In his well written and detailed book, with a large-spectrum analysis of the Turkic peoples of the Middle Ages and their relationship with present day European peoples, Kevin Alan Brook helps us discover the secrets of the Khazar Turks - an ancient people who created the largest Jewish state in history in southeastern Europe. I especially had a personal interest in the issue, since I know that my ancestors from my father's family were Khazar Turks. They migrated to Istanbul in the Ottoman Empire ( where we live today ) circa 200 years ago, from the Russian city of Kazan; at the east of Moscow. Even though they converted to Islam long before they migrated to the Ottoman Empire, I also know that my oldest ancestors were Jewish Khazar Turks. It really is a great book, with lots of interesting ' details ' which display the author's vast knowledge on early Turkish history. If you are someone who likes ' details ', you'll absolutely love this book. The book also shows the relationship between the Khazar Turks and the present day Magyars ( Hungarians ) and the Bulgars ( Bulgarians ); who are both of Turkish origin but were extensively Slavized after becoming Christians. There's also a glossary showing the similar words in Hungarian and Turkish ( which also amused me - since Turkish language apparently hasn't changed much in the past centuries and it really reveals the affinity between the Turks and Magyars ( Hungarians ) Some scholars believe that the Khazars chose Judaism in order to protect their ' neutrality ' in confrontation of the Muslim Arabs and the Christian Byzantines. Whatever the case may be, it is known that Judaism was the dominant religion in the Khazar state and that their experience is unique in entire Eurasian history. It will not be nonsense to assume that a great deal of the Eastern European ( Ashkenazi ) Jews are mixed with the Khazar Turks deep down in their roots. As someone who strongly supports and advocates the centuries old good relationship between the Turks and the Jews ( the Ottoman Empire was the only country to accept the Sephardic Jews from Spain during the Inquisitions of 1492 ) I strongly recommend all of my Turkish and Jewish friends in the world to read this book. The history and heritage of the Khazars should not be forgotten and it should help us strengthen our centuries old affinity and good relationship.
I liked this book. It is more detailed than some other publications which mention the Khazars but leads to the same question: Are the Khazars substantially or partially the ancestors of the east European Jewry? The author suggests that the Khazarian Jews may represent 25% of Ashkenazic Jews and up to 60% of the Ukrainian Jews.
The Khazars were a mainly Turkic people, a cultural-linguistic group rather than an ethnicity, who migrated westward into southern Russia. Originally shamanistic, they converted to Judaism in the early medieval period and became an important third force balancing the Christian Byzantine Empire and the Islamic imperium.
These partly nomadic pastoralists, partly urbanised traders, were aggressively expansionist. Relations with Byzantium oscillated between friendship and war. These relations worsened when the Khazars adopted Judaism, a religion that the Byzantines were actively persecuting.
The Arab-Khazars wars lasted over a century, starting with the Arab expansion following the emergence of the new Arab religion. Eventually their respective territories were stabilised with the Khazars north of, and the Arabs south of, the Caucasus. This prevented the Islamic conquest of eastern Europe. With the Rus, the proto-Russians, there was continuous conflict. There was also some conflict with the Magyars as they moved westward, but when this nation reached its final destination of Hungary they were joined by many Khazars.
The Kazarian Empire was gradually destroyed, first by the Rus, then by the Rus in alliance with the Byzantines. The last remnants of the Khazars were obliterated by the Mongol Golden Horde. This was a tough neighbourhood.
THE BOOK is often too detailed and too arcane, particularly in the chapters describing the early years of the Khazars. These have the feel of a book by a local history society, where all the facts about an area are collected together regardless of editorial discipline. Many of these could have been incorporated in the Notes rather than the main text. Western European readers will find a confusion of unfamiliar and similar-sounding names of places, tribes and nations, often migrating, making it seem like a sci-fi space opera.
Irrationally, I was annoyed by the frequent use of the word toponym. I would have preferred place name. I am sure toponym is a more precise term, but this did not stop my irritation.
RECOMMENDATION: This book must have been a labour of love and should be respected. The details are included because they may not be readily available elsewhere, and if they are available they are probably in Russian, Hungarian, Hebrew, Polish etc. I would recommend it to potential readers, but only if they feel they have an interest in early medieval Eurasian history or in the possible origins of east European Jewry.
To quote the author at the end of the Introduction "I felt compelled to write this book because I want to make the world of the Khazars more accessible to both the average reader and the scholar. Only a precious few extensive studies on the Khazars have been published in the English language in recent times. I am pleased to present this book in the hope that awareness of the Khazar Empire and our Jewish roots will be heightened."
