SAMARKAND , capital of Samarkand district, Uzbekistan. Jews are mentioned there from hearsay for the first time by *Benjamin of Tudela (12th century) as a large community. It was apparently destroyed when the town was captured by Bab Mehmet Khan in 1598. The Jews later suffered from Muslim oppression. In 1843, at the request of the Jews, a special area was allocated to them for the construction of a Jewish quarter: they were led by a nasi, named Kulantur, approved by the emir of *Bukhara. The situation of the Jews improved after the Russian conquest (1868), and in 1887 there were 3,792 Jews in Samarkand, the overwhelming majority of them of the Bukharan community.
Settlement of Ashkenazi Jews from *Russia began with the construction of the railroad to Samarkand in 1888; they played an important role in the commercial development of the city. In 1897 there were 4,307 Jews (c. 8% of the total population). Their number subsequently increased with Jewish immigration from the emirate of Bukhara and from Russia. The Russian authorities were opposed to this immigration, and, in contrast to the local Jews, the "foreign" Jews (from Bukhara) and the Jews of European Russia were subjected to persecutions. In 1907 the Jewish population numbered 5,266.
With the outbreak of the Revolution of 1917, the Zionist movement in Samarkand gained in strength and served as a factor unifying the various communities there. A communal center and Hebrew secondary school were established. Under the Soviet regime a Jewish-Bukharan branch of the Communist Party was formed in Samarkand; for a number of years it carried on a struggle with the *Yevsektsiya over the right of the local Jews to maintain a Hebrew school. The Yevsektsiya took steps to oppose the national and religious traditions of the Jews. By 1933 15 of the synagogues in the Jewish quarter had been closed down. In 1935 "sovietization" of the Jewish Museum (founded in 1922) expurgated its national-religious character and the evidence of the close ties existing between the Jews of Samarkand and Ereẓ Israel. The Jews of the Bukharan community numbered 7,740 in 1926, and 9,832 in 1935 (8% of the total population); of those 8,898 lived in the Jewish quarter, whose name was changed in 1926 to "Eastern Quarter," while 95% of the inhabitants were Jews. According to the census of January 1939 there were 7,593 Jews – 5.57% of the total. The Jewish school, whose language of instruction was Tajiki (or Judeo-Tajiki; the language spoken by the Bukharan Jews), was attended by over 1,400 children. During World War ii many Jewish refugees from the western part of the Soviet Union arrived in Samarkand.
In the late 1960s the Jewish population was estimated at 15,000 (mainly Bukharan Jews), most of whom resided in the former Jewish quarter. There remained one synagogue in the old part of the city, where the Jewish quarter is located; it included a separate section for the Ashkenazi Jews. Samarkand retained a Jewish cemetery. In 1951 the rabbi Ḥkham Ezekiel was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for "religious activity," but was released in 1957, having served six years. In March 1964 the community was compelled by the authorities to protest against the sending of matzot from Israel and the baking of matzot was carried on at home. Since Uzbekistan attained independence in 1991 there has been a steady exodus of Jews to Israel and the West (mainly the United States), with around 2,000 remaining in Samarkand in 2005. One of the city's two synagogues is still in use, but often there is no minyan for Sabbath services.
Z.L. Amitin-Shapiro, Ocherk: Sotsialisticheskogo stroitelstva sred: sredne-aziaskikh Yevreyev (Tashkent, 1933); I. Ben-Zvi, in: He-Avar, 1 (1953), 67–73; A. Ben Ami, Between Hammer and Sickle (1967), 191ff., 198 and passim.
Samarkand (sămərkănd´, Rus. səmərkänt´), city (1991 pop. 395,000), capital of Samarkand region, in Uzbekistan, on the Trans-Caspian RR. It is one of the oldest existing cities in the world and the oldest of Central Asia. At the time of its greatest splendor medieval Samarkand was a fabulous city of palaces and gardens, with paved and tree-lined streets and a water system that supplied most of the individual houses. It had great silk and iron industries and was the meeting point of merchants' caravans from India, Persia, and China.
Modern Samarkand still is a major cotton and silk center. Wine and tea are produced, grain is processed, and there are industries producing metal products, tractor parts, leather goods, clothing, and footwear. The irrigated surrounding region has orchards and gardens and wheat and cotton fields. Samarkand is the seat of the Uzbekistan state university and of medical, agricultural, and teachers' institutes and the site of a regional museum.
Points of Interest
The old quarter of Samarkand with its maze of narrow, winding streets occupies the eastern part of the city and centers on the Registan, a great square. It contains some of the most remarkable monuments of central Asia, built during the reign of Timur and his successors. The most famous of these is Timur's mausoleum, surmounted by a ribbed dome and faced with multicolored tiles; the conqueror's tomb was opened in 1941. Other buildings include the Bibi Khan Mosque, with its turquoise cupola, erected by Timur to the memory of his favorite wife; several other magnificent mosques; the mausoleums of the Timurid cemetery (Shah-i-Zinda); and the ruins of the observatory built by Ulugh-Beg, a grandson of Timur.
Built on the site of Afrosiab, which dated from the 3d or 4th millennium BC, Samarkand was known to the ancient Greeks as Marakanda; ruins of the old settlement remain north of the present city. The chief city of Sogdiana, on the ancient trade route between the Middle East and China, Samarkand was conquered (329 BC) by Alexander the Great and became a meeting point of Western and Chinese culture. The first paper mill outside China was established there in 751.
The Arabs took Samarkand in the 8th cent. AD, and under the Umayyad empire it flourished as a trade center on the route between Baghdad and China. In the 9th and 10th cent., as capital of the Abbasid dynasty in central Asia, Samarkand emerged as a center of Islamic civilization. The tomb of Bukhari (d. 870), near Samarkand, is a major Muslim shrine. Samarkand continued to prosper under the Samanid dynasty of Khorasan (874–999) and under the subsequent rule of the Seljuks and of the shahs of Khwarazm.
In 1220, Jenghiz Khan captured and devastated the city, but it revived in the 14th cent. when Timur (or Tamerlane) made it the capital of his empire. Under his rule the city reached its greatest splendor; sumptuous palaces were erected, and mosques and gardens laid out. Under Timur's successors, the Timurids, the empire soon was much reduced; it broke up in the late 15th cent. and was ruled by the Uzbeks for the following four centuries. Samarkand eventually became part of the emirate of Bukhara (see Bukhara, emirate of) and fell to Russian troops in 1868, when the emirate passed under Russian suzerainty. In 1925, Samarkand became the capital of the Uzbek SSR, but in 1930 it was replaced by Tashkent.