History and General Information on the Turkmenistan Jewish Community
The Republic of Turkmenistan is the legal successor of the Turkmen SSR. The population is 6.8 million. The head of state is President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow (since February 2007; December 2006 to February 2007 – acting President).
By the time Turkmenistan became annexed by the Russian Empire at the end of the 19th century, there were about 300 Sephardic Jews living there, most of them Bukharian expatriates and the descendants of anusim1 from Meshed in Gerat (Afghanistan). They were joined by Ashkenazi Jews in the 20th century. By the end of the Soviet period there were 4,000 Jews living in Turkmenistan, 2,000 of those subsequently emigrating in the 1990s.
Currently there are an estimated 1000 Jews residing in Ashkhabad, Mary, Dashoguz (formerly Tashauz), Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), Balkanabat (formerly Nebit Dag), Turkmenabat (formerly Chardzhou), and Kerki. These are predominantly Ashkenazi Jews. The descendants of Afghani Jews who used to reside in Yoloten and Bairam Ali have now all left the country. A few Bukharian Jews live in the eastern part of the country.
Turkmenistan maintains diplomatic relations with Israel. The Israeli ambassador since 2010 is Chaim Koren. Announcements were made in 2010 of a permanent embassy to be opened in Turkmenistan. There are several agricultural and oil-and-gas projects in the state carried out by Israeli businessmen. 79 people from Turkmenistan went through training in Israel in 1993-2008 via different programs of the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry’s MASHAV Center for International Cooperation and Aid.
Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman met with the Foreign Affairs Minister of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov in Almaty (Kazakhstan) on July 17, 2010.
There are JDC and Sochnut offices. The JDC supports elderly Jews; there is a Chesed organization in Ashkhabad.
Turkmenistan is the only state of the FSU without an officially registered Jewish community due to specific legislation during Saparmurat Niyazov’s presidency (1991-2006).
The Jews of Turkmenistan participated in the work of the EAJC Council until February 2004, when the government-recognized representative of the Jewish population I. Shlotchitsky left for Israel. Then contact with then became troublesome, but lately it has resumed again.
Emigration oj Jews is going on: 60 of them left the country in 2008. Those who wish to repatriate to Israel are financially aided by the Ashkhabad office of the Sochnut.
There are separate Jewish cemeteries only in Turkmenabat, Bairam-Ali and Kerki, where religious Iranian, Afghan, and Bukharian Jews used to live. All other cemeteries in Turkmenistan are mixed.
1) Jews who had formally converted to Islam, but secretly practiced Judaism nonetheless.