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Notes from Limmud 2004

Economic antisemitism and Bukharan Jews in the Late Nineteenth Century

Audrey Burton


Historical sketch

This was the only map a quick google turned up; and doesn't bear a lot of relation to Ms Burton's maps.
Бухарское ханство = Khanate of Bukhara; the Roman numerals in the legend indicate centuries, if it's not obvious. The sea on the west is the Caspian; the lake at the top the Aral Sea. Muscovy is, of course, to the northwest.

  1. Mid 16th Century: Establishment of the khanate of Bukhara (capital city Bukhara), ruled by a khan who from the 18th century called himself amir/emir to show his power and deep religious ardous (cp. Amir al-Mu'minin = Commander of the Faithful).
  2. Late 16th‒17th centuries. The khanate, nearly as big as France, included Samarqand, Tashkent and the region of Balkh.
  3. 18th Century. Many outlying parts, such as Balkh and Tashkent, seceded and a khanate of Khoqand (Khokand) came into being, centred round the Syr-Darya river and fertile Ferghana valley, including such towns as Andijan, Khodzhent and Namangan.
  4. 1868‒9. Russia fought the khanate and its neighbours, and by 1876 it had conquered both the khanates of Khiva and Khoqand and a large part of the Bukharan khanate.
  5. From 1876‒1920 only two countries in the area:
    1. A much reduced Bukharan khanate, now a Russian protectorate.
    2. A massive province of Russian Turkestan centred round Tashkent, and including Samarqand, as well as the whole of Ferghana. Although Jews were at first welcomed, they became "surplus to requirements" and were actively discouraged from settling after Russian peasants and businessmen became just as efficient at growing cotton and producing silk under local conditions.

Dramatis Personae

Bukhara Russia
Nasrullah 1827‒60 Nicholas I 1825‒55
Muzaffar al-Din 1860‒85 Alexander II 1855‒81
'Abd al-Ahad 1885‒1910 Alexander III 1881‒94
Alim Khan 1910‒12 Nicholas II 1894‒1918
Bukharan representative to 2nd Duma
(Russian Parliament) in 1907: Abdul Haliq
Gov. Gen. Orenburg Perovskii 1833‒42
Would-be Russian: Tsippura Nasieva Gov. Gen. Turkestan Chernyaev 1882‒4
Would-be Russian: Abo Simkhaiev Gov. Gen. Turkestan Rozenbakh 1884‒9
Would-be Russian: Alishaev sisters Gov. Gen. Turkestan Samsonov 1903‒13
Rabbi and writer Abraham Kirsner Gov. Gen. Turkestan Kuropatkin 1916‒17
Rabbi interceding in St P. Shlomo Tajjir Milit. Gov. Syr-Darya Grodekov 1892
Victim of anti-semitism Davidov Milit. Gov. Syr-Darya Galkin 1908‒10, '11‒16
Victim of anti-semitism Beilis Samsonov's assistant Rydzeevskii


  • Tuzemnyi, tuzemnaya: local, indigenous Jews who had lived in the area "since time immemorial" and as such entitled to Russian nationality, and to buy "immovables", i.e. land and buildings of all types.
  • Starts: locals of Iranian stock (Tajiks), who lived mainly in town and had shops.
  • Uzbeks: locals of Turco-Mongol stock, who lived both in towns and in the country, and looked after sheep, camels, horses and cattle.
  • Karakul: special type of sheep, whose tight, curly, shiny hair, when newborn, was the highly valuable fur known as "Astrakhan" or "Persian lamb".
  • Chala: forced convert to Islam from among the Bukharan Jewish community.
  • Zadatok: money advance against a promise to deliver a fixed quantity of cotton at a fixed price when havested.
  • Turkestanskie vedomosti: official Turkestan gazette.

Bukharan trading centres

  • In the khanate: Bukhara, Samarqand. In Russia: Astrakhan, Orenburg, Kazan, Moscow and Nizhnii Novgorod.
  • In Siberia: Tobol'sk, Tyumen, Tara, Petropavlovsk, Semipalatinsk [huh? that's in Kazakhstan!] and Irbit.
  • In Russian Turkestan: Tashkent, Khozhent, Samarqand.