THE CHAPTERS are all prefixed by a brief summary and post-fixed with notes. The chapters are followed by an appendix "A Timeline of Khazar History", a glossary, an extensive bibliography and an index. 1 The Origin of the Khazars 2 The Cities and Towns of the Khazars 3 The Structure of the Khazar Government 4 The Khazar Way of Life 5 Khazarian Trade 6 The Khazar's Conversion to Judaism 7 Relations between the Khazars and Other Peoples 8 The Decline and Fall of the Khazar empire 9 The Diaspora of the Khazars 10 The Phenomenon of Proselytism 11 Eastern and Central European Jews after the Tenth Century
A Gentile myself, I once went to a party in Golders Green with my then girlfrield who was half Jewish. Both of us were struck by the fact that all the other people at the party were of a distinctive (as we both thought) Jewish type, and I was moved to say to a man who offered to drive us to the tube station afterwards: "It's amazing how the Jewish people have kept their ethnic purity after so many centuries of dispersal". He laughed and said "Not a bit of it. 90% of Jews today are descended from the inhabitants of a kingdom in southern Russia which converted to Judaism in the early middle ages. The idea of ethnic purity in the Jewish people is a complete myth." "Really?" said I "You mean a lot of Jews may not actually be descended from Abraham?" He just looked at me and smiled.
In David Icke's "Guide to the Global Conspiracy and how to end it" much is made of the Khazar origin of most of the Jewish people today. Icke asserts that the modern state of Israel (which is at least four fifths Ashkenazi, that is Yiddish-speaking Jews from eastern Europe, as opposed to Sephardic Jews from the west, who speak Ladino)has no right to claim what they call the land of Israel on the grounds of Abraham's promise, because most of them are not descended from Abraham.
Icke bases this on Arthur Koestler's The Thirteenth Tribe, a book I have not read. It was when looking for Koestler's book on Amazon that I came across Brook's book, which looked like a much more scholarly and less partisan look at the same topic, so I bought it instead.
"The Jews of Khazaria" satisfied all my expectations in this regard. There are no assertions that are not backed up with sources (which can hardly be said of Icke's book!). What emerges is a fascinating study of how the Khazar Empire arose, and how it became Judaised (The Crimea and its hinterland had been places of settlement for Jews from Roman times.) There was obviously a solid basis of Jewish culture and observance in the area colonised by the Khazars - that was why their rulers became Jews in the first place. Furthermore, Brook shows convincingly that there was much migration between Germany, and France (from which Jews were pushed east by heavy persecution in the thirteenth century) and the eastern areas, and also much mingling with Sephardic Jews in Spain and in the Ottoman Empire. Three-tenths of the modern Hungarian nation is probably of ethnic Khazar origin, and their legacy is to be found throughout what is now Russia (whose rulers conquered the Kazars in the eleventh century), and the eastern European states.
On the other hand, Brook also shows, in a fascinating chapter, that Proselytism has been a major factor in the development of today's Jewish people, and from the earliest times. As Brook himself summarises "The Khazars' adoption of Judaism was part of a larger widespread trend in the medieval world - a trend that embraced Berbers, Arabs, Spaniards, Germans and many others. The Jewish people has been enriched by the addition of non-Israelite elements for three thousand years",
It may well be a religious duty for a converting Jew to adopt the family of Abraham, but it is not justifiable for Jews (as many in Israel do) to talk about Palestine as "their" land (whatever they call it), especially when quite as many Muslims, Christians and others (those of Arab heritage) can just as well claim strict descent from Abraham (or Ibrahim as they call him)as Jews can.
I hope this book will be widely read by both Jews and others, as it gives the lie to both extremes of the argument about the right of Israel to dominate and oppress its neighbours, which is much flaunted today, and supposedly with Biblical justifications. Ashkenazi Jews (and Sephardi)are probably no more ethnically connected with Abrahamic descent than Muslims are - quite possibly less given that the Muslim countries of the Middle East and central Asia also must contain the descendants of the ten tribes of Israel who were carried off by the Assyrians and settled beyond the Euphrates, even if they can no longer be so identified. On the other hand, Icke is wrong to assert that anyone of Khazar descent has no connection with the family of Abraham, since it is beyond question that the Khazars moved around and intermarried with Jews of other origins (which by the way included other national groupings right across Europe significant numbers of whose members had converted to Judaism.) His identification of Ashkenazi with Khazar would be laughable if it were not quite clearly malicious. The Khazar is one important strain of the Ashkenaz, but by no means the only one, and all these strains are intermingled with each other.
The author reveals at the end that he is an Askenaz Jew himself (as by the way also was Koestler)and takes pride in a heritage which he sees as "unique and mixed". So he should.
The book tends to go into great details on Khazarian costumes and traditions but not adequate into the subject of the Jews of Khazaria and left me wondering what happened to them exactly as the information is wishy washy perhaps lacking in historical details and reliable sources. Very little on the period between the 10th and 12th century. Left me with questions rather than answers. The DNA analysis left me with the conclusion that the DNA science is inadequate and perhaps not very reliable. Although a link is established between the Jews of Khazaria and Ashkenazi Jews, the statistics are rather sparce. How many Jews were in kazaria; not even an estimate is provided.