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Last Updated: Monday, 6 March 2006, 05:14 GMT
Last Tajik synagogue to be razed
By Ian MacWilliam
BBC News, Central Asia

The authorities in the central Asian republic of Tajikistan have started to demolish the country's last synagogue.

It is being destroyed to make way for the construction of a new presidential complex in the capital, Dushanbe.

Members of Tajikistan's ancient Jewish community say they have not been given adequate compensation to enable them to build a new synagogue.

Jews have lived in Tajikistan for many centuries, but the community declined after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Bulldozers have already destroyed part of the compound. The demolition of the synagogue building itself is expected to go ahead later in the year.

Dushanbe's small Jewish community, mostly poor and elderly, have almost resigned themselves to losing their only place of worship.

But they say the distant plot of land the government has given them in exchange is inadequate compensation.

They cannot afford to build a new synagogue, and they say the new land, on the edge of the city, is too far away.

Afraid to speak out

The current synagogue sits on a prime site in the middle of the capital, where the government is building a large new office complex for the president.

The rabbi says the community still hopes the government, or international Jewish groups, will help them to acquire an appropriate building for a new synagogue.

But people familiar with the Jewish community in Dushanbe say those opposed to the demolition had been threatened by officials and most of the congregation are afraid to speak out.

Tajikistan's Jews are members of the ancient community of Persian-speaking Bukharan Jews, who have lived in central Asia for more than 2,000 years.

Dushanbe's synagogue was built about 100 years ago, in what was then one of the city's two Jewish quarters.

Two other synagogues in Tajikistan were closed during the Soviet period.

Only about 300 Jews now live in Dushanbe, and less than 1,000 in the entire country.

Tens of thousands have emigrated since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the five year civil war which broke out in Tajikistan immediately afterwards.

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