Jewish city feared by Stalin is rediscovered





The city, Itil, was the capital of the Khazars, a powerful nation that adopted Judaism as its official religion more than 1,000 years ago, only to disappear, leaving little trace of its culture.

It was mentioned in medieval travellers' accounts but Soviet dictator Josef Stalin banned any research into the city and the Khazars, fearing it would prove Russia was descended from a Jewish state.

The city made a fortune from trade but its prosperity declined and in the 14th century it was flooded by the Caspian Sea.

Now a nine-year dig has unearthed the city including the foundations of a fortress, according to archeologists at Russia's Astrakhan State University....

Yevgeny Satanovsky, director of the Middle Eastern Institute in Moscow, said he believes the Khazar elite chose Judaism out of political expediency – to remain independent of neighboring Muslim and Christian states. "They embraced Judaism because they wanted to remain neutral, like Switzerland these days," he said.

The study of the Khazar empire was discouraged in the Soviet Union. Stalin detested the idea that a Jewish empire had come before Russia's own. He ordered references to Khazar history removed from textbooks because they "disproved his theory of Russian statehood," Mr Satanovsky added.


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