Why did Israel choose Azerbaijan?
News.Az reprints from APA an article by political analyst Arye Gut.
In recent years, the State of Israel has pursued a multi-vector foreign policy. This policy brings considerable foreign policy dividends to Israel, especially during the voting in international organizations, and in terms of development of economic ties. Israel is a very close ally of the United States and maintains quite good relations with many other countries in American continents. Israel closely cooperates with both European and Asian countries. But there are several countries which have special strategic relations with Israel and the leader of the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan, is one of them.
Today it is a historical fact that no country in Eurasia has closer or warmer ties with Israel than Azerbaijan. The relationship between the two countries is particularly surprising because Azerbaijan is a majority Muslim country. Over the 25-year history of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Israel there have been a lot of positive moments between two countries and peoples. These two countries proved the necessity and viability of the relationship between the Jewish state and the state with the Muslim majority. Our friendly states act as true and stable strategic partners. Azerbaijanis and Jews, in fact, can not only coexist, but also develop and strengthen relations.
Political and economic interests play a special role in developing and strengthening relations between the countries. I am more than confident that human relations, a human bridge between the Azerbaijani and Jewish people, play a special and vital role in the relations between Israel and Azerbaijan. We can look at the recent history of these relations and actually see the reflection in today's reality.
Relatively few people outside the Azerbaijani or Jewish communities know about the remarkable role that the Jewish community has played in Azerbaijan. Moreover, throughout the Soviet period, Jews played a major role in the intellectual, economic and political life of Azerbaijan.
Unlike many cultures, Azerbaijanis have never viewed Jews as foreigners or aliens. Israelis with roots in Azerbaijan are doing a great deal to foster the economic and even geopolitical cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel. The Jewish people have never experienced harassment, insults, pogroms and anti-Semitic actions in Azerbaijan. Every Jew who has ever visited Azerbaijan can confirm that the Jews living here can quietly visit a synagogue without going through a police cordon, walk around the city in their national clothes and with a bale on their heads. But doing so in developed countries of the West can be dangerous. At the same time, official Baku has repeatedly denounced manifestations of anti-Semitism elsewhere and Azerbaijan today is a center and wonderful multiculturalism example to the rest of the world. This is why Jewish Azerbaijanis love Azerbaijan and always promote geopolitical, economic and humanitarian cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan.
A predominantly Shiite Muslim country, Azerbaijan is also home to several other ethnic and religious groups, including ancient Zoroastrian, Christian, and Jewish communities.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev also celebrated the strength of the relationship between the two countries by saying: “For centuries, Azerbaijani and Jewish peoples have lived in peace and this friendship and brother relations continues to exist between our countries. The Jewish community in Azerbaijan actively helps strengthen our bilateral relations. In Azerbaijan, there are seven synagogues, five of which are located in the capital Baku and there are Jewish schools in the area. In recent years the relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel created many advantages for both countries".
Thus, tolerance and multiculturalism are the key basis of Azerbaijani society. President Ilham Aliyev has earned the respect of Israeli society and the Jewish community in other states of the world for his commitment to secularism, multiculturalism and tolerance, for respectful attitude to all religions and peoples living in Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani government constantly sends numerous official delegations to Israel and receives a large number of Israeli delegations in Baku. This has a special meaning given the continuing deepening of economic ties with Israel, which is the largest buyer of Azerbaijani oil in the world market. In turn, Israeli businessmen show great interest in investing in the economy and agriculture of Azerbaijan, which needs modern Israeli high technologies, both in the military industry, telecommunications, agriculture, and in other areas.
The visit of the Israeli Prime Minister to Azerbaijan in December of 2016 was another testimony of strategic partnership between Israel and Azerbaijan. This visit was the only official visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the South Caucasus region. This visit once again demonstrated that the political and diplomatic dialogue between the two countries is at the highest level of confidence, while the economic component and trade turnover are constantly growing.
25 years ago Israel counted on Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus, and this was the right strategic choice for all indicators. This cooperation of two small states located in an insecure geopolitical region has a great future. Of course, it worries third countries, which are equally unfriendly both to Israel and to Azerbaijan. And these countries want to damage mutual relations of Israel with Azerbaijan by all means. Israel highly values friendly relations with Muslim Azerbaijan, which is a model of cooperation with a Muslim country. And we must preserve and develop these relations so that no anti-Israeli and anti-Azerbaijani forces could harm them.
However, the recent activation of the Armenian community in Israel and intensification of relations and cooperation of some Israeli organizations and bodies with Armenia are displeasing official Baku because Azerbaijan considers Israel as its ally and Armenia as an ally of Iran. This leads to a conclusion that official Israel should not maintain close ties with those states that cause deterioration of relations with its allies.
Recently, some Israeli media, with the help of the Armenian lobby in Israel, tried to spread false information about "problems" in Israeli-Azerbaijani military cooperation. A year ago we observed an anti-Israeli hysteria and rabid anti-Semitism in Armenia. Even in Israel, the Armenian community staged provocative rallies against the Azerbaijani-Israeli partnership. The Armenian Report website openly promotes anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli policy even calling for the destruction of the State of Israel.
