IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 85: Forgotten Jews of Karabakh


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Subject: IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 85: Forgotten Jews of Karabakh

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IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 85: Forgotten Jews of
Karabakh


WELCOME TO IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, NO. 85, June 6, 2001
 
ARMENIAN CHURCH REBELLION  A disaffected priest is sowing the seeds of
unrest in Russia's Armenian community. By Rafael Muradian in Moscow.

THE FORGOTTEN JEWS OF KARABAKH  The 30 Jews left in Nagorny Karabakh
find themselves trapped in a society which regards them with growing
suspicion. 
By Steve Sverdlow in Stepanakert.
 
NEWSPAPERS JOIN WAHHABI WITCH-HUNT  The local press finds it
impossible to remain impartial in the face of mounting religious
conflict. 
By Maya Bitokova in Nalchik.
 
MURDERED PRIEST HAILED A MARTYR  The killing of Father Igor Rozin has
been blamed on growing anti-Orthodox feeling in Kabardino-Balkaria. 
By Yuri Akbashev in Nalchik.
 
********** VISIT IWPR ON-LINE: www.iwpr.net **************

...............

THE FORGOTTEN JEWS OF KARABAKH
 
The 30 Jews left in Nagorny Karabakh find themselves trapped in a
society which regards them with growing suspicion.
 
By Steve Sverdlow in Stepanakert.
 
For the tiny Jewish community in Nagorny Karabakh, paradise has been
lost irretrievably.
 
During the Soviet period, the Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan enjoyed a
reputation as a haven of ethnic and religious tolerance. Thousands of
Jews from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus flocked there in a bid to escape
the anti-Semitism endemic in Soviet society.
 
But the aftermath of the six-year war has ushered in a new era of
chauvinism and intolerance to non-Armenians living in Nagorny
Karabakh. And the Jewish community has dwindled to just 30 people.
 
Unlike Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Dagestan and Chechnya,
Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh never had significant Jewish populations.
 
The Jews of Armenia were made up mainly of Ashkenazis from Eastern
Europe whose immigration begins with Russian unification in 1828-1829
and lasts until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
 
The vast majority of Jews who ended up in Nagorny Karabakh came either
to escape persecution or to find work or as a result of mixed
marriages. Maria Spector Groisman came for all three reasons.
 
One of several Jewish women living in Martuni, the third largest town
in the disputed territory, Groisman and her husband moved from
Chernovtsy, Ukraine, in 1967.
 
"We were persecuted by the peasants, by our classmates and by our
teachers," she says. "I remember the mass graves outside Chernovtsy
and Kamianets-Podolsky where most of my relatives were massacred
during the war."
 
When Groisman's parents applied to emigrate to Israel in the late
1960s, her father was imprisoned for four years as an enemy of the
people.
 
Says Groisman, "Moving to Karabakh was like a chance to start again,
they treated us with respect there."  In the 1970s and 1980s, the
Groismans lived a relatively open Jewish life.  They received regular
packages from the Star of David association in Baku and raised their
only daughter, Svetlana, to be proud of her heritage.
 
However, even before the actual fighting reached Martuni, Maria
Groisman began to sense the growing wave of nationalism in Nagorny
Karabakh.
 
Her parents - who had emigrated to Haifa in 1977 - telephoned and
urged her to join them in Israel.  Soon after the phone call,
Karabakhi nationalists threatened to have Groisman fired from her job
as a telephone operator unless she wrote an article describing the
wretched conditions experienced by Soviet Jews in Israel and praising
Armenian tolerance. Groisman refused.
 
Now her grandson, David, 16, is nervous about starting his three-year
military service in the army.
 
"I hide my Jewish identity from people," he says. "People here think
Israel helps Azerbaijan and don't like Jews because of that." Now with
tensions running high between Yerevan and Baku and rumors of fresh
hostilities, David has even more reason to be concerned.
 