Talk notes

The Khanate of Bukhara, also known as Transoxiana, was created and ?feared by all its neighbours, which were mostly nomadic and semi-nomadic—the unfriendly Khanate of Khiva, Muscovy, Iran and China. It was similar in size to France. The Shah of Iran tried to conquer it but gave up in 1601; he returned having lost lots of men, many to malaria. Similarly the builder of the Taj Mahal also got as far as conquering Balkh briefly but also left.

This area had been governed in the past by Iran and by the Mughals. [Aside: The Mughals spent centuries pining for (and trying unsuccessfully several times to conquer back) their lost Samarkhand, in a way that brings to mind the Jewish yearning for Zion.] It also controlled the ?immigration ?fwnts sold as far as paper
lapis lazuli, silk, horses and other things. [Sorry, sentence seems a bit mangled; this is one of the last set of talk notes from before I started taking luminiferous along to take notes with.]

Its inhabitants were Turkic, Mongol and Iranian tribes, plus Jews, thought to have been there since the Babylonian captivity—there are Jewish tombs dating from the fifth century. The Arab conquest of the area displaced Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and <something>

Jews who had gone on pilgrimage to Jerusalem were called by the Muslim term Hajji. They also had to take a Muslim name; so you have Jews with names like Abdelrahimov [i.e. Arabic Abd al-raḥim "Servant of the Compassionate" + Russian ending "-ov"!], etc.

There was a rabbi who came over to fundraise and found the local Jews ignorant, so started teaching them and brought them over to the Sephardi rite.

Czar Ivan the Terrible (1533‒1584) was keen on trading and therefore wanted good relations. But he was afraid that the Bukharan merchants travelling up to Moscow might unsettle the Muslims in the kingdoms on the Caspian which he had just conquered, so he had them carefully watched and only allowed them in the train of ambassadors.

Trade goods included Siberian sables and Astrakhan fur, Persian leathers, gyrfalcons from Muscovy, calico from India, and stones and spices from the east. Some goods were forbidden; the list was constantly changing and increasing. Penalties for violation were harsh—torture, confiscation of goods and banishment to Siberia or death for Russians, banishment from the country for foreigners. Some merchants took to travelling cross country to avoid taxation. Also while Moscow was ?closest to trade, [?it was also closest when it came] to war.

When did Bukharan Jews come into this? There is a letter from 1802? asking whether it was safe for a Jewish trader to go to Moscow. Czar Alexander I had made Jews equal to all others. In 1833 they were given a special concession, Since 1833 Christians, who had been denying foreign Jews the right to settle and to form guilds, allowed Asiatic Jews to do this, possibly to keep on the good side of Afghan Jews to stop them siding with the British.

But in 1842 these privileges were rescinded. Jews from Orenburg, a town created specifically for trade with Asia, protested. And ?comded in ?terms that sold them as getting on good terms with Russian traders.

In 1842 two English officers went to Bukhara to try and strike up good relations, but they were taken and killed. The Russians tried to intercede and failed; that was the end of good relations with foreigners—except for an English converted Jew who said he was only trying to convert Jews, not Muslims, so was let be.

After this the Jews were thought of as for intelligence purposes. Again the Bukharan Jews were allowed to become Russian citizens. Czar Alexander II granted this as one exception to the 1854 laws. Meanwhile Russia's relations with the Bukharans, Khiva and the Khanate of Khoqand* had been deteriorating, and there was talk of conquering. First because of ?enamic trade—Russians were being denied privileges—second to stop the British from conquering, third because of the slavery there.

* Brief aside: Khojand (which is called Leninabad on my atlas) was originally called Alexandria Eschate, Alexandria in the Furthest, and was the furthest into Asia of all the cities Alexander the Great founded.

When the Russians conquered between 1875‒6 the Jews were delighted. They hailed the Russians and helped them as much as possible, and as a result the governor general did all he could to help. This was because Bukharan Jews had been better treated in Russia than the Khanate—where, for example, they had to wear distinctive clothing (black turban—also worn by Indians, who were hated, as moneylenders) and cloak and sash. They were forbidden to ride a horse, and had to abase themselves before Muslims. The Jews were so welcome in Russian Turkestan they came there, and ?nine who had been forcibly converted came there and reverted to Judaism.

