Tajikistan suspends demolition of last shul

The century-old structure is slated for razing by June to make way for a new presidential palace.

The Tajikistan government has suspended its demolition of the country's only synagogue, though the structure's future remains in limbo. Rabbi Mikhail Abdrakh-manov said Thursday that the Tajik authorities had postponed a final decision on the complex's fate until the second half of the year to allow more time to clarify ownership rights over the building. Tajik officials confirmed the suspension but refused to provide more details. The mikve and several of the classrooms were torn down last month, with all of the century-old structure slated for razing by June to make way for a new presidential palace. Tajik officials offered the couple hundred Jews who use the synagogue in Dunshabe, the ex-Soviet state's capital, other land on the outskirts of the city but no financial compensation. The community is mostly elderly and said to be too poor to build a new house of worship or capable of reaching a facility so far from their homes. The World Jewish Congress (WJC), which had campaigned to preserve the synagogue, welcomed the work stoppage while acknowledging that the issue had not yet been fully resolved. "We have a victory for common sense and mutual respect," Bobby Brown, director of international affairs for the WJC, said, adding, "We have not yet heard any announcement that there is a permanent halt. We hope that such an announcement will be forthcoming." Brown noted that the WJC had been in touch Thursday with UNESCO (UN Educational, Social and Cultural Organization), which had written to the Tajik government in protest of the demolition. The WJC also appealed to the European Commission for help, while the Israeli government was in touch with the Tajik authorities on the issue. Additionally, Jews and non-Jews incensed by the synagogue's slated destruction contacted Tajikistan's embassies to protest the decision. "It is feared that this demolition will effectively put an end to Jewish life in Tajikistan and will strike a severe blow to the cause of Muslim-Jewish mutual respect and coexistence in the overwhelmingly Muslim Central Asian republic," the petition states. Brown attributed the halt on the demolition to pressure from international organizations and government bodies, and media attention. "I believe that the Tajik government found that there were too many interested parties who were not going to let this lie," he said. The Associated Press contributed to this report.