Research Unit Politics

Security practices of Bukharan Jews

Response to existential threats in historical and post-Soviet contexts

The study focuses on security practices of Bukharan Jews in response to existential threats they faced throughout the history and still face and cope with in Central Asian and immigration contexts. The term »Bukharan« refers to Jews who inhabited Central Asian cities since the pre-Islamic period and who today live in different parts of the world.

In Central Asia, ethnic and religious minorities have been isolated, discriminated and alienated from the wider society. In response to these anti-Semitic practices Bukharan Jews have adapted, for example, their spatial, social and cognitive boundaries and structures to secure their life. Their isolated »mahalla«(comparable to ghetto in historical context) or urban neighbourhoods of Central Asian cities, the related social and religious structures of these neighbourhoods, endogamous marriage ties, extended families and guilds were necessary to reduce threats of assimilation, forced conversion to Islam, discrimination and pogrom.

Through four large-scale waves of emigration, flight, human trafficking and resettlement during the nineteenth and twentieth century, they have frequently changed their places of residence in the region, moved to present-day Israel, other Western countries and all parts of the world, and shaped translocal family and business networks. Also this emigration and translocal life have embedded a set of security-making practices of Bukharan Jews in response to anti-Semitic threats.

Today, 2.000 to 5.000 out of 210.000 Bukharan Jews remain in Central Asia who have increasingly been integrated into their translocal communities through social, cultural and religious structures of international Jewry. The study emphasises their manifold and ambivalent belongings as well as their security-making responses to Soviet and post-Soviet existential threats, such as political discrimination, ethnic and cultural assimilation, nationalism, and religious fundamentalism both in Central Asia and in immigration.

Research project within the framework of the »Ignaz Goldziher Program for Jewish-Muslim Studies.«