The Jews of Bukhara

Photographs by the Uzbek photographer Shavkat Boltaev

Jewish life in Bukhara, which had been developing along the great Silk Road since the 13th century, was still very much alive in Soviet times. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the Bukhara Jews emigrated mainly to the USA and Israel. The largest community of Bukhara Jews in Europe today lives in Vienna.

The Uzbek photographer Shavkat Boltaev is the most important chronicler of his city, similar to Ara Güler for Istanbul. In four decades of work, he documented a largely closed world that has gradually drifted apart since the 1990s.

The more than 2000-year-old Bukhara with its historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This includes the Jewish synagogue and the former homes of the Bukhara Jews.

The Bukharian Jews were not a homogeneous ethnic-religious group and did not live in Central Asia only in Bukhara. There, however, their footsteps can be traced in the historically protected old town in the built space, even though only about 150 of the former 25,000 Jewish people still live there today. Boltaev documented both the festive and the everyday life of the Bukharian Jews. Not only does he have an extensive archive of his photographic works since the 1980s, but also countless photographs of emigrating families were left to him. Shavkat Boltaev’s photo-documentary work has not yet been published in book form. However, he has extensive international experience with competitions and exhibitions , and he has been mentioned in internationally important newspapers such as the New York Times and the Guardian.

About the artist:

Shavkhat Boltaev (born 1957) is a photographer and curator. He participated in many competitions and exhibitions (selection): 1991 International Photo Exhibition at VDNKh. Moscow, Russia. Medal of Honor; 1998 Documentary photography competition of the Open Society Institute. Soros Foundation. First prize. New York, USA; 2000 Project Exhibition „XXI-Century: Bukhara – without Bukhara Jews“. With support from OSI-Uzbekistan. Soros Foundation; 2004 Finalist of the photo contest „Press Photo Russia-2004“ in the category „Contemporary photography of Central Asia“; 2004 Photo exhibition in Aarhus.  Denmark; 2007 Finalist of OSCE „Land and Water. Defending our fragile environment“ (Spain); 2008 Photo exhibition „Europe in the eyes of Uzbekistan“ through the cities of Uzbekistan; 2008 Photo exhibition in Tehran. Iran. I-International Photo Biennial “ Islamic World; 2008 Photo exhibition in St. Petersburg CEH „Manezh“.  Russia „Culture and Traditions of Central Asia“; 2008 Mark Weil „ILHOM“ Prize „. Special Prize for Innovation“ for the photo project „All Different, All Equal“; 2012 Photo exhibition in Istanbul. Turkey. „Central Asian Gypsies“; 2018 Participation in the International Photo Festival in Lianyungan. China; 2019 2nd  prize Second International Photography Competition of Tehran ICH Centre. „Intangible Cultural Heritage and Youth“ UNESCO. Iran.

Vibrant Spaces of Svaneti

Svaneti is a space in which the history of the Caucasus is visibly inscribed and lively enacted in the Svan culture and tradition. However, this spectacular space is increasingly showing traces of fatigue as tourists from all over the world come to the region.

Svaneti is searching for a new identity in a continuous field of tension between an emerging local economy and the region‘s rich traditions. This project intends to collect and archive the local narratives, document the region‘s rich culture, local practices and usage of space. In close cooperation with the Svans we aim to create a public sphere for the region‘s concerns to discover the benefits of both: tradition and the emergent economy.

Project Partners:

PD Dr. Stefan Applis works as associate professor of geography at the Justus-Liebig-University of Giessen (Germany). In his work in Georgia, he is particularly interested in the impact on the local population of attempts to promote social development through tourism promotion.

Prof. Dr. Sebastian Pranz works as a full professor of journalism at Macromedia University of Applied Sciences in Stuttgart (Germany). With the media NGO FROH! he has realized the German/Georgian project Archive of Transition that was presented on the Frankfurt Bookfair 2018.

Dr. Stéphane Voell is the coordinator of the Center for Conflict Studies of Philipps-Universität Marburg. He conducted research in Georgia, since 2011 he
organizes student research projects with Armeniens, Azerbaijanis and Georgians in the Caucasus.

Prof. Klaus Neuburg works as a Professor for Mediadesign at Ostfalia Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaften – Hochschule Braunschweig/Wolfenbüttel. 

Froh! e.V. is a non-profit association that has made its goal to stir the processes of social formation and develop journalistic formats that open discourses about human values. We organize an international workshop-series addressing journalists and self-publishers, develop international transmedia projects and publish magazines and websites. We collaborated with partners like German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Goethe Institute Georgia, DVV international and many others.

Cooperators from our value network:

Dr. Nino Tserediani, Director of the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography (GEO)

Prof. Jesse Vogler, Assistent Professor of Architecture, Free University Tbilisi. (GEO)

Prof. Jochen Siegemund, Professor Faculty of Architecture, TH Cologne/Germany (GER)


#Svaneti Series is a article series, which is distributed via Twitter @doinggeography. It provides insights and analyses of the histoircal region of Svaneti in Georgia and its social spaces from a geographical viewpoint. This means that all articles examine the social space and the practices taking place within it. This includes both the built space and the non-built space and all communications about places and spaces. The series of articles addresses English speaking tourists who visit Svaneti and are interested in more information about the culture, ecology and economic conditions in the region. The article series is puplished on my second blog

#Georgian Perspectives

The article series „Georgian Perspectives“ provides insights and analyses of contemporary Georgian social life from a geographical viewpoint (via Twitter: @doinggeography). This means that all articles examine the social space and the practices taking place within it. This includes both the built space and the non-built space and all communications about places and spaces. It is important to underline that the insights given here must always include views from the outside, as the author is neither a native speaker nor permanently living in Georgia. The article series is puplished on my second blog