'Post' report prompts bid to save Tajik shul [pg. 9]

In the wake of a report earlier this week in The Jerusalem Post, a veteran US congressman is launching an effort to rescue the only synagogue in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, from imminent destruction. Rep. Gary Ackerman, the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives' International Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, told the Post that he was "deeply concerned by news regarding the imminent destruction of the old synagogue in Dushanbe. "The Tajik government should reconsider their decision," the 12-term lawmaker said. "Certainly they are entitled to make sovereign decisions about land use in their capital. This isn't a question of whether they have the right to do it, but whether it is right to do it. "Considering the historic and cultural implications of destroying the old synagogue," Ackerman observed, "it seems clear to me they're making a big mistake." As the Post reported on Wednesday, the Tajik government is moving ahead with plans to demolish the country's only synagogue in order to make way for the expansion of a presidential palace and park. Earlier this year, Tajik demolition teams began tearing down the century-old house of worship, but stopped in the wake of an international outcry, which included protests from the US government, Jewish organizations and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). While praising efforts by the US Embassy in Dushanbe to raise the question of the synagogue's future with the Tajik government, Ackerman nonetheless said he felt that the Bush administration "should be doing more on this issue as well as a host of human rights concerns in Tajikistan. "I will be contacting both the Bush administration and the Tajik government to review this matter urgently, with an eye toward saving the old synagogue," Ackerman continued. "I think the Bush administration needs to apply more horsepower, and I will be pressing for that to happen." In fiscal year 2005, Tajikistan received nearly $60 million in US foreign aid. Bordering Afghanistan, the country has played a role in America's global campaign against terror. A recent State Department report declared that "Tajikistan has been a strong supporter of US efforts in the war on terrorism and in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan." Even so, Ackerman said, this did not entitle Tajikistan to do as it pleased when it came to the fate of the synagogue as well as other matters. "Dushanbe," he said, "has made some very significant contributions to our efforts in the war on terror, but these efforts should not be viewed as a free pass on every issue." Although the precise timing of the planned destruction of the Dushanbe synagogue remains unclear, there are indications that it might take place before the end of the month. Tajik officials have said they will allocate a piece of land elsewhere in Dushanbe for the construction of a new synagogue.