Azerbaijani Jews
יהדות אזרבייג'ן
Azərbaycan yəhudiləri
Total population
5,094 (2019 census data)
Hebrew (in Israel), Azerbaijani, Judeo-Tat, Russian
Related ethnic groups
Mountain Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, Georgian Jews.

The history of the Jews in Azerbaijan dates back many centuries. Today, Jews in Azerbaijan mainly consist of three distinct groups: Mountain Jews, the most sizable and most ancient group; Ashkenazi Jews, who settled in the area during the late 19th-early 20th centuries, and during World War II; and Georgian Jews who settled mainly in Baku during the early part of the 20th century.


Historically, Jews in Azerbaijan have been represented by various subgroups, mainly Mountain Jews, Ashkenazi Jews and Georgian Jews. Azerbaijan at one point was or still is home to smaller communities of Krymchaks, Kurdish Jews and Bukharian Jews, as well Gerim (converts) and non-Jewish Judaistic groups like Subbotniks. In those days, Jews used to live in and around the city of Shamakhi (mainly in the village of Mücü), but the community has been non-existent since the early 1920s.[1] In 2002, the total number of Jewish residents in Azerbaijan was 10,000 people with about 5,500 of them being Mountain Jews.[2] A few more thousand descend from mixed families.[1] In 2010, the total Jewish population in Azerbaijan was 6,400.[3] Jews mainly reside in the cities of Baku, Ganja, Sumqayit, Quba, Oğuz, Goychay and the town of Qırmızı Qəsəbə, the only town in the world where Mountain Jews constitute the majority (and the only fully Jewish town outside of Israel).


Archaeological excavations carried out in 1990 resulted in the discovery of the remains of the 7th-century Jewish settlement near Baku, and of a synagogue 25 kilometres to the southeast of Quba.[1] The first religious meeting-house in Baku was built in 1832, and was reorganized into a synagogue in 1896; more synagogues were built in Baku and its suburbs in the late 19th century. The first choir synagogue in Baku opened in 1910.[4]

From the late 19th century, Baku became one of the centres of the Zionist movement in the Russian Empire.[4] The first Hovevei Zion was established here in 1891, followed by the first Zionist organization in 1899. The movement remained strong in the short-lived Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (1918–1920) marked with the establishment of the Jewish Popular University in 1919, periodicals printed in Yiddish, Hebrew, Judæo-Tat and Russian, and a number of schools, social clubs, benevolent societies and cultural organizations.[1]

After Sovietization, all Zionism-related activities including those of cultural nature that were carried out in Hebrew were banned. In the early 1920s a few hundred Mountain Jewish families from Azerbaijan and Dagestan left for Israel and settled in Tel-Aviv. The next aliyah did not take place until the 1970s, after the ban on Jewish immigration to Israel was lifted (see: Refusenik (Soviet Union)). Between 1972 and 1978 around 3,000 people left Azerbaijan for Israel. 1970 was the demographic peak for Azerbaijani Jews after World War II; according to the census, 41,288 Jews resided in Azerbaijan that year.[1]

A friend of mine was approached by a gang of Azerbaijanis. He said he wasn’t Armenian, and they said, 'But you are Jewish, right? So we will beat you for the Arabs.'

I myself was attacked and cut on the face when I tried to help an Armenian friend. That’s when we began to think seriously about emigrating.

—Nathan V. Yeremeyev, a Jewish refugee and witness of the 1990 Baku pogrom.[5]

Most of the Azerbaijani Jewish population fled amid rising antisemitism and violence against Jews during the Soviet dissolution and independence of Azerbaijan. The majority of Jewish refugees from Azerbaijan emigrated to Israel or the United States. Israeli PM Yitzhak Shamir expressed hope that the Azerbaijani Jewish refugees could be settled in occupied West Bank. However, Israeli diplomat Miron Gordon, who oversaw issuing visas, welcomed Azerbaijani Jews regardless of whether they settled in Israel or the occupied territories. Gordon stated that of all the collapsing Soviet republics, the Jews in Azerbaijan faced the greatest threat of violence, and thus their immigration was prioritized by the Israeli Consulate.[5]

