Tajikistan has knocked down its only synagogue to make way for a new presidential palace, casting the Jewish community into despair, community members said on Wednesday.
The 19th century building is due to be replaced by a park adjoining the new palace for President Imomali Rakhmon, who has ruled the impoverished, mainly Muslim nation since 1992.
Community leaders said the weekend demolition of their synagogue - a wooden, one-story house adorned with stars of David - put their 350-strong community under threat.
"It's painful to lose something very dear, something that cannot be valued in money terms," Rabbi Mikhail Abdurakhmanov said after the building was bulldozed.
"At the moment the existence of Tajikistan's only Jewish community is under threat. It's also a threat to elderly people who came here for help," he told Reuters.
The Jewish community in Tajikistan - descendants of Persian-speaking Bukhara Jews who have lived in Central Asia for centuries - has dwindled since the country's independence from Soviet rule with many leaving for Israel.
The mayor's office of the capital Dushanbe declined to comment but the government has previously promised to allocate a new plot of land for the synagogue .
Abdurakhmanov said he had yet to hear from the city authorities about its fate.
The building technically belonged to the state because Soviet officials nationalized it in 1951 while allowing Jews to continue to worship there.
Before its demolition, the synagogue ran a daily canteen for the poor and allocated humanitarian aid to its mainly elderly community members with an average monthly income of about $20.
Lev Leviev, head of the world Bukhara Jews congress and an Israeli businessman, said he had discussed the synagogue's reconstruction with Tajikistan's president.
But, addressing reporters after talks with Rakhmon, Leviev declined to give further details, saying it was a "subtle and delicate issue."