UZBEKISTAN: Bukharian Jews and the Bukharian Language

The Bukharian Jewish community is really fascinating – it was an ancient community, centred around Bukhara, in Uzbekistan, with Jewish people residing in Central Asia for thousands of years. This Uzbek video gives a very gentle overview of the community, though it demurely skips over the Soviet period and other persecutions.

The Bukharian Jewish community was one of many Jewish groups that fled en masse to Israel and North America as soon as the USSR fell in the 90s, looking to escape the repression and cultural assimilation they had faced under the Soviet Union. They weren’t the only Jewish community to do so – and My Promised Land by Ari Shavit (which I read in my month on Israel) talks about the demographic and cultural upheavals of all these new communities arriving all of a sudden. There were 45,000 Bukharian Jews in Central Asia before 1990, but only 1500 still live in Uzbekistan today.

Here’s a few clips of the community today – interviews with the small community that still lives in Uzbekistan, the larger community in North America, and interviews with the Bukharian community in Israel, which has roots there from the 19th century.

The Bukharian language spoken by the Jewish community is a dialect of Tajik, with loanwords from Hebrew, Russian, and Uzbek. Since it’s based in Tajik, it’s in the Persian language family (unlike Uzbek, which is Turkic). Bukharian has a level of mutual intelligibility with other Persian languages – here’s a really cool video of a Bukharian speaker sharing poetry with Persian speakers from Afghanistan and Iran and talking about how much they can understand (in English / subtitled).

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