There were clauses in the treaties which indirectly gave them equality of rights. All Bukharans could have agents in Russia and caravanserais in Russian Turkestan. Clause twelve said Russians could have property in Bukhara and pay a normal rate instead of twenty-one times as much; and vice versa—a clause the Russians would later regret

The Jews began to expand outwards. The American Civil War had led to an acute shortage of raw and spun cotton, and the Jews were encouraged to produce the goods—better thought of than Muslim counterparts. Many had gone to trade fairs as far away as Nizhny Novgorod and even Nancy, and traded as far away as the UK (they spoke lots of languages) The authorities in Turkestan welcomed all the Jews who wanted to settle. Many Jews emigrated to there from Bukhara because they were resented in Bukhara for having helped the conquerers, and they had to pay the war debts.

The Russians didn't like so many immigrants, so limited settlement to Jews who had lived there since before the conquest. Also the Russians started bringing in their own peasants, which they hoped could do the things the Jews did. The Jews had been allowed to build houses but now they found they were not by Russian settlers.

The first hint of trouble was in 1882. It was decided Jews could no longer acquire property in Russian Turkestan. This was first just foreign Jews, but then it became any Jew who went there before the Russian conquest. In the 1890s, to 1905, the Russians encouraged them to settle elsewhere. Some were lucky enough to find their family name on a document from 1843 relating to Samarkand, in which the Jews were permitted by the Amir to buy land for a synagogue. The others had a hard time. The word Tuzemnyi was coined to describe Jews settled in Russian Turkestan before the conquest. But these statements had to be sent to Bukhara to be checked, to check they did not have relatives there.

One quarter in Ferghana; in Samarqand less than eighteen per cent made it. Ashkenazi artisans were kicked out in 1897. The deadline for the others to leave was pushed back from 1900 to 1910 due to appeals to the Czar for the Jews to get their assets wound up and sell their property. If they did not get a good price Russia would be dumping a whole lot of paupers into Bukhara, which the Amir would not like—relations with the Russians versus the British again. Also Russian industrialists talked about kicking the Jews out adversely affecting the economy. The Chief Rabbi of Tashkent went to St Petersburg and met ministers and put off the deadline two times.

But then an antisemite wrote about the Jews engaging in usury and holding the local peasants in debt slavery (kabala in Russian!) and bondage. The Jews wrote back denying this. There was also another ?load of money-lending to do with the fact that the peasants had to sell their cotton—a fixed amount—before it was grown.

By 1910 most of the Jews had been expelled. Among the Ashkenazim this included soldiers who had fought in the conquering army and married local girls. Also railway workers. Many settled in three towns they were given so as not to go back to Bukhara. Also they were granted to be able to settle in Samarqand, Khoqand and <somewhere>.

For those whose ancestors had been there before the conquest they should have been all right, but weren't because the governor general, Rydzeevski, was an antisemite. In 1911 he said all documents were forged and there had been no Jews there. He also gathered testimony from other people (which was rather self-contradictory). The Jews were also resented for using modern methods such as using banks and buying and selling for a profit. Some of the Muslims did the same but the majority of the locals resented the Jews for doing so much.

(For further reading, see Bukharan Jews, Ancient and Modern, by Audrey Burton.)

Jewish learning notes index

Date: 2006-08-14 08:36 pm (UTC)
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (teeeeeeeeea)
From: [personal profile] liv
This is way too cool. I don't know why I've suddenly pricked up my ears about this and not so much with some of your other Jewish history posts. I mean, the more modern part of the history is the usual depressing stuff, but the fact that there was this ancient Jewish community in such a random place, and another example of Jews in a Muslim context apart from the obvious ones is exciting. Thanks for this report!

Date: 2011-04-13 05:42 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Great Article!!! I would apreciate if you can add Names of Rabbis, or source of information. Thank you

Date: 2011-04-13 06:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
This is the transcript of a talk I attended; I don't have any further information (and as a historical talk, rabbis don't really come into it). If you want to know more, read the book referred to in the bottom line of my post.


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