The continuing fighting in the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan has raised concern over the fate of the estimated 10,000 Jews living there.
Israel has managed to get four planeloads of Tajik Jews out of the country in recent weeks, but major logistical and political problems are preventing any large-scale evacuation, according to a senior Israeli official here.
As a result, only a few hundred Jews have made it out of the country.
Compounding the problem is that despite the heavy fighting among rival Tajik clans, “most Jews there do not want to leave now,” said the Israeli official.
The fighting has left the former Soviet Union’s poorest and most remote republic virtually cut off from the outside world. Tajikistan’s main road and rail links are to neighboring Uzbekistan, which cut those links several weeks ago to prevent the fighting from spreading across its borders.
Road links to the other ex-Soviet republic which borders on Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, lead through difficult mountainous terrain. Tajikistan’s remaining borders are with Afghanistan and China.
The lack of feasible land routes led the Israeli effort to focus on an airlift, said the source. But the airlift itself has been hampered by problems at the airport in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, where some commercial flights from Moscow and other ex-Soviet cities are still landing.
“The airport is not secure,” said the source. “There has been shooting in and around the terminal among the combatants and bandit gangs. One of our flights was nearly affected by the fighting.”
In addition to the risk of violence, the refugees have faced severe customs restrictions on the belongings they may export, leading to long delays prior to departure. At present, the airport authorities are not imposing any kind of exit fee or tax, but that may change. “We’re afraid they (the authorities) may get that idea,” said the source.
The majority of Tajik Jews are Bukharan Jews, who are largely viewed by the non-Jewish population as indigenous. The Ashkenazic minority consists mostly of Jews who came to Tajikistan during the period of Soviet power. The fighting has not been directed against either Jewish group.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.