In a 1992 survey of antisemitism in the former Soviet Union, which compared results of a similar survey in 1990, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan displayed the largest surge in antisemitism. The causes were primarily attributed to Islamic nationalism and envy of Jews stereotyped as having wealth and privilege.[6]

Many Jewish émigrés from Azerbaijan settled in Tel-Aviv and Haifa. There are relatively large communities of Mountain Jewish expatriates from Azerbaijan in New York City and Toronto.

A new Jewish synagogue, which became one of the biggest synagogues in Europe opened in Baku on 9 March 2003. There is also a Jewish school, operating in Azerbaijan since 2003. Currently, there are seven functioning synagogues in Azerbaijan: three in Baku, two in Quba and two in Oghuz.[7] Some of them were constructed with government financial support.[8] In January 2020, The Association of Mountain Jews opened a new community center in Moscow's Sokolniki Park.[9]

In 2017, an Azerbaijani laundromat money-laundering scheme was uncovered, revealing that, between 2012 and 2014, Azerbaijan created a slush fund of USD $2.9 billion used to bribe European and American politicians, journalists, lawmakers, and academics to lobby for Azerbaijani interests abroad. One of the primary agendas of the laundromat was to portray Azerbaijan as "a role model for multicultural tolerance". In particular, Israeli and Jewish organizations in USA and Europe were used to present Azerbaijan as "a trusted Muslim partner of Israel and the Jewish people". German and French lobbyists bribed by the laundromat frequently sought to portray Azerbaijan as a friend of Israel. The Podesta Group, an American lobbying firm paid $60,000 per month by the Azerbaijani government, contacted pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC and JINSA on behalf of Azerbaijan.[10]

Mountain Jews

Main article: Mountain Jews

A class held at a Jewish school in Quba (early 1920s)

Mountain Jews are believed to have moved north making way to mass migration of Oguz Turks into the region. Their increase in number was supported by a constant flow of Jews from Iran. In the late Middle Ages Jews from Gilan founded a settlement in Oguz. Throughout the medieval epoch Mountain Jews were establishing cultural and economic ties with other Jewish communities of the Mediterranean. Agriculture and fabric trade was their main occupation until Sovietization. Some families practiced polygamy.[1] In 1730, Huseyn Ali, the ruler of the Quba Khanate (then newly separated from the Safavid Empire), issued a decree according to which Jews could own property in the khanate.[11]

According to the 1926 Soviet census, there were 7,500 Mountain Jews in Azerbaijan (roughly 25% of the country's entire Jewish population).[12] The exact numbers of the late Soviet period are unknown, since many were counted[13] or preferred to be counted[1] as Tats mostly due to the anti-Semitic attitude of the Soviet government. The theory of common origins of Tats and Mountain Jews (previously referred to as Judæo-Tats) has been vehemently dismissed by a number of researchers.[14][15]

Mountain Jews currently dominate the entire Jewish Diaspora of Azerbaijan. They speak a distinct dialect of the Tat language called Juhuri or Judæo-Tat. The majority speaks more than one language, the second and/or third one most often being Azeri or Russian.

Ashkenazi Jews

Main article: Ashkenazi Jews

Dr. Yevsey Gindes, Minister of Health of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic

1811 is the year when the first Ashkenazi Jews settled in Baku, but their mass immigration to what is now Azerbaijan did not start until the 1870s. Their immigration was relatively steady leading them to outnumber the local Mountain Jewish community by 1910. They settled mostly in the booming oil-rich city of Baku. The Caspian-Black Sea Company, one of the leading oil companies in the Russian Empire, was established in Baku by the wealthy Rothschild family of German Jewish origin. Ashkenazi Jews continued immigrating to Azerbaijan until the late 1940s, with a number of them being World War II evacuees from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus who chose to stay in their country of refuge.[1]

