The special sub-ethnic group of Bukharian Jews has its roots oi the territory of Uzbekistan. Legend has it that Jews first settled in what is now Uzbekistan following the destruction of the First Temple. The first documented Jewish presence in the region dates back to the 4th century C.E. A large Jewish community in Samarkand is first documented in the 12th century. By the time Central Asia was annexed by Russia (1865-1873), the Bukharian Jews were a minority with diminished rights, and a small part of them, living in the Bukharian emirate, were forcibly converted to Islam (the so-called “tchala”). Jews were living in Bukhara, Kattakurgan, Samarkand, Tashkent, Karshi, Shakhrisabz, Kokand, Margelan, and other cities.
The discriminatory edicts that had existed in the Bukharian emirate with respect to Bukharian Jews (referred to as “indigenous Jews”) were canceled in the areas annexed by the Russian empire. After the region came under Russian rule, Ashkenazi Jews appeared there as well. At the same time the term “Bukharian Jews” emerged – used to define Jews arriving to Russian-ruled areas from the Bukharian emirate.
At the end of the 19th century, there were approximately 16,000 Bukharian Jews. According to the 1926 census the number of Jews living in Usbekistan had increased to 38,200.
In the 1970s, about 10,000 Bukharian Jews emigrated to Israel. Both the 1979 census and the 1989 census showed 95,000 Jews still living in the republic, (26,000 of these were Bukharian Jews).
The state’s first legal Jewish secular organizations emerged in the years 1988–1999. May 1990 saw nationalistic riots, which caused damage to the Jewish quarter in Andijan. During the period of mass emigration (late 1980s – early 1990s) no less than 80,000 Jews left the republic. The emigration is continuing to this day. Beside Israel and the US, small groups of Jewish emigrants have settled in Russia; there are also small communities in Austria and Germany.
Today’s Jewish population in Uzbekistan is estimated at 13,000, no more than 3,000 of whom are Bukharian Jews. Tashkent has a relatively large community (about 8,000). There are smaller communities in Samarkand and Bukhara, and quite little ones in Fergana, Andijan, Namangan, Margelan, Kokand, and Navoiy. The communities contain both Bukharian and Ashkenazi Jews. Most of the Jews in Tashkent are Ashkenazi, Bukhara has more Bukharian ones, and the community of Samarkand is more or less equally divided.