de:Chasarenfr:Khazars lt:Chazarai he:ממלכת הכוזרים ro:Chazari ru:Хазары
The Khazars were a Turkic semi-nomadic people from Central Asia who adopted Judaism. They founded the independent Khazar kingdom in the 7th century C.E. in the southeastern part of today's Europe, near the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus. In addition to western Kazakhstan, the Khazar kingdom also included territory in what is now eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan, southern Russia, and Crimea. The name 'Khazar' itself seems to be tied to a Turkic verb meaning "wandering."
Khazar history is intimately tied with that of the Gokturk empire, founded when the Asena clan overthrew the Juan Juan in AD 552. With the collapse of the Gokturk empire/tribal confederation due to internal conflict in the seventh century, the western half of the Turk empire itself split into two confederations, the Bulgars, led by the Dulo clan, and the Khazars, led by the Asena clan, the traditional rulers of the Gok Turk empire. By 670, the Khazars had broken the Bulgar confederation, leaving the three Bulgar remnants on the Volga, the Black Sea and the Danube.
Their first significant appearance in history is their aid to the campaign of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius against the Persians. During the 7th and 8th centuries they fought a series of wars against the Islamic Arab Empire. Although they stopped the Arab expansion into Eastern Europe for some time after these wars, they were forced to withdraw behind the Caucasus, as well. Afterwards they extended their territories from the Caspian Sea in the east to the north of Black Sea in the west. Early Russian sources called Khazaran, their city, Khvalisy and the Khazar (Caspian) sea Khvaliskoye after the Khwarezmians.
Originally, the Khazars practiced traditional Turkic shamanism, focused on the sky god Tengri, but were heavily influenced by Confucian ideas imported from China, notably that of the Mandate of Heaven. The Ashina clan were considered to be the chosen of Tengri and the qaghan was the incarnation of the favor the sky-god bestowed on the Turks. A qaghan who failed had clearly lost the god's favor and was typically ritually executed.
Historians have sometimes wondered, only half in jest, if the Khazar tendency to occasionally execute their rulers on religious grounds led those rulers to seek out other religions.
At some point in the last decades of the 8th century or the early 9th century, the Khazar royalty and nobility converted to Judaism, and part of the general population followed. Some researchers have suggested part of the reason for this mass conversion was political expediency to maintain a degree of neutrality: The Khazar empire was between growing populations; Muslims to the east and Christians to the west. Both religions recognized Judaism as a forebear and worthy of some respect.
The first Jewish Khazar king was named Bulan. A later king, Obadiah, strengthened Judaism, inviting rabbis into the kingdom and building synagogues. The supreme court consisted of two Jews, two Christians, two Muslims, and a heathen. Religious toleration was maintained for the kingdom's three hundred plus years. By the year 950 Judaism had become a widespread faith.
In the 10th century the empire began to decline due to the attacks of both Vikings from Kievan Rus and other Turkic tribes, and their political significance greatly diminished toward the end of the 12th century.
Some historians, and particularly the non-historian Arthur Koestler, have proposed that Jewish Khazars are the ancestors of most or all Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews, but the idea is the subject of much debate. Recent genetic studies have demonstrated that Middle Eastern elements dominate the Ashkenazi male line, but the female line appears to have a substantially different history. Some have argued this suggests Middle Eastern men marrying into local European communities.  (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F50C15F83F5D0C778DDDAC0894DA404482) (http://www.khazaria.com/genetics/abstracts.html).
Others have suggested these ideas are political and anti-Zionist in nature; many proponents of the Khazar theory of Ashkenazi origins argue that if Ashkenazi Jews are primarily Khazar in origin, then they would be exempt from God's promise of Canaan to Jews as recorded in the Bible, were one to ignore that the promise also applies to converts, and the fact that over half of Israeli Jews are not Ashkenazi. Some have countered that such charges of a political motive are not relevant to the core of the argument.
Khazars in fiction
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