The “Khazarian Myth”: The National Identity of the Crimean Karaites
Hosted By: The National Library of Israel (NLI)
The Crimean Karaites, also known as ‘Karaim’, are an ethnicity of Turkic-speaking adherents of Karaite Judaism in Central and Eastern Europe, found primarily in the territory of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and in Crimea.
Turkic-speaking Karaite Jews have lived in Crimea for centuries. Their origin is a matter of great controversy. Most modern scientists regard them as descendants of Karaite Jews who settled in Crimea and adopted the Kipchak language. Others view them as descendants of Khazar or Kipchak converts to Karaite Judaism. Today, many Crimean Karaites reject ethnic Semitic origin theories and identify as descendants of the Khazars. Yet some specialists in Khazar history question the Khazar theory relating to the origin of the Karaim.
This lecture is dedicated to a complex interdisciplinary study of the so-called “Khazar theory” concerning the origin of the Crimean Karaites. We will examine the theory as a historiographical concept and as an integral part of the national identity of the Crimean Karaites. We will look at the trajectory of the development of the Khazar theory in historical thought, from dominance in historiography to criticism, and, finally, to complete revision and denial.
The lecturer will deconstruct the Khazar theory as a historiographical myth that for several decades existed only due to an established tradition, ignoring the data of known sources. The connection of the Karaites with the Khazars is not confirmed, and directly contradicts most written sources, which clearly indicate the Talmudic nature of Judaism in Khazaria.
However, it will be shown that the adoption of the Khazar version of the origin story by Karaite intellectuals was accompanied by two parallel and interconnected processes of identity change, namely militarization and Turkification.
The research used for this lecture is based on Khazar historiography as well as Karaite periodicals and historical journalism from the 20th and 21st centuries.
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