Once home to tens of thousands of Jews, the central Asian nation of Azerbaijan still has several thousand within its borders, centuries after Persian Jewish soldiers first settled in the Caucasus Mountains there. Now, the main community in the capital of Baku is set to receive a kosher restaurant, along with an entire cultural center.
The city has given 600-square yards to the Mountain Jews, the largest and oldest of the three Jewish groups in the country (the others being Ashkenazi and Georgian Jews), according to the Jewish News Agency. Descended from Persian Jews, they are believed to have first settled in Azerbaijan in the 5th century CE. Though the Muslim-majority country has recently seen a rise in radical Islam and restrictive government, the people of Azerbaijan have traditionally enjoyed peace with their minority communities. Jews (along with all minorities) were severely persecuted by the ruling Soviet regime during their reign.
Many Mountain Jews emigrated to Israel and the US as a result. The country is one of the few in the region that enjoys a friendly relationship with Israel.
Baku does have a Chabad center which, on its website, says it provides a “kosher store.” But Rabbi Shneor Segal, head of the Chabad center, confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the city does not have any kosher restaurants.
Orthodox organization The Vaad also operates in Baku, and claims to have a kosher bakery there.
A community website said the opening “will be a landmark event for Jewish life in Baku,” and will aid “foreign guests” who have difficulties acquiring kosher food in the country.
Food available at the restaurant might include dishes common in the region, like dolma (meat stuffed leaves), and met, a bitter-tasting green cherry plum condiment.