1991

HIAS

HIAS helps Jews leave Ethiopia, paying their airfare to Israel. When rebel forces topple Ethiopian President Mengistu, Israel carries out an emergency airlift of 14,000 Ethiopian Jews.
 

SOVIET UNION

The Soviet Union passes a law giving every Soviet citizen the right to emigrate and allowing emigrants to retain Soviet citizenship. However, those who work for the Israeli government or serve in the Israeli army will have to give up their Soviet passports. The law, which also specifies timetables for handling emigration applications, is slated to go into effect in 1993.

In August, a group of hard-liners attempt to seize control of the government, placing President Mikhail Gorbachev under arrest and deploying troops in the streets. The coup fails in the face of massive popular demonstrations led by Boris Yeltsin. Troops refuse to obey the hard-liners’ orders. One of the three demonstrators killed in the protests against the coup is a Jew, Ilya Krichevskii.

In December, the Soviet Union is disbanded. Ukraine, Belarus, and other former Soviet republics became sovereign nations, loosely joined with Russia in a Commonwealth of Independent States.

U.S./WORLD

Following the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the first Gulf War begins on January 16, 1991. A coalition force of 34 nations, led by the U.S., drives the Iraqi occupation force out of Kuwait.

On January 27, the daily lunchtime vigil held for 21 years by Soviet Jewry activists outside the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. officially ends in anticipation of the passage of a new emigration law and in recognition of the dramatic increase in Soviet Jewish emigration.

STATISTICS

  • Jewish emigrants from the USSR: 178,566
  • Soviet Jewish immigrants to US: 35,232
  • Soviet Jewish immigrants to Israel: 147,800

Looking Back

American Jewish organizations mount a campaign to convince Congress to rush through an approval of $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel to help with the absorption of Soviet Jewish immigrants. The effort fails when U.S. lawmakers link granting the guarantees with freezing settlements on the West Bank.

In January, more than 23 years after the Soviet Union severed diplomatic ties with the Jewish state during the Six-Day War, Israel opens a consulate in Moscow. Direct flights between Israel and the Soviet Union resume.

Dr. Viktor Kan-Kalik, the Jewish rector of the Chechen-Ingushetia State University, is kidnapped, tortured and murdered in the capital city of Grozny, apparently by Chechen separatists.