The Armenian Report website posted an article, which says: "We need to work even more closely with Iran, with Arab militant groups and organizations that are against Israel. The Armenian government should actively involve Armenians living in the Middle East who have close ties with Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad, Hamas, especially with the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Our diaspora organizations in the Middle East need to start financing these organizations that promise to destroy Israel." I think there is no need for comments.
As regards Armenia`s criticism of Israeli-Azerbaijani military cooperation, it is necessary to emphasize that Azerbaijan and Israel choose their friends and partners, and these countries themselves determine the level of strategic cooperation and partnership in the military-technical field. Moreover, no one has the right to interfere. Azerbaijan does not ask why there are military bases of a third state – Russian Federation – on the territory of Armenia, and what military assistance this country provides to the Republic of Armenia, which occupied 20% of Azerbaijani territories with the help of the third force.
In February 1992, Armenia, using the Russian military forces, in particular, the 366 regiment of the Soviet troops, perpetrated a genocidal act against Azerbaijani civilians in the town of Khojaly. That bloody genocide was also a crime against humanity. It is unfair and immoral that the participants and ideologists of the act of genocide in Khojaly have still gone unpunished and have not faced an international trial. There are practically no such precedents in the world. Unlike the Nazis who tried to hide their crimes, participants and ideologists of the Khojaly genocide including the current Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, were very proud of their criminal terrorist actions against peaceful Azerbaijani citizens.
Unlike modern-day Germany, which meticulously teaches its young people about the horrors that Nazi Germany committed, a profound blemish on the modern Armenian society as a whole is the cult of personality that exists today around Dro and Nzhdeh. In honor of them, coins are minted with their likenesses, monuments are erected, and films are produced about their lives and deeds, as if they are some sort of diabolical folk heroes. The Jewish people will never forget the cruelty and barbarity of the Armenian Legion of the Nazi Wehrmacht during the Second World War. History will not forget the cruelty of a 20,000-strong Nazi Wehrmacht Armenian legion during the World War II. Led by Armenian nationalist commanders Nzhdeh and Dro they participated in death marches and the annihilation of thousands of Jews and others disliked by the Nazi regime. And how then the leadership of modern Armenia explains the popularization of such executioners and barbarians, accomplices of Hitler?! It is worth emphasizing that the cult of these bloodthirsty fascists and anti-Semites is not carried out by some marginal political groupings. Behind these actions stands the state, or rather the criminal terrorist leadership of the modern Republic of Armenia. And this once again confirms that they consider themselves to be real and genuine heirs of the Armenian fascist and anti-Semite Nzhdeh.
In contrast to this, I can give an example of the heroism of the Azerbaijani intelligence officer under the codename "Sadygashvili" (Hamza Djumshudoglu Sadigov). As part of the Soviet military intelligence service near Stalingrad, Hamza Sadikhov captured the closest associate of Hitler, General Johann von Roddenburg, who was particularly cruel and personally exterminated the Jews. This beast in the guise of a man was called the father of the "biological bomb" of Hitler, conducted experiments on Jewish children.
It was Hamza Sadygov who became the savior of Jewish children. Thanks to his courage dozens of Jewish families were saved from the true death. With this deed and heroism, Sadigov erected a monument of courage and immortality in the hearts of his grateful generations. And there are a lot of such heroes in Azerbaijan. But the Azerbaijani people are mainly modest, so the name of hero Sadigov, who fought against fascism and saved Jewish families, is very little known in the world as opposed to Armenia, where fascist generals and executioners like Dro and Nzhdeh had been glorified to the level of heroes.
Along with glorification of anti-Semitic Armenians, frantic anti-Semitism, chauvinism and fascism flourish in Armenia. A lot has been written about anti-Semitism, but you can hardly meet somewhere else such an ardent anti-Semitism as in Armenia. There are almost no Jews in Armenia, except for forcibly assimilated Jews, like head of the so-called Jewish community of Armenia, Rimma Varzhapetyan, whose surname loudly confirms the aforementioned. Even the head of the Jewish community of Armenia did not risk remaining under her own name, fearing persecution and harassment, although the role and status of a Jewish woman in families is usually high, but apparently they cannot keep it in Armenia.
Until now, cultural violence has been carried out against Jews in Armenia, which is reflected in the publication of anti-Semitic books, anti-Semitic programs on television, and the repeated desecration of the Holocaust memorial plate in Yerevan. The aforementioned proves the last poll of the Anti-Defamation League in June 2014, which showed that the level of anti-Semitism in Armenia (58 percent) was the third highest in Europe and the highest in the post-Soviet area and among the countries of Eastern Europe. Thus, about 1.3 million out of 2.2 million people in Armenia expressed anti-Semitic sentiments.