Ashkenazi Jews were particularly active in Azerbaijani politics. Dr. Yevsey Gindes, a Kyiv native, served as Minister of Health of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan (1918–1920). Along with that, 6 of the 26 Baku Commissars were Ashkenazi Jewish. In 1912 around one third of Baku's registered lawyers and physicians were Ashkenazi Jewish as well.[1]

The post-1972 aliyah largely affected this subgroup of Azerbaijani Jews, as among all they were more exposed to emigration. This resulted in the decline of their number, making Mountain Jews the largest Jewish group of Azerbaijan by the mid-1990s. Today there are about 500 Ashkenazi Jews living in the country.[16]

Similar to many immigrant communities of the Czarist and Soviet eras in Azerbaijan, Ashkenazi Jews appear to be linguistically Russified. The majority of Ashkenazi Jews speak Russian as their first language with Azeri being spoken as the second. The number of Yiddish-speakers is unknown.

Rabbi Shneor Segal serves as the Chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazi community since 2010. He is a member of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States and the top Chabad emissary to Baku.

Other Jewish subgroups

It is not clear whether local Jewish communities had established ties with Georgian Jews before the Czarist epoch, however by the 1910s the Georgian Jewish diaspora in Baku already accounted for its own educational club. Today there are a few hundreds of Georgian Jews living in Azerbaijan.[1]

In 1827 first groups of Judæo-Aramaic-speaking Kurdish Jews started settling in Azerbaijan. In 1919–1939 a synagogue for Kurdish Jews functioned in Baku. After Sovietization the attitude of the Stalinist Soviet government towards them was somewhat unfavourable, and in 1951 all Kurdish Jews were deported from the Caucasus.[1]

Krymchaks, who nowadays number only 2,500 people worldwide, consequently remained in quite low numbers in Azerbaijan throughout the 20th century. There were only 41 of them in the country in 1989. Bukharian Jews numbered 88 persons.[17]

Gerim and Subbotniks

Gerim and Subbotniks were ethnic Russians from various parts of Russia who converted to Judaism primarily in the 1820s. In 1839–1841 the Czarist government expelled these communities to the newly conquered South Caucasus, mainly to what is now Azerbaijan. Upon arriving here, they founded several settlements around Jalilabad (then called Astrakhan-Bazar), of which the largest one was Privolnoye, Azerbaijan. It later became the largest Judaistic Russian settlement in Russia. By the late Soviet epoch the overall number of Gerim and Subbotniks in Azerbaijan was 5,000. There were only around 200 of them left in 1997 (when the region was visited by a research group from Saint Petersburg) with many planning to move to Russia and leaving virtually no chance for further preservation of this unique community.[18]

Life of the community

Synagogue of the Ashkenazi Jews in Baku
Azerbaijani Jew dance group. Khari Bulbul Music Festival

In the Soviet era, Jews in Azerbaijan displayed high rates of marriage outside their community. In 1989, 48% of Ashkenazi Jews and 18% of Mountain Jews were married to non-Jews.[19]

Beginning in the 1960s, Azerbaijan's Jewish community experienced cultural revival. Jewish samizdat publications started being printed. Many cultural and Zionist organizations were reestablished in Baku and Sumqayit since 1987, and the first legal Hebrew courses in the Soviet Union were opened in Baku.[1]

Education in Jewish languages was discontinued by the Kremlin in the 1930s and the 1940s, and teaching in Yiddish and Juhuri was replaced by that in Russian. After the fall of the Soviet Union, a yeshiva opened in Baku in 1994 and an Ohr Avner Chabad Day School was established in 1999. In 1994, Hebrew was studied at one state university and offered as a course choice in two secondary schools.[1] On 31 May 2007, a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Ohr Avner Chabad Centre for Jewish Studies took place in Baku. The centre is intended to include a day school, a kindergarten, residence halls, a scientific centre, a library, etc.[20]

According to the Report on Global Anti-Semitism released by the USA Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor on 5 January 2005, "Cases of prejudice and discrimination against Jews in the country were very limited, and in the few instances of anti-Semitic activity the Government has been quick to respond. The Government does not condone or tolerate persecution of Jews by any party".[21] Jews do not suffer from discrimination, and the country is remarkably free from anti-Semitism.[22]

In 2005 Yevda Abramov, himself a Jew, was elected to the National Assembly of Azerbaijan as an MP representing the Rural Guba riding.

