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History of the Jews in Artsakh

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The location of Artsakh (dark green) in Eurasia
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The history of the Jews in the Artsakh (Karabakh) is closely related to the history of the Jews in Azerbaijan, the history of the Jews in Armenia, the history of the Jews in Russia, the history of the Jews in the Soviet Union and the history of the Jews in Iran.


The Republic of Artsakh (/ˈɑːrtsɑːx/; Armenian: Արցախի Հանրապետություն, Artsakhi Hanrapetut'yun),[1][2] or simply Artsakh, also known by its second official name, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (/nəˌɡɔːrn kɑːrəˈbɑːk/), is a breakaway state in the South Caucasus that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. The region is currently populated mostly by Armenians and the primary spoken language is Armenian. Artsakh controls most of the territory of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and some of the surrounding area, giving it a border with Armenia to the west and Iran to the south. Its capital is Stepanakert.

The predominantly Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh was claimed by both the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and the First Republic of Armenia when both countries became independent in 1918 after the fall of the Russian Empire, and a brief war over Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in 1920. The dispute was largely shelved after the Soviet Union established control over the area and created the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) within the Azerbaijan SSR in 1923. During the fall of the Soviet Union, the region re-emerged as a source of dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In 1991, a referendum held in the NKAO and the neighbouring Shahumian region resulted in a declaration of independence based on its right of self-determination. Large-scale ethnic conflict led to the 1991–1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War, which ended with a ceasefire.

Artsakh is a presidential democracy (in the middle of transforming from a semi-presidential one, after the 2017 referendum) with a unicameral legislature. Some have said that its reliance on Armenia means that, in many ways, it functions de facto as part of Armenia.

Artsakh Jewish connection to Armenia[edit]

The history of the Jews in Armenia (Armenian: Հայաստանի հրեական համայնքը, Hayastani hreakan hamaynqa) dates back more than 2,000 years. There are historical records that attest the presence of Jews in pagan Armenia, before the spread of Christianity in the region by St. Gregory the Illuminator. Early medieval Armenian historians, such as Moses Khorenatsi, held that during the conquest of Armenian King Tigranes the Great (95–55 BC), brought with him 10,000 Jewish captives to the ancient Kingdom of Armenia (which encompassed what is commonly known as Greater Armenia) when he retreated from Judea, because of the Roman attack on Armenia (69 B.C.). Tigranes II invaded Syria, and probably northern Israel as well.[3][4] A large Jewish population was settled in Armenia from the 1st century BC. One city in particular, Vartkesavan became an important commercial center.[5] Thus, Armenia's Jewish community was established. Like the rest of Armenia's population, they suffered the consequences of regional powers trying to divide and conquer the country.[6] By 360–370 AD, there was a massive increase in Jewish Hellenistic immigration into Armenia; many Armenian towns became predominately Jewish. During this period (4th century AD), after the conquest of Armenia by the Sassanid King Shapur II he deported thousands of Jewish families from Persian Armenia and resettled them at Isfahan (modern Iran).[4][7]

Modern times[edit]

In 1828, the Russo-Persian War came to an end and Eastern Armenia (currently the Republic of Armenia) was annexed to the Russian Empire with the Treaty of Turkmenchai. Polish and Iranian Jews began arriving, as well as Sabbatarians (Subbotniki, Russian peasants who were banished to the outskirts of Imperial Russia during the reign of Catherine II. They were Judaizing Christians and mostly converted to mainstream Judaism or assimilated). Since 1840 they started creating Ashkenazi and Mizrahi communities respectively in Yerevan.[7] Up to 1924, the Sephardic synagogue, Shiek Mordechai, was a leading institution among the Jewish community.[4]

According to the 1897 Russian Empire Census, there were some 415 people in Alexandropol (Gyumri)[8] and 204 in Erivan (Yerevan)[9] whose native language was "Jewish" and significantly smaller numbers elsewhere 6 in Vagharshapat,[10] 15 in Novo-Bayazet.[11] The number of self-reported Jewish-speakers was the following in other Armenian-populated areas of the Russian Empire that now lie outside Armenia: 4 in Shusha (Karabakh),[12] 93 in Elizavetpol (Ganja, Azerbaijan),[13] 4 in Igdir (now Turkey),[14] 424 in Kars (Turkey),[15] 111 in Ardahan (Turkey),[16] 189 in Akhalkalaki (Georgia),[17] 438 in Akhaltsikhe (Georgia),[18] 72 in Shulaveri (Georgia).[19] There are about 300–500[20] Jews presently living in the Republic of Armenia, mainly in the capital Yerevan. They are mostly of Ashkenazi origin, while some are Mizrahi and Georgian Jews.

