Despite pleas from the Jewish community and international organizations, the Tajikistan government has started to destroy the country's only synagogue. The mikve and several of the classrooms have already been torn down, with all the structures due to be demolished by June to make way for a new presidential palace. The World Jewish Congress this week sent a letter to UNESCO in a last-ditch effort to stop the synagogue's destruction. It wrote that the action "will effectively put an end to Jewish life in Tajikistan and will strike a severe blow at the cause of Muslim-Jewish mutual respect and coexistence." UNESCO had written the Tajikistan authorities to halt the construction project when the WJC first contacted the organization in June 2004, labelling the synagogue's destruction "in contradiction with existing international standards for the protection of cultural heritage." Gadi Mgomezulu, director of UNESCO's cultural heritage division, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that that message would be repeated in a second appeal to the Tajikistan authorities in the near future. Mgomezulu said the UN agency would be "following up with them very closely on the issue," though he noted that his office had never received a reply from the Tajikistan government. The synagogue, located in the capital of Dushanbe, is more than 100 years old and serves a couple of hundred Jews, more than half of the country's Jewish population. The city has offered alternate sites at the edges of the city but won't provide compensation for the buildings. "The Jewish community in Dushanbe is very small and very old. [They are] very, very poor and therefore they don't have any ability to invest money and build a new synagogue," according to a Jewish Agency official who serves the community. In addition to being a house of prayer and serving other Jewish ritual and study purposes, he said the complex was "the center of the community," a place for members to meet and spend time. "They feel that they won't have any way to live a Jewish life," he added.