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Azerbaijan: Mountain Jews See Government as Protectors

Anatoliy, Krasnaya Sloboda’s synagogue keeper, points to the red roofs for which this settlement of the Mountain Jews is named. Krasnaya Sloboda is one of the only all-Jewish towns outside of Israel. (Photo: Lolita Brayman)

Beyond Azerbaijan’s bustling capital city of Baku, with its modern skyline now defined by flame-shaped glass towers, is an abundance of ethnic diversity. Living in compact settlements nestled among the lush green hills and snow-capped mountains of Azerbaijan are about 50 different ethnic populations speaking over 40 languages.

Krasnaya Sloboda (Red Town) is one such hamlet. Named for its red roofs that visually pop from nearby highland lookouts, it is one of the only all-Jewish towns outside of Israel.

Just off Krasnaya Sloboda’s center square, inside its main chaykana (a traditional Azeri teahouse usually reserved for the exclusive use of men), I interrupted an intense game of backgammon. Here, I met Anatoliy, the town’s synagogue keeper, who was eager to explain the history of the Mountain Jews in Azerbaijan.
 
He took me on a tour, pointing out historic sites, including the cemetery reserved exclusively for Mountain Jews, and the renovated homes of prominent individuals in the community. A lavish wedding hall overlooks the Qudyal River, and on the other side, Anatoliy pointed to the Muslim city of Quba.
 

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Lolita Brayman is a freelance writer based in the United States who likes to travel and write about the South Caucasus.

Azerbaijan: Mountain Jews See Government as Protectors

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