As of 2017, there are seven synagogues in Azerbaijan: three in Baku (one for each community, the Ashkenazi, Mountain and Georgian; the second one being the largest in the Caucasus), two in Qırmızı Qəsəbə near Quba, and two in Oğuz.[7]

A delegation of the World Jewish Congress visited Azerbaijan in September 2016 where during the talks with the Azeri President Ilham Aliyev emphasis was put on "Excellent relations with Jewish community and Israel".[23][24]

Azerbaijan was also visited by John Shapiro, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, in January 2017, shortly after the visit of Benjamin Netanyahu to Baku. During the interview, Shapiro said that "the delegation met with the Jewish community in Azerbaijan and saw they are very happy and feel very comfortable living in the country".[25]

In 2020, the Azerbaijan Jewish Media Center was established in Sumgayit.[26]

Historical demographics

Historical Azerbaijani Jewish population

Azerbaijan's Jewish population significantly decreased between 1926 and 1939, but then didn't change much between 1939 and 1989 (it increased a little until 1970, and then decreased a little until 1989). Since 1989 and the fall of Communism, Azerbaijan's Jewish population has significantly decreased. Most of the Jews in Azerbaijan left and moved to other countries between 1989 and 2002, with most of them moving to Israel.[33]

Famous Azerbaijani Jews

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Азербайджан". Retrieved 24 October 2022.
  2. ^ (in Russian) Ethnic Composition of Azerbaijan According to the 1999 Census by Arif Yunusov.
  3. ^ "The Jewish Population of the World (2010)". Jewish Virtual Library., based on American Jewish Year Book. American Jewish Committee.
  4. ^ a b "Баку". Retrieved 24 October 2022.
  5. ^ a b Hamilton, Masha (30 January 1990). "Jews Join Exodus From Azerbaijan : Soviet Union: Some tell tales of threats and violence by Muslims. Most want to emigrate to Israel or the U.S." Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 1 July 2022. Retrieved 1 July 2022.
  6. ^ Simon, Stephanie (12 June 1992). "Survey Finds Anti-Semitism on Rise in Ex-Soviet Lands : Prejudice: Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan are cited. Researcher warns of 'dark, primitive feelings.'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2 February 2022. Retrieved 1 July 2022.
  7. ^ a b "Sinaqoqlar". Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  8. ^ "New synagogue ready for Passover". The European Azerbaijan Society. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  9. ^ "God Nisanov and Zarakh Iliev open Mountain Jews Community Center in Moscow". Arutz Sheva. 6 January 2020. Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  10. ^ "European Values Bought and Sold: An exploration into Azerbaijan's sophisticated system of projecting its international influence, buying Western politicians and capturing intergovernmental organisations" (PDF). Civic Solidarity Platform. Freedom Files Analytical Centre. March 2017. pp. 12, 63. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 April 2019. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  11. ^ Azeri Jews: Centuries of coexistence in Azerbaijan by Gabriel Lerner. The Jewish Journal. 11 August 2007. Retrieved 23 February 2008
  12. ^ The All-Soviet Population Census of 1926 Archived 10 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ "The Eurasian Jewish Congress: the Jewish Community of Azerbaijan". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 24 October 2022.
  14. ^ (in Russian) From the History of the Jews of Dagestan Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine by I.Semenov
  15. ^ (in Russian) Polyethnicity in Dagestan by L.Landa
  16. ^ В Баку схлестнулись горские и европейские евреи. 18 August 2016.
  17. ^ "The All-Soviet Population Census of 1989: Azerbaijan". Archived from the original on 28 July 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  18. ^ Brief Report on the Expedition to Azerbaijan in June 1997 Archived 16 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine by V.Dymshits. Centre for the Creation of the Jewish Museum in Saint Petersburg
