting Gurevich's planned visit to discuss possible solutions. "When he arrives in Dushanbe, we can discuss the details of this issue."
Gurevich told Forum 18 he intends to visit Dushanbe at the beginning of June and hopes to reach a compromise with the Tajik authorities.
For more background see Forum 18's latest religious freedom survey at
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16 February 2004
In all Central Asian states easily the largest percentage of the population belongs to nationalities that are historically Muslim, but it is very difficult to state the percentage of devout Muslim believers. Governments are intensely pre-occupied by "political Islam", especially the banned strongly anti-western and antisemitic international Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir. However, there is absolutely no certainty that all Muslims subject to severe governmental repression are Hizb-ut-Tahir members. In Uzbekistan, where there are estimated to be 5,000 political prisoners alleged to be Hizb-ut-Tahir members, mere possession of Hizb-ut-Tahrir literature is punished by at least 10 years' in jail. Also, Muslims' rights have been violated under the pretext of combating Hizb-ut-Tahrir. In southern Kyrgyzstan, for example, teachers have told children not to say daily Muslim prayers - even at home - and banned schoolchildren from coming to lessons wearing the hijab, the headscarf traditionally worn by Muslim women.
11 February 2004
Ethnic Uzbek Imams leading mosques in southern Kazakhstan have resisted state pressure to come under the 'Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Kazakhstan', Forum 18 News Service has found. Pressure followed a 2002 attempt to change the law on religious associations, which the Constitutional Council ruled contradicted the constitution. Kazakh officials have frequently privately told Forum 18 that the region is the country's "hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism". However, Kyrgyzstan is the only state in Central Asia where Hizb-ut-Tahrir (which seeks to unite Muslims worldwide under the rule of a Caliphate) is not officially banned, and most Hizb-ut-Tahrir members in South Kazakhstan region are ethnic Kazakhs. Commenting on this ethnic difference, a local NGO told Forum 18 that "Uzbeks in Kazakhstan live much better than they do in Uzbekistan," so they "are not interested in seeking open confrontation with the authorities."
28 January 2004
Two female Jehovah's Witnesses, Gulya Boikova and Parakhat Narmanova, have been arrested, insulted and threatened with rape by police in Karshi (Qarshi), Forum 18 News Service has learnt. On 22 January a pending court case against the women was adjourned by Judge Abdukadyr Boibilov, while police gather more evidence. This is one example of the continuing persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Uzbekistan, who are the religious minority most frequently victimised by the authorities. Witnesses have been subjected to vicious beatings by police, and a Jehovah's Witness is the only member of a religious minorities to have been sentenced to jail for his religious beliefs. (There are about 6,500 prisoners of conscience from the majority religion, Islam.) The persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses is probably explained by their being the most active religious minority in trying to spread their beliefs, and the Uzbek religion law banning "actions aimed at proselytism".