When the war broke out in 1988, Daniel and Svetlana Groisman were
living in Shushi, now Nagorny Karabakh's second largest town. Daniel
joined the Armenian army and fought from 1990 until the ceasefire in
1994.
 
Says Svetlana, "My husband helped retake Shushi. So many fled during
the war.  We aren't even Armenian but we stayed and didn't betray
Karabakh. But now people call us Yids."
 
After the war, the new government paid out compensation to veterans of
the conflict but Daniel was denied the benefits awarded to
"pure-blooded" Armenians.  When the city court confiscated the
Groismans' garage in 1998 and gave it to an ethnic Armenian veteran,
the family was told, "Only Armenians are full-fledged citizens. You
should all leave for Israel!"
 
A mixed Jewish-Armenian couple, Alexander and Svetlana Peisakhov,
lived in Stepanakert where their children, Sergei and Stella, were
known as "local prodigies".
 
However, during four years of fighting, the children's grandparents,
Niusia and Gelta Sarkisian, kept them back from school and hid them in
the basement.  "We would bury the dead at night because the heavy
shelling during the day made it too dangerous," said Nuisia Sarkisian.
"We were scared because they were not Armenians. We did everything we
could to get them out through Baku."
 
Since 1988, the Jews of the region have been almost entirely isolated
from Jewish organisations in Baku and Yerevan as well as Jewish
diaspora agencies such as the Joint Distribution Committee which sends
humanitarian aid and special foods for the holidays.
 
The chairwoman of the Jewish Community of Armenia, Rimma Vardjapetian,
is sometimes able to find money for the two or three Karabakhis who
come to Yerevan to celebrate Purim.
 
However, while Nagorny Karabakh remains in political purgatory, the
Groismans and the Peisakhovs are not officially recognised as citizens
of any country and cannot travel any further than Armenia.
 
Svetlana Groisman comments, "What bothers me is the lack of attention
we get as one of the only Jewish families in Karabakh. I want the
right to lead a Jewish life here at the very least."
 
And Maria Groisman adds, "I dream of visiting my grandparents' grave
in Haifa but I cannot cross any borders with my passport. No one knows
whether we exist or not."
 
Steve Swerdlow is a human rights monitor for the Union of Councils and
the US State Department's Young Leadership Fellow in the Caucasus,
2000-2001.

...............
 
IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service provides the regional and
international community with unique insiders' perspective on the
Caucasus. Using our network of local journalists, the service
publishes objective news and analysis from across the region on a
weekly basis.
 
The service forms part of IWPR's Caucasus Project based in Tbilisi and
London which supports local media development while encouraging better
local and international understanding of the region.
 
IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service is supported by the UK National
Lottery Charities Board. The service is currently available on the Web
in English and in Russian. All IWPR's reporting services including
Balkan Crisis Reports and Tribunal Update are available free of charge
via e-mail subscription or direct from the Web.
 
To subscribe to any of the news services, e-mail IWPR at
info@iwpr.net.
 
For further details on this project and other information services and
media programmes, visit IWPR's Website: <www.iwpr.net>.
 
Editor-in-chief: Anthony Borden. Managing Editor: Yigal Chazan;
Assistant Editor: Alan Davis. Commissioning Editors: Giorgi Topouria
in Tbilisi, Shahin Rzayev in Baku, Mark Grigorian in Yerevan, Michael
Randall and Saule Mukhametrakhimova in London. Editorial Assistance:
Felix Corley, Heather Milner and Mirna Jancic. To comment on this
service, contact IWPR's Programme Director: Alan Davis alan@iwpr.net
 
The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) is a London-based
independent non-profit organisation supporting regional media and
democratic change.
 
Lancaster House, 33 Islington High Street, London N1 9LH, United
Kingdom.Tel: (44 171) 713 7130; Fax: (44 171) 713 7140. E-mail:
info@iwpr.net; Web: www.iwpr.net
 
The opinions expressed in IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service are those
of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the
publication or of IWPR.
 
Copyright (c) IWPR 2001

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