Karaites

Image - The coat of arms of the Karaites. Image - The Karaite temple in Kyiv. Image - The Karaite temple in Chufut-Kaleh.

Karaites (Ukrainian: Караїми; Karaimy). A non-Talmudic Jewish sect acknowledging no authority except the Holy Scriptures. It arose in the 8th century. Karaites in Ukraine are ethnically Turkish, probably descendants of the Khazars. They began settling in the Crimea (especially in Chufut-Kaleh) sometime after the 9th century, and in Lithuania, near Trakai and Vilnius, in the 17th century; from there some moved to Western Ukraine, settling near Lutsk and Halych. Until the 20th century they lived in small, tight-knit communities, where they maintained their Turkic language and customs. In 1863 they were officially recognized in the Russian Empire as a distinct ethnic group and exempted from the laws that applied to Jews. From 1837 the Karaim Religious Board in Yevpatoriia administered the Karaite community. Yet, their numbers continued to decline through assimilation. In the USSR they were considered to be a separate nationality and they continue to be recognized as such in independent Ukraine. Their number has fallen steadily, from 8,324 in 1926 to just 3,341 in 1979. In 1970 there were 2,596 in the Crimea. They are also found in Volhynia oblast and Odesa oblast. Today there are no more than 800 Karaites in the Crimea, some 1,200 in Ukraine in total, and no more than 2,000 in the former USSR. Their language belongs to the Kipchak (Cuman) group of Turkish, although the Karaites in Western Ukraine and elsewhere have their own dialects. Now, most use Russian.

[This article was updated in 2012.]


Image - The Karaite temples in Chufut-Kaleh. Image - The Chufut-Kaleh settlement.


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