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13 November 2012

Jews of Azerbaijan

The history of the Jews of Azerbaijan is a very long and for the most part a peaceful one. The approximately 7.5 million people of Azerbaijan, which is located on the southern end of the Caucasus Mountains are a very diverse group. The country is surrounded by the countries of Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran and the Caspian Sea.
The Jewish community today numbers about 30,000 people,  with about 2/3 of those located in the city of Baku. The Jewish community of Azerbaijan is for the most part comprised of 2 different groups, the Ashkenazi Jews and the Mountain Jews, who are of Persian origin.

Ashkenazi Jews began arriving in the 1800's, when Russia, which was in control, tried to influence the people by bringing in  Russian heritage. This group also grew during World War II as other Jews fled the Nazi's.
The Mountain Jews on the other hand have a history that probably dates back over 2000 years. Many of these came from the area that is now Iran and are said to be descendants of the Jews who left Israel after the destruction of the First Temple. They survived for such a long time by settling in areas that others didn't travel, the extremely remote areas of the mountains.
When the Constitution was written in the early 1990's, religious freedom was given to all, and no state religion was declared. This freedom led to the Jewish community being somewhere between 75-100 thousand people. While the freedom still exists, many families have now emigrated to Israel, Russia or the United States because of the  poor economic situation.

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