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Karaites: who are they?

     The lecture with this title was organized and held on March 5, 2007 in Jewish Center located in Marjina Roscha in Moscow. The announcement itself stated:
     Moscow Jew Community Center
     invites all concerned to
     The Club of Lovers of Jew's History
     to listen to the lecture
      there was an explanation below that doctor Alexander Lokshin is going to tell about one of the most mysterious Jew community in the world (my italics).
     As an official representative of Karaite people in European Federal Union of National Minorities I couldn't help interesting in the very wording of the matter of the lecture, as well as its title given in the advert.
     Well, what was first thing that caught an eye of a person knowing some of the detailes of the problems of a real mysterious people of the world, standing today on the verge of complete extinction? The first thing was that Karaites were not called people, but community. The second thing was that they were called Jew community. Any Karaite living in Europe would regard both these statements as a slap in their face. Here we have double slap in the face. That is why it is no wonder that it were Karaites of Europe who with the lapse of time became the staunchest anti-Semites. First this fact surprised me when I met Karaites in Crimea for the first time. You see, the ethnic intolerance is not peculiar to Crimean indigenous peoples (you know, Karaites are one of the indigenous peoples of Crimea). However, then I had to accept this fact, because Jews really resolutely do not recognize Karaites of Europe as an independent people, persevering at convincing them that they are just a part of Jew people. Like a real Crimean Tatar, in other words the representative of the indigenous people of Crimea, I am a genetic opponent of any ethnic phobia or anti-Semitism, in particular. That is why I decided to find out the reason of such atypical for indigenous people of Crimea xenophobia. You see, the very forming of Crimean Tatar nation consisted of thirty ethnic groups required the initial tolerance and toleration of all numerous peoples that literally flooded Crimea during the whole its history. This very tolerance finally let all these tribes and the fragments of people, having different mentality, nature and temperament, united into one single nation that could even stand not only the severe testing by time, but also the severest genocide.
     So, Karaites' anti-Semitism is not the natural trait of Crimean indigenous peoples. More likely it is the result of the persistent Jewish propaganda pursuing purely political interests, but in no way the historical trustworthiness. First, Karaites responded to this propaganda with scientific arguments inviting even anthropologists in order to prove their ethnic independence from Jew people. However, the showing disregard of all reasons on the part of Jews finally resulted in the response reaction - open any-Semitism.
     That is why going to the lecture I was ready to the heat discussions concerning the issue: whether Karaites people or not and whether it had any attitude to Jews. Karaites and Jews have completely opposite views on these issues. I'm personally, like an expert in ethnology and nationalities, and the problems of ethnic groups, in particular, have quite professional idea concerning this issue. However, I wanted to hear the alternative opinion from the supporters of Jewish position, in order to clarify this permanent discussion. To my mind, today people are literate and educated enough to come finally to the common denominator.
     I waited the discussion and it happened. The lecturer told in details about the religion of Karaites, religiously mentioning the differences between Karaite and Jewish religion. However, at the end of the lecture that gathered about 60-70 persons - almost 90% of whom were Jews, the heat debates began. There were only 6-7 Karaites. And there weren't any professional opponents among them. Nevertheless, I gave them the possibility to express themselves for the time being not showing myself as a plenipotentiary representative of Karaite national minority. However, the powers were unequal, because Karaites who lacked competence mainly gave to emotional, not scientific arguments. Then it was my turn to take a word.
     I give below the content of my speech (not word by word of course). Judging from the reaction of the audience both of the parties liked my report, because as a result the passions reduced. The lecturer himself told in the concluding statement that he didn't suppose on such heat reaction to his lecture, but thanked everybody who spoke for constructive criticism in the result of which he found a lot new about this problem.
     I don't know how sincere was Alexander Lokhshin, but on the surface the discussion went on in a very civilized and tolerant way. Any of the confronting parties didn't let themselves even a hint on dishonor towards each other. Both speakers and listeners pursued just one goal - to understand each other. And I thing they did it.
     Now let us address ourselves to the essence of the matter.
