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To: His Excellency the Military Governor-General of the Syr-Darya oblast

From:  Ai-Bibbish and her sons Abraham and Moses Iskhakov and her brothers Mirza, Iosif and Ibragim Iakubov, all inhabitants of Tashkent


No longer capable of concealing our distress and sufferings, we, having shed our last tears in prayer to the Most High Creator, have made up our minds to entrust our destiny to the hands of Your Excellency, and bow our heads before you waiting for our fate to be decided.

            You may be familiar, Your Excellency, with the words "Thank God, I am a Muslim," which are fatal for Bukharan Jews. Every Jew guilty of any  insignificant  offense  dreads  these words  in  the  event  that  the Muslims present see him as guilty, according to them, of even  the slightest insult to their religion. In this case, there is only one way out: either the offender is brought to Kushbegi who, on the basis of evidence from three Muslims present, will sentence the offender to immediate death by hanging, or

the crowd gathered on the occasion will require the accused to pronounce in front of them the words "Thank God, I am a Muslim," and thus redeem himself. When a person becomes a Muslim in this way, his entire family is proclaimed converted to Islam and is attached to a mullah for training in the faith and rites.

            The Jews converted to Islam in this way received the initially jocular, but later on fixed epithet of Chalah which means "halves," that is half-Jews and half-Muslims.

            Almost all Chalah are outwardly Muslims, but Jews in their hearts. As a matter of fact, nothing else could be expected from the semi-savage fanatic. The Chalah frequent mosques, pretending to be praying and in general do whatever is expected of a Muslim since their neighbors are watching. But once they have bolted the doors of their own homes, they honor the Shabbat, keeping this the strictest of secrets, they pray under cover of darkness to Jehovah, their unique God, begging him for forgive-ness for their involuntary sin. But woe unto those who do so, should somebody learn about it and betray them: the apostates, and their entire families, will be immediately executed by hanging; in earlier times, they used to be thrown down from a high tower and their bodies given to the dogs to devour.

            This life naturally brought about a situation in which the Chalah lived together, in separate quarters, and concluded marriages only among themselves, for no real Muslim and certainly no Jew would give their daughters to them. The former, since they strongly distrust the religious feelings of the Chalah,and the latter, well anyone would understand why.

Thus the Chalah are leading a miserable life. Half alive and half dead, they live under the eternal sword of Damocles, fearing that at any turn they might be put to death for apostasy from the faith they were forced to accept, usually without any guilt on their part.  Not everyone has sufficient stamina to bear this hellish life. Those who could not stand it had only one choice: run away from the precincts of the Bukhara khanate.   Before Turkestan was conquered by the Russians there was nowhere to go. Muslims were everywhere, and the Chalah used to run away to where they were not known. But then the army of the powerful White Tzar appeared on the horizon of savage Asia. Less than a year had passed, and the subjugated Muslims could breathe with more freedom, having known the Greatness of the New Ruler surrounded with the halo of humanity, truth, law, and religious tol-erance. It is superfluous to say that the Bukharan Jews, too, breathed a breath of freedom. Is there anyone among the inhabitants of this region who is unaware of what

it means to be a "Jew" in Bukhara even now, after the Russian Monarch brought light with his powerful arm and sowed the seeds of truth and good in the home of his neighbor? Is there any use in trying to prove this, to convince anyone that the Bukharan Jew is sincere and truthful without limit in his prayers for the Russian Tzar?

            Conquered Turkestan has become the best and the only shelter for the Chalah fugitives!

            Your Excellency! All of us mentioned in the attached list are Chalah who escaped from Burkara in 1866. All of us, except the women and David Yagudyev, are among the 36 Jews listed in a dossier in the Provincial Governing Board for deportation to Bukhara as Bukharan subjects. We all escaped from Bukhara and hid ourselves in Tashkent even before it was occupied by the Russian troops, and when the lists of Jews were being compiled we did not dare to present ourselves. Our fear, that of the "Chalah fugitives," killed all sense and reason in us. We were hiding in our holes and trembling with fear for our lives. A year passed, and then another, and we saw and understood what the Russians were, and we started breathing the same air as other people.

            Now, when we are supposed to be taken back to Bukhara, where on the very first day of our arrival we are threatened with death on orders of the Muslim fanatics, we have no other choice but to apply to Your Excellency and tell you of our bitter fate.  Take any long-time Jewish resident of Tashkent to the synagogue, and he, uttering the name of Jehovah in front of the Holy Ark, will swear on all His Holiness that all of us settled here before the occupation of the region by the Russian troops. And not only Jews, but many long-time Muslm residents will testify to the fact that they knew the older people among us since before the occupation of the region, and our younger ones were already born here. Your kind heart cannot help being moved at the thought that six families with their innocent children will be doomed to death in Bukhara.

We implore Your Excellency to issue orders, in connection with our specific situation, to carry out an investigation about the time of our settlement here and about the honest, hard-working lives we have been leading. This small exception from the general rule is a question of life and death for us.

September 28, 1901


The petition by the Yakubovs-Iskhakovs, the Chalah from Tashkent, is  kept in the Central State Archive of Uzbekistan (TsGAUz), F. 1, Op. 13, D. 212, pp. 50-51; see also the copy of this letter in the same Archive, F. 17, Op. 1, D. 10437, pp. 1-2.