Azerbaijan-Israeli relations: sincere friendship of peoples and strategic partnership of countries

  22 August 2017    Read: 1217
Azerbaijan-Israeli relations: sincere friendship of peoples and strategic partnership of countries

Arye Gut
Political Analyst


Over the last twenty-five years, the relationships between Israel and Azerbaijan have improved critically and drastically. It is 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.

In the development and strengthening of relations between countries, political and economic interests play a special role. 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. The first health minister of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic of 1918-20 was Jewish, and there were representatives of Jewish groups in parliament. In addition, during the existence of the Republic from 1918 to 1920, Jewish communities published a Caucasian Jewish Bulletin, the Palestine newspaper and a biweekly magazine, Youth of Zion. 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 foreign or alien. Israelis with roots in Azerbaijan many years are doing a great deal to foster the emerging economic and even geopolitical cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel. The Jewish people have lived in the territory of Azerbaijan for over 2600 years and have never experienced harassment, insults, pogroms and anti-Semitic
actions.



It is necessary to point out the words of 9th Israeli President Shimon Peres, during
his historical visit to Azerbaijan: “I know that the policy of Azerbaijan is of peace, friendship, development but also of independence. With your unique geographic location, there is no doubt that you already are, and will continue to be, a key country in this part of the world.”

Today it is not secret that Israel has always been attracted to Azerbaijan, not only because there is no anti-Semitism in that country. At the same time, Baku has repeatedly denounced manifestations of anti-Semitism elsewhere and Azerbaijan today is center and wonderful multiculturalism sample for the world. The multiculturalism and tolerance historically inherent in the life of Azerbaijanis today became an integral feature of everyday life of each citizen of the Azerbaijani state, irrespective of national identity, language and religion. Azerbaijan, a predominantly Shiite Muslim country, is also home to several other ethnic and religious groups, including ancient Zoroastrian, Christian, and Jewish communities.

Respect and tolerance for national minorities has played a vital role in the development of the country from antiquity to the days of the Silk Road to modernity. Azerbaijan has for millennia been a safe haven for a wide array of diverse peoples fleeing persecution and oppression, perhaps most notably, the Jews. Today, the close bilateral relations of Israel and Azerbaijan—owing much to the hundreds of thousands of Jewish Azerbaijanis who left during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, only to return to a free and prosperous Azerbaijan—provide an interreligious, geopolitical, and cultural map for how Jews and Muslims can and do act toward one another and how they can and do coexist.



Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev also celebrated the strength of the relationship
between the two countries by using these words: “For centuries, Azerbaijan 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 to 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 produced many advantages for both countries".

On the one hand, the military agreements signed between the two countries, worth about five billion dollars, granted Azerbaijan with better technology and an ally to the Northern border with Iran. Fundamentalist Iran and aggressive Armenia, which continues to occupy 20% of Azerbaijan lands, are interested in Azerbaijan turning off cooperation with State of Israel on security issues and struggle against terrorist threat. Official Tehran is trying to isolate Azerbaijan from Israel and the West, although this is even theoretically impossible, because in this sense Iran is a more neutral country with respect to the Karabakh conflict than Israel. Israel is very important for Azerbaijan, not only an economic, political, but also a strategic partner for security issues and geopolitical and military partnership.

Despite the fact that official Baku has not yet opened its diplomatic mission in Israel, the Azerbaijani government permanently sends numerous official delegations to Israel and, in turn, receives even more Israeli guests in Baku. