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Yona Emanuelov at Work, Derbent, Dagastan (USSR) 1975


Yona Emanuelov at the soft drink factory where he worked, Derbent, Dagastan (USSR) 1975

The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU – Museum of the Jewish People, Courtesy of Yona Emanuelov, Israel

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Дербент; former Bab Al-Abwab, Caspian sea port in the Republic of Dagestan, Russia.

Derbent has been erroneously identified with Terbent. Jews evidently originally from Persia, were already settled in Derbent by the time that the Kingdom of the Khazars was established; some ascribe the first propagation of Judaism among the Khazars to Derbent Jews. Jewish-owned caravans used to pass through the city in this period. After the fall of the Khazar kingdom on the Volga in 969, a number of survivors took refuge in Derbent. Jews living there are mentioned in the 12th century by Benjamin of Tudela, and in the 13th by the Christian traveler Wilhelm of Rubruquis.

The first mention of Jews in Derbent in modern times is by the German traveler Adam Olearius in the 17th century. Derbent Jewry endured frightful sufferings during the wars in the 18th century; Nadir Shah of Persia forced many Jews to adopt Islam.

After the Russian conquest many of the Jewish occupants of rural Dagestan fled to Derbent, which became the spiritual center of the mountain Jews. The Jewish population numbered 2,200 in 1897 (15% of total population) and 3,500 in 1903. After the 1917 revolution many Dagestan Jews deprived of their lands migrated to Derbent where they generally took up occupations in crafts or industry.

A visitor to Derbent in the 1960s reported that some of the Jews were occupied in agriculture, principally vine growing. They were organized in four kolkhozes whose lands bordered on the town. The kolkhoz members lived in town; in general Jews tended to live in the same area.