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Six decades on, one-stop souk endures
Reported by Muath Freij | Dec 22,2011 | 01:31

Souk Bukhariah in downtown Amman, which opened in 1942 (Photo by Muath Freij)
AMMAN - Although it faces stiff competition from west Amman’s sleek steel and glass mega-malls, Souk Bukhariah holds a special place in many shoppers’ hearts as the capital’s first bazaar.
When the downtown market was established in the mid-20th century by Central Asian refugees, mostly from Bukharain Uzbekistan, it introduced the concept of the one-stop souk to Jordan, providing customers an outlet for almost all their needs, Bukhari merchant Mohammad, better known as Abu Mahmoud, told The Jordan Times.
Mohammad Bukhari, 62, the head of Al Husseini Mosque committee, pointed out that the story of the Bukhariah community started around 92 years ago, when his family and many others fled their hometowns in Uzbekistan,Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, fearing communist persecution after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.
“Some youths decided to leave their countries to protect their [Islamic] faith," explained Abdullah Bukhari, the director of the Bukhariah Society, an umbrella organisation for the new generation of Bukhari immigrants in Jordan.
The journey to reach Amman took months, he said.
"They left their hometowns without letting their families know because they wouldn’t have approved," noted 42-year-old Khaled Bukhari, who works with his father, Muhyeddine, in their shop.
Some of the immigrants, including Kamalaldeen Bukhari, settled down in Meccabefore finally moving to Amman.
Kamalaldeen, the father of Mohammad, came to Amman along with three Bukhari families in 1928 in search of a milder climate than the Arabian Peninsula. Some families decided to settle in Palestine or Turkey.
When Palestinian refugees came to Ammanin 1948, all the Palestine-based Bukharis, including Khaled's grandfather, made up their mind to settle in Amman, the grandson said.
"My grandfather had a house and shop inJaffa, but he was forced to leave them and accompanied his relatives to Amman," he noted.
In their early days in the capital, the Bukhariah community settled in small tents called “yourbek”, which were spread across downtown Amman, Abdullah said during an interview at the Bukhari Society’s headquarters in Abdali.
The Central Asian immigrant traders were concentrated in one neighbourhood, Raghadan, before they eventually spread out across west Amman.
"I lived there [in Raghadan] for 30 years," Abu Mahmoud recalled.
When it first opened in 1942, the market was a collection of carts and booths at the court yard of Al Husseini Mosque offering fabrics, foodstuff as well as equestrian and pilgrim requirements, leather, knives and beads.
Six years later, the Bukhari traders were forced to search for a permanent location where they could display their goods.
"Renovation work was being carried out on the mosque at the time, so we were forced to move to another site," Abu Mahmoud recounted.
After extensive searching, the traders settled on the souk’s current location opposite the 86-year-old mosque.
Four merchants (Shakeeb Khurfan, Abedul Salam Tabbaa, Shafiq Qadi and Ameen Merai) pooled their funds and bought the house of Fawzi Mufti to turn it into a market, Merai's son, Waleed, said.
At the time of its opening, 30 Bukhari merchants had shops in the souk; today, there are only eight, according to Abu Mahmoud.
"Most of them sold their shops and left the country," heading back to Meccaor Turkey to reunite with family members, he noted.
Lovers’ lane
Over the years, the one-stop-shop market began to take on a more romantic connotation.
The souk gained a reputation as a meeting place for lovers who escaped to the market’s crowded alleys to avoid the watchful eyes and social prohibitions of family members and neighbours.
"All lovers wanted was just to look into each others’ eyes briefly. They couldn't even look at each other in their own communities,” Abu Mahmoud said with a smile, adding that to this day he sees old couples returning to the bazaar to reminisce about those days.
However, according to Abu Mahmoud and fellow shop keepers, the souk’s glitter and prominence has faded over the years as people's view of the downtown shopping centre has changed.
"Over the years, a lot of malls and shopping centres have been built in different neighbourhoods and customers prefer these to our market," the 51-year-old merchant said.
A new generation of shoppers say they seek more modern amenities and a wider array of international products that the old market onKing Talal Streetjust cannot provide.
Lojain Mahameed said the souk is a “forgotten chapter” in the history of downtown Amman.
“It is not a suitable place for buying accessories… Malls are more convenient for girls than these old souks as they have restaurants, variety, enough parking spaces and are closer to residential neighbourhoods," the 18-year-old said.
Her sister Lara disagreed, saying that the souk still retrains its appeal as well as a competitive edge, as it offers similar accessories at more affordable prices in addition to invoking fond memories.
"It reminds me of the time I used to accompany my mother there. Until now, I only shop there, and in the future I will encourage my daughters to do so," the 23-year-old said.
Seline Amayreh also recounted how she used to go to the souk with her mother as a child.
"My mother, who now lives inFrance, always requests me to get some items from Souk Bukhariah when I go to meet her there," said the 24-year-old.
No matter what the future may hold, Souk Bukhariah remains a one-stop-souk for memories of old Amman.
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michael says:
December 22,2011 at 3:18 pm
I love this series on Jordanian history and local businesses. Thank you for realizing how valuable these small pieces of culture really are!
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