A people of Turkish origin whose life and history are interwoven with the very beginnings of the history of the Jews of Russia. The kingdom of the Chazars was firmly established in most of South Russia long before the foundation of the Russian monarchy by the Varangians (855). Jews have lived on the shores of the Black and Caspian seas since the first centuries of the common era. Historical evidence points to the region of the Ural as the home of the Chazars. Among the classical writers of the Middle Ages they were known as the “Chozars,” “Khazirs,” “Akatzirs,” and “Akatirs,” and in the Russian chronicles as “Khwalisses” and “Ugry Byelyye.”
The Armenian writers of the fifth and following centuries furnish ample information concerning this people. Moses of Chorene refers to the invasion by the “Khazirs” of Armenia and Iberia at the beginning of the third century: “The chaghan was the king of the North, the ruler of the Khazirs, and the queen was the chatoun” (“History of Armenia,” ii. 357). The Chazars first came to Armenia with the Basileans in 198. Though at first repulsed, they subsequently became important factors in Armenian history for a period of 800 years. Driven onward by the nomadic tribes of the steppes and by their own desire for plunder and revenge, they made frequent invasions into Armenia. The latter country was made the battle-ground in the long struggle between the Romans and the Persians. This struggle, which finally resulted in the loss by Armenia of her independence, paved the way for the political importance of the Chazars. The conquest of eastern Armenia by the Persians in the fourth century rendered the latter dangerous to the Chazars, who, for their own protection, formed an alliance with the Byzantines. This alliance was renewed from time to time until the final conquest of the Chazars by the Russians. Their first aid was rendered to the Byzantine emperor Julian, in 363. About 434 they were for a time tributary to Attila—Sidonius Apollinaris relates that the Chazars followed the banners of Attila—and in 452 fought on the Catalanian fields in company with the Black Huns and Alans. The Persian king Kobad (488-531) undertook the construction of a line of forts through the pass between Derbent and the Caucasus, in order to guard against the invasion of the Chazars, Turks, and other warlike tribes. His son Chosroes Anoshirvan (531-579) built the wall of Derbent, repeatedly mentioned by the Oriental geographers and historians as Bab al-Abwab (Justi, “Gesch. des Alton Persiens,” p. 208).
In the second half of the sixth century the Chazars moved westward. They established themselves in the territory bounded by the Sea of Azov, the Don and the lower Volga, the Caspian Sea, and the northern Caucasus. The Caucasian Goths (Tetraxites) were subjugated by the Chazars, probably about the seventh century (Löwe, “Die Reste der Germanen am Schwarzen Meere,” p. 72, Halle, 1896). Early in that century the kingdom of the Chazars had become powerful enough to enable the chaghan to send to the Byzantine emperor Heraclius an army of 40,000 men, by whose aid he conquered the Persians (626-627). The Chazars had already occupied the northeastern part of the Black Sea region. According to the historian Moses Kalonkataci, the Chazars, under their leader Jebu Chaghan (called “Ziebel Chaghan” by the Greek writers), penetrated into Persian territory as early as the second campaign of Heraclius, on which occasion they devastated Albania (“Die Persischen Feldzüge des Kaisers Herakleios,” in “Byzantinische Zeitschrift,” iii. 364). Nicephorus testifies that Heraclius repeatedly showed marks of esteem to his ally, the chaghan of the Chazars, to whom he even promised his daughter in marriage. In the great battle between the Chazars and the Arabs near Kizliar 4,000 Mohammedan soldiers and their leader were slain.
In the year 669 the Ugrians or Zabirs freed themselves from the rule of the Obrians, settled between the Don and the Caucasus, and came under the dominion of the Chazars. For this reason the Ugrians, who had hitherto been called the” White” or “Independent” Ugrians, are described in the chronicles ascribed to Nestor as the “Black,” or “Dependent,” Ugrians. They were no longer governed by their own princes, but were ruled by the kings of the Chazars. In 735, when the Arab leader Mervan moved from Georgia against the Chazars, he attacked the Ugrians also. In 679 the Chazars subjugated the Bulgars and extended their sway farther west between the Don and the Dnieper, as faras the head-waters of the Donetz in the province of Lebedia (K. Grot, “Moravia i Madyary,” St. Petersburg, 1881; J. Danilevski and K. Grot, “O Puti Madyars Urala v Lebediyu,” in “Izvyestiya Imperatorskavo Russkavo Georaficheskavo Obshchestva,” xix.). It was probably about that time that the chaghan of the Chazars and his grandees, together with a large number of his heathen people, embraced the Jewish religion. According to A. Harkavy (“Meassef Niddaḥim,” i.), the conversion took place in 620; according to others, in 740. King Joeph, in his letter to Ḥasdai ibn Shaprut (about 960), gives the following account of the conversion:
(see Harkavy, “Soobshchenija o Chazarakh,” in “Yevreiskaya Biblioteka,” vii. 153)
“Some centuries ago King Bulan reigned over the Chazars. To him God appeared in a dream and promised him might and glory. Encouraged by this dream, Bulan went by the road of Darlan to the country of Ardebil, where he gained great victories [over the Arabs]. The Byzantine emperor and the calif of the Ishmaelites sent to him envoys with presents, and sages to convert him to their respective religions. Bulan invited also wise men of Israel, and proceeded to examine them all. As each of the champions believed his religion to be the best, Bulan separately questioned the Mohammedans and the Christians as to which of the other two religions they considered the better. When both gave preference to that of the Jews, that king perceived that it must be the true religion. He therefore adopted it”.
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