     Karaism (from word kara that means "to read", that is, to read the Holy Writ) really appeared in the depth of Judaism. The first preachers of new religion were also Jews-anti-Talmudists. However, it doesn't mean that Karaism is the part of Judaism, and Karaites are Jews. If one would follow this logic, one should state that Christianity is the part of Judaism as well, and all the Christians, like Christ, are one and all Jews. It's not true, indeed! Then, one should rank Muslims among Jews. You know, they have the same one root. They all profess the Holy Writ and one single God. However, splitting off Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as Karaism became independent religions and found their own followers far from Judea. Undoubtedly, in Judea, Karaites among Jews were Jews like the first Christians at the head of Jesus Christ. However already in the 9th, the preachers and missioners of Karaism found themselves on the coasts line of Italy and Crimea, that is, in great Khazaria. Jews didn't live there. In Caspian region lived Turks - Khazars and Polovtsians. In Crimea lived a dozen Caucasian ethnic groups who spoke Turkic dialects: Taurs, Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatian-Alans, Goths, Hellenes, Romans, Thracians, Byzantines, Meuots, Black Bulgarians and a whole range of tribes and peoples many of whom were heathens and were the desired aim of missioners from the South.
     In addition it is known that the follower of Anan ibn Daud (Ben David) and the adherent of Karaism Isaak Sangari for more than 20 years until his very death lived in Crimea converting to his religion along with his missioners ten southlands of Crimean residents (including the khagan of Khazarian khaganate Bulan along with his court). It is natural that the newly converted Karaites were not Jews. Where from they could appear? However, the ethnic groups and tribes of Crimea started referring themselves as Karaites after they got united by a single religion. That was how Crimean Karaites appeared in Crimea. Like the majority of Crimean population they spoke Turkic dialects. First it wasn't a single people that one and all converted into new religion. The missioners of Karaism recruited not only heathens in Crimea, but also Christians, because at those times the most different schools of Christianity found their refuge in Crimea (Esseians, Nestorians, Iconoclasts, Orthodox, Catholics, etc.) Karaism was very close to Christianity, especially to the religion of Esseians. That is why conversion from one of the schools of Christianity to Karaism did not require the fundamental repudiations. It was regarded as transition into the new persuasion of the same religion. That's it. That is why among first Karaites there were both the former heathens as well as the former Christians.
     For example among the former heathens one could absolutely definitely mention the descendants of the tribe - people Qyrk that settled in the Crimean Mountains next to the former Bakhchisaray long before coming of Tatar - Mongols. The place where later on the town of Chuft-Kale was built was called Qyrk-Er, that in Turkic means "the land of Qyrks". The fact that before conversion to Karaism they were heathens could be proved by their worship of sacred oaks. This place is still called Balta Tiymez that means "an axe won't touch". The ritual of worshiping of sacred oaks is observed even today.
     However, Karaites that lived next to the ancient town of Mangup-Kale, the capital of Goths' State (Kingdom of Feodoro) had no such ritual. There is a simple explanation to this fact: Karaites that originated from that region were recruited among the local Goths who practiced Christianity.
     Thus, Crimean Karaites are people formed in the result of mixing of different ethnic groups of Crimea due to their conversion to Karaism. After conversion into the new religion this community of ethnic groups got isolated from all other Crimean ethnic groups and kept on living according to the new laws that prohibited them marrying the representatives of other religious groups. Thus, since the 9th century Karaites came to the historic scene as an independent people with quite definite ethnic character and face that had nothing in common with remote Jew people.
     Now, remains the second question: why Karaites are kept on referring to as Jews, and where from did it come. I think that in order to find the reason of this nonsense one should just recall the history of formation and spreading of Karaism in Turkic Khazaria.
     It is a common knowledge that Anan ben David (or ibn Daud) who by right is considered to be the founder of Karaite religion, was born and lived in the 8th century in Basra located in the south of Arab Iraq. The historians claim that Anan was Jew. However he became a reformer of Judaism and organized an anti-Talmudistic movement that finally resulted in creation of the new religion. He could be justly called Karaite prophet like Jesus Christ and Mohammed. However, it seems like he was extremely shy person and refused to call himself like this, though he wrote the book "Collection of Statutes" where he acted like a founder of the laws of Karaite religion.