  19. ^ Vyacheslav Konstantinov. Jewish Population of the Former USSR in the Twentieth Century (a social demographic analysis), p. 54. ISBN 9657088585, 9789657088586.
  20. ^ (in Russian) Mehriban Aliyeva Participated in Groundbreaking for Jewish School. 1 June 2007. Retrieved 25 June 2007
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  22. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "Azerbaijan: Update to AZE19547.E of 26 January 1995, on the treatment of Jews, particularly in Baku, and available protection, UNHCR". Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  23. ^ "World Jewish Congress". World Jewish Congress. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  24. ^ "Ronald Lauder: I highly appreciate respectful and warm attitude of Azerbaijani people and Azerbaijani leadership towards Jewish community". Azertag. 16 September 2016. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  25. ^ "Azerbaijan-US-Israel partnership very important (exclusive)". Trend.Az (in Russian). 30 January 2017. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  26. ^ ""Azərbaycan Yəhudi Media Mərkəzi" yaradıldı - Sumqayıtda". 19 April 2021. Archived from the original on 19 April 2021. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  27. ^ "население азербайджана".
  28. ^ "Приложение Демоскопа Weekly". 15 January 2013. Archived from the original on 12 October 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  29. ^ "World Jewish Population, 2002" (PDF). Retrieved 24 October 2022.
  30. ^ "Powered by Google Docs". Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  31. ^ "Ethnic composition of Azerbaijan 2009". 7 April 1971. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  32. ^ YIVO | Population and Migration: Population since World War I. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  33. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2013.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  34. ^ Milli Mejlis of Azerbaijan Republic – Abramov Yevda Sasunovich
  35. ^ Lerner, Gabriel (11 January 2008). "Azeri Jews: Centuries of coexistence in Azerbaijan". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  36. ^ Hilary Leila Krieger (16 May 2006). "Azerbaijan to open trade office in Israel". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  37. ^ Adelson, Robert. "Biography: Bella Davidovich". AllMusic. Retrieved 25 April 2010.
  38. ^ "Гиндес Евсей Яковлевич – знаменитый бакинский детский врач" [Gindes Evsey Yakovlevich – famous Baku pediatrician]. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  39. ^ Mitz'ad He-Asor (Decade Parade), Israeli Channel 24, October 2009.
  40. ^ Barden, Leonard (19 January 2008). "Bobby Fischer". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 February 2020. Most experts place him the second or third best ever, behind Kasparov but probably ahead of Karpov.
  41. ^ Rosenberg, Rosalind (2004). "Komarovsky, Mirra". In Ware, Susan (ed.). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century. Harvard University Press. pp. 349–351. ISBN 0-674-01488-X.
  42. ^ Kapitza, P. L.; Lifshitz, E. M. (1969). "Lev Davydovitch Landau 1908-1968". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 15: 140–158. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1969.0007.
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  44. ^ Abbas Abdulla, "Research" Nussimbaum is a Jew from Kyiv" in Adabiyyat Qazetti (Literature Qazette), No. 48:3643 (Baku: 19 December 2008), p.6 as quoted in "Frequently Asked Questions about the Authorship of Ali and Nino," FAQ No. 54: But was Lev Nussimbaum (Essad Bey) actually born in Baku?" in Azerbaijan International, Vol. 15:2–4 (2011), p. 65 and Endnote 119 on page 109.
  45. ^ Papadopoulos, Anna (5 November 2019). "CEO Spotlight: Interview With Real Estate Mogul God Nisanov". Retrieved 3 February 2020.