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Img. ID: 423020

© Center for Jewish Art, Photographer: Arshavsky, Zoya, 2022

The following text was written by Dr. Zeev Levin, Head of Central-Asian Jews Research Center, Yad Ben-Zvi Institute, Jerusalem.

During my recent field tour to Uzbekistan (2021), Dr. Dmitri Voyakin, Director of the International Institute for Central Asian Studies in Samarkand, asked me if I am aware of an Ashkenazi synagogue in Kogon. I was not. After 20 years of field research in Uzbekistan, I thought that a large synagogue building would not escape my attention. But it was indeed the case. Arriving in Kogon in March 2021, I found an impressive former synagogue.

Kogon (Kagan in Russian) was known until 1937 as New Bukhara. The town was founded in 1888 as a station of the Trans-Caspian Railway, which was constructed by the Russian Empire in order to increase its grip of Central Asia. The train station developed into a small settlement of train workers and at a later stage into a Russian trade center. A Russian Orthodox church was built in the town in 1892 and the Emir of Bukhara constructed a palace there in 1895-98, anticipating a visit of Russian emperor Nicholas II, which never took place. Both buildings are still intact.

Due to its peculiar position – a Russian settlement in the territory of the semi-independent Emirate of Bukhara, the town attracted significant Jewish population. Neither Russian regulations restricting Jews to the Pale of Settlement, nor anti-Jewish Muslim legislation of Bukhara were at force. According to the all-Russian census of 1897, Jewish population of New Bukhara reached 700, mostly men, who comprised about 7% of the town residents (Demographics). By 1926, the number of Jews doubled and they constituted about 10% of the population.

Probably, the first discussion of this building as a synagogue appeared in 2019 in a blog of Vitali Badmin, an unaffiliated researcher, who studies the history of Bukhara. Badmin cited the mentions of a synagogue in New Bukhara in 1907, 1912, and 1917. He also quoted another Bukharan researcher, Rahmatillo Sharifov, who claimed that an old local resident confirmed to him that this building was a synagogue. In October 2019, the building was listed as an Ashkenazi Synagogue in the national register of protected buildings of Uzbekistan (in Uzbek, page 113, number 465), and even became part of a touristic tour proposed by the National PR-Center of Uzbekistan (Uzbekistan.travel). 

The synagogue was apparently built in the 1890s and functioned until its closure by the Soviet authorities in the late 1920s. During the Soviet period the building was used as a town’s mill and currently stands abandoned.

Description

The synagogue is located in the middle of the old city of Kogon, between the train station and the Russian Orthodox church. It is situated in a courtyard and currently is surrounded by later additions. The two-story brick building is approximately of the same high as the church. Its dimensions are 12 x 15 m. The main façade is tripartite, the central part with the main entrance is slightly protruding. Its upper triangular part is decorated by two shallow niches with a half-column between them, which may allude to the Tablets of the Law. The building consists of a two-story high prayer hall, a vestibule with auxiliary rooms on the ground floor and a women’s section above them. The ceiling of the prayer hall is supported by four pillars; it is not known yet if they are original or were added in Soviet times. The women’s section is connected to the hall through segment-headed arches with a metal rail. The entrance to the women’s section was probably via an exterior wooden staircase which is not preserved. The direction of prayer is this synagogue was towards northwest.

Although the synagogue was recently listed as a protected monument, its current situation demands immediate rescue. In addition, historical archival research in archives of Bukhara and Tashkent is required in order to unveil the true story behind this extraordinary building.

Name/Title
Ashkenazi Synagogue in Kogon (New Bukhara) | Unknown
Object
Object Detail
Settings
Unknown
Date
1890s
Synagogue active dates
Reconstruction dates
Artist/ Maker
Unknown (Unknown)
Historical Origin
Unknown
Community type
Congregation
Unknown
Location
Uzbekistan | Kogon (Kagan)
| Adizobod 16
Site
Unknown
School/Style
Period
Unknown
Period Detail
Collection
Unknown |
Documentation / Research project
Unknown
Material / Technique
Material Stucture
Material Decoration
Material Bonding
Material Inscription
Material Additions
Material Cloth
Material Lining
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Documented by CJA
Surveyed by CJA
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Historical significance: Event/Period
Historical significance: Collective Memory/Folklore
Historical significance: Person
Architectural Significance: Style
Architectural Significance: Artistic Decoration
Urban significance
Significance Rating
Textual Content
Unknown |
Languages of inscription
Unknown
Shape / Form
Unknown
0
Ornamentation
Custom
Contents
Codicology
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Pricking
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Direction/Location
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Location of Apse
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Arrangement of Seats
Location of Women's Section
Direction Prayer
Direction Toward Jerusalem
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Group
Group
Group
Group
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Architectural Drawings
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Computer Reconstruction
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Donor
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Negative/Photo. No.
A487421