     One should note that Anan didn't suffer the destiny of Christ - Jews didn't crucify him for being a dissident, because Anan lived in Arab Caliphate under the protection of Muslims. Nevertheless, Muslims didn't regard him as one of them. That is why Muslims called Karaite temples, where Karaites performed their services, Kenisas (Kenasas in Karaite) that in Arab meant - "non - Muslim temples".
     However, very Muslims called Karaism the sort of Jewish religion. It is quite natural taking into consideration the logic of an ignoramus: if you are not Muslim it means that you are unfaithful, and because you came from Judea it means that you are like them. The word Karaite meant nothing for them, Jew - was clearer. More over the first Karaites really were ethnic Jews. So, very Muslims started calling Karaites the offspring of Jews. However, this definition firmly established in the process of colonization of Great Khazaria by Karaite and Muslim prophets.
     Muslims imposed their religion by means of military expansion. In that way they reached Spain in the south and China in the east. As far as spreading to the north concerns, it was prevented by Byzantium and Caucasian Mountains. There was only one narrow passage left along the coast line of Khazarian Sea (Caspian Sea). However, Khazarian kaganate was a powerful state and kept a single way to the north so hard that any attempt of Arabs to conquer Khazars inevitably resulted in complete defeat of Arabs.
     Karaites had no military power of Muslims for spreading their religion. That is why they went another way - trading roads.
     Using trade relations Karaite missioners easily reached Khazaria and implanted their religion there, thus leaving Muslims far behind. This precedent with Khazars, when Karaites cunningly left behind Muslims, and achieved Karaimisation even of the top of Khazarian society, without even using force vexed Muslims very much. In response they started calling Karaites Jews (you see, they used purely Jewish method), this very name was written in the history.
     However, even though the leader of Karaite missioners Isaak Sangari was born Jew, nevertheless, in Khazaria he was buried on Karaite cemetery, not on Jew one. This tells everything.
     ... After all mentioned above only one question remains: why today's Jew seized this myth in a death grip, the myth that Karaites are Jews, invented in the past by sore Muslims. So, the answer to this last question one could find only in pure politics.
     The thing is that Crimea is much desired place for any ambitious people and state. So was in the past, so it happens especially nowadays. That is why for those who pretend on conquering Crimea indigenous people becomes a subject of particular attention. There are only two ways to solve the territorial problem. The indigenous people of the desired territory have to be murdered, if it is too large or too obstinate. This is the first variant. The second one - the people should be assimilated, in other words absorbed. Both this variants already had been used in Crimea. These variants were applied to each people separately. You know, there are only two indigenous people left in Crimea (Krymchaks may not be taken into consideration any more, because they almost disappeared) these are Crimean Tatars and Karaites.
     Tsarist Russia that seized the territory of Crimea applied the first variant towards Crimean Tatars, creating conditions of a real genocide. Since 1783 it made all efforts to get rid of this quite large and obstinate people that refused accepting the slave orders of Northern Empire. However, this process turned to be not as simple as it seemed and lasted up to 1944. It was accomplished already by another empire - the communist one. Though, everything has its limits: the empire overstrained oneself and collapsed. However, the people-usurper remained. It kept on make efforts in order to complete what was begun 200 years ago. It seems like it would also overstrain oneself. It would serve them right.
     As far as Karaites concerns, they were decided absorbing. At the beginning of the 20th century Karaites numbered 13 thousand people. However, at the middle of the century there were already 8 thousand Karaites in Crimea, and at the end of the century - only 2 thousand. These are all Karaites of the world. There are about 800 Karaites in Crimea and their number inevitably reduces. The rest live in Europe, from Russia to France.
     Why Jews need Karaites? They need them in order to call Crimea the aboriginal Jewish territory. You see, according to the law of simple syllogism: if Karaites are the indigenous people of Crimea, and if Karaites are Jews, from there follows that Jews are the indigenous people of Crimea. Strong logic! Indeed, but these all are just Jewish things designed for straight men. The serious people do not accept this syllogism. Why? You see, because if one would follow this logic one should recognize first all Christians as Jews and only after that add Karaites to them. At this, one shouldn't take into consideration the ethnic factor at all.
     Thus, Karaite issue has purely political nature nowadays.


 E.Kudusov



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