Artsakh Jewish connection to Azerbaijan[edit]

The history of the Jews in Azerbaijan dates back many centuries. Today, Jews in Azerbaijan mainly consist of three distinct groups: Mountain Jews, the most sizable and most ancient group; Ashkenazi Jews, who settled in the area during the late 19th-early 20th centuries, and during World War II; and Georgian Jews who settled mainly in Baku during the early part of the 20th century. Historically, Jews in Azerbaijan have been represented by various subgroups, mainly Mountain Jews, Ashkenazi Jews and Georgian Jews. Azerbaijan at one point was or still is home to smaller communities of Krymchaks, Kurdish Jews and Bukharian Jews, as well Gerim (converts) and non-Jewish Judaistic groups like Subbotniks. In those days, Jews used to live in and around the city of Shamakhi (mainly in the village of Mücü), but the community has been non-existent since the early 1920s.[21] In 2002, the total number of Jewish residents in Azerbaijan was 10,000 people with about 5,500 of them being Mountain Jews.[22] A few more thousand descend from mixed families.[21] In 2010, the total Jewish population in Azerbaijan was 6,400.[23] Jews mainly reside in the cities of Baku, Ganja, Sumqayit, Quba, Oğuz, Goychay and the town of Qırmızı Qəsəbə, the only town in the world where Mountain Jews constitute the majority (and the only fully Jewish town outside of Israel).

Archaeological excavations carried out in 1990 resulted in the discovery of the remains of the 7th-century Jewish settlement near Baku, and of a synagogue 25 kilometres to the southeast of Quba.[21] The first religious meeting-house in Baku was built in 1832, and was reorganized into a synagogue in 1896; more synagogues were built in Baku and its suburbs in the late 19th century. The first choir synagogue in Baku opened in 1910.[24] From the late 19th century, Baku became one of the centres of the Zionist movement in the Russian Empire.[24] The first Hovevei Zion was established here in 1891, followed by the first Zionist organization in 1899. The movement remained strong in the short-lived Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (1918–1920) marked with the establishment of the Jewish Popular University in 1919, periodicals printed in Yiddish, Hebrew, Judæo-Tat and Russian, and a number of schools, social clubs, benevolent societies and cultural organizations.[21] Beginning in the 1960s, Azerbaijan's Jewish community experienced cultural revival. Jewish samizdat publications started being printed. Many cultural and Zionist organizations were reestablished in Baku and Sumqayit since 1987, and the first legal Hebrew courses in the Soviet Union were opened in Baku.[21] As of 2017, there are seven synagogues in Azerbaijan: three in Baku (one for each community, the Ashkenazi, Mountain and Georgian; the second one being the largest in the Caucasus), two in Qırmızı Qəsəbə near Quba, and two in Oğuz.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. "Artsakh Votes for New Constitution, Officially Renames the Republic". Armenian Weekly. 21 February 2017. Archived from the original on 22 February 2017. Retrieved 15 June 2018. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  2. "Constitution". Nagorno Karabakh Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Archived from the original on 23 October 2016. Retrieved 23 July 2016. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  3. Jan Retsö, The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads, 2003. p. 347.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Armenia Virtual Jewish History Tour".
  5. Movses Khorenatsi II, 65
  6. Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Eurasia: Armenia and Jews Archived 2011-07-06 at the Wayback Machine
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Բեն Օլանդերի հատուկ ներկայացումը Նյու Յորքում նվիրված Ռաուլ Վալլենբերգին,Երեքշաբթի 9 Նոյեմբերի 2010 թ."
  8. "Демоскоп Weekly - Приложение. Справочник статистических показателей". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  9. "Демоскоп Weekly - Приложение. Справочник статистических показателей". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  10. "Демоскоп Weekly - Приложение. Справочник статистических показателей". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  11. "Демоскоп Weekly - Приложение. Справочник статистических показателей". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  12. "Демоскоп Weekly - Приложение. Справочник статистических показателей". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  13. "Демоскоп Weekly - Приложение. Справочник статистических показателей". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  14. "Демоскоп Weekly - Приложение. Справочник статистических показателей". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  15. "Демоскоп Weekly - Приложение. Справочник статистических показателей". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  16. "Демоскоп Weekly - Приложение. Справочник статистических показателей". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  17. "Демоскоп Weekly - Приложение. Справочник статистических показателей". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  18. "Демоскоп Weekly - Приложение. Справочник статистических показателей". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  19. "Демоскоп Weekly - Приложение. Справочник статистических показателей". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  20. Vandals deface Holocaust memorial in Armenia. Michael Freund, The Jerusalem Post, December 23, 2007
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 Script error: The function "in_lang" does not exist. The Electronic Jewish Encyclopædia: Azerbaijan
  22. Script error: The function "in_lang" does not exist. Ethnic Composition of Azerbaijan According to the 1999 Census by Arif Yunusov.
  23. "The Jewish Population of the World (2010)". Jewish Virtual Library., based on American Jewish Year Book. American Jewish Committee. Search this book on
  24. 24.0 24.1 Script error: The function "in_lang" does not exist. The Electronic Jewish Encyclopædia: Baku
  25. "Sinaqoqlar". Retrieved 6 March 2017.

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