Such a high level of anti-Semitism in Armenia can be compared only with Israel's hostile Middle East Arab countries and Iran, which is Armenia's closest strategic ally. Meanwhile, the present status quo of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict suits Iran, since in this situation the possibility of strengthening the political and economic influence on both Armenia and Azerbaijan increases.
Throughout the world, official Tehran has been advocating ‘the destitute and oppressed Muslims’. For more than 25 years, the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia has continued. As a result of this aggression, there are one million refugees in the country. Armenia has occupied 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory. However, Iran, which has a 600 km-long border with Shiite Azerbaijan, supports Armenia in this conflict.
So a question that has to be answered is: Where is your Shia Muslim pride? Where is your religious solidarity? Why haven`t spiritual leader of Iran Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned Armenia, which occupied 20% of the territory of brotherly Shia Azerbaijan and does not comply with the four resolutions of the UN Security Council that require Armenia to leave the occupied Azerbaijani territories? Why did they not recognize the Khojaly genocide?
Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston said in 1848: "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow." Unfortunately, this is today the brutal reality of international relations and Azerbaijan must understand and realize it.
Along with the problems of anti-Semitism in Armenia, which concern the world Jewish community, 250,000 Azerbaijanis were expelled from this country as a result of the rise of Armenian nationalism. They were forced to leave their homes in 172 Azerbaijani villages, 89 villages with mixed population and six Armenian cities. 226 Armenian Azerbaijanis were killed by Armenians.
Today it is not a secret for anyone that Armenia is an aggressor state which illegally occupied 20 percent of the territory of Azerbaijan, in particular, Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding regions. As a result of the Armenian occupation and ethnic cleansing, Azerbaijan sheltered one million refugees. The conflict itself and the occupation of Azerbaijani territories remain a threat to peace and security in the South Caucasus region. Having an influential lobby in the US and other key countries, as well as constant military, economic and political support from Russia, Armenia continues to ignore the four resolutions of the UN Security Council adopted more than 20 years ago in connection with the occupation of Azerbaijani lands.
The State of Israel supports the just position of Azerbaijan and calls for the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict only within the framework of international law and the principle of territorial integrity of states. In this complex geopolitical situation, support of Azerbaijan's fair position by such an important strategic partner and strong geopolitical actor in the Middle East as the State of Israel is very necessary and very important for the Republic of Azerbaijan.
I think that Israel should always appreciate and develop friendly relations with the leader of the South Caucasus Azerbaijan and not allow any forces to harm these relations in order to prevent the separation of Azerbaijan from Israel.
I am proud to say that both the leadership and the people of Azerbaijan show care and warm attitude towards the traditions and life of the Jewish community of the country. There are no such precedents in the world. Under the patronage of the President of Azerbaijan, two synagogues and the largest Jewish educational center in the South Caucasus were built. It is planned to create a Jewish museum in Azerbaijan, which will be the first Jewish museum in the South Caucasus.
If someone has a question how Azerbaijan, where the majority of the population are Muslims, managed to establish such a close dialogue, cooperation and partnership with Israel, it is enough to look at the famous Jewish Red Sloboda village in the mountain region of Guba. The Krasnaya Sloboda village is the real pride of Azerbaijan. It is the only unique place densely populated by Mountain Jews in the world after Israel.
I was not born in the Red Sloboda, but this Jewish village has a special moral meaning for me. I feel attached to this magical place. Here I feel as if I am traveling to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Here prevails the same atmosphere as in Israel. For a Jew in Azerbaijan, the Shabbat in Krasnaya Sloboda is a kind of return to home where there is no discrimination, pogroms, anti-Semitism and oppression. During the terrible years of the Holocaust, Azerbaijan became one of the few shelters and then a real homeland for European Jews who saved their lives and the lives of their children from the Nazis. The Azerbaijanis received representatives of my people as relatives, and they stayed here to live peacefully and happily. These two peoples always lived like brothers. This is our house. This is the Red Sloboda. This is our Baku. This is our Azerbaijan.
Jews and Muslims have lived in peace and harmony for centuries in the South Caucasus. By its example of tolerance and integration, Azerbaijan destroys all stereotypes that exist in the world. The Azerbaijani example proves that such peaceful coexistence is possible for representatives of Judaism, Christianity and Islam - these major religions. Despite the ethnic cleansing and aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan, which resulted in the occupation of 20% of the country's territories and one million refugees and internally displaced persons, Azerbaijan is a true model of inter-civilization and inter-confessional dialogue.
A friend of mine, Chairman of the Mountain Jews Community of Azerbaijan Milikh Evdayev, told me recently that the reality of the life of Jews in Azerbaijan is like a dream. "Just imagine, there is a Muslim government that spends millions of dollars building a beautiful synagogue for Jewish residents, or a Muslim country that honors a Jew as one of its greatest national heroes of war. It is our Jewish reality in Azerbaijan," said Milikh Yevdayev.
I think that bilateral relations in all areas will grow and develop in the future, bringing success to both states on the international arena.