26 November 2009

New York: Jews in the Turkic World

Although Tracing the Tribe missed reporting on this conference earlier, readers should know about such events which shed light on relatively unknown Jewish communities.

On November 23, the Azerbaijan Society of America (ASA) and Azerbaijani-American Council (AAC) joined the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA), the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), the "Turk of America" magazine and the Uzbek Initiative organized a one-day symposium on "Jewish Identity in the Turkic World," at New York's Center for Jewish History.

Note that Azerbaijan was part of Iran and that Farsi is spoken there as well as Azeri, a Turkic language. Additionally, the city of Baku was famous for its oil production in the early 20th century, and many of our ancestors from Belarus (including some of mine) and elsewhere, moved there to work in the new industry.

The region is also important as many Russian Jews were evacuated to Uzbekistan and other areas at the time of WWII. Each of these Jewish communities had indigenous Sephardic components as well as Ashkenazi communities.

For centuries, the Jewish peoples have lived in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and other parts of the Turkic world. Tens of thousands of "Sephardi Jews" lived in present-day Turkey since 1492, when Ottoman Turks provided shelter and acceptance to the Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition. One of the largest Azeri-speaking communities in America are the Mountain Jews. They settled in Azerbaijan over two millennia ago and tens of thousands of them continue to live in northern parts of Azerbaijan today, enjoying prosperity and acceptance. The Bukharian Jews of Uzbekistan thrived in this region for 2500 years in an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect.
The program included speakers representing the Jewish communities of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

Jews in Turkey: History and Presence

David Saltzman (Turkish Coalition of America)
Yildiz Yuksek Blackstone (President, Luca Luca)
Alan R. Cordova (Columbia University):
"Sephardi Jewish history in Rhodes and Marmara region "

Jewish Heritage in the Turkic World

Sergei Weinstein (International Charity Fund of Mountain Jews):
"Islam and Judaism in Russia"
Rashbil Shamayev (Azerbaijani Jewish Community):
"Azerbaijani Jewish community relations with Azerbaijan"
Farkhod Muradov (Uzbek Initiative):
"Bukharian Jewish Congress of the U.S. and Canada"

Art, Music & Film Industry

Barry Habib (Broadway producer, "Rock of Ages")
Victoria Barrett (filmmaker):
"Desperate Hours," Screening and Talk on the role Turkish diplomats played in saving thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

Habib and Blackstone spoke about their life experiences. Paintings by Stass Shpanin were displayed along with the copies of historical documents from the Ottoman Archives which illustrated Ottoman-Jewish historical relations.

The conference was also co-sponsored by the International Charity Fund of Mountain Jews (STMEGI), the Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TACCI), the Bukharian Jewish Community of the US and Canada, the Turkish American Action Committee and "Kavkaz" Jewish Youth Center.

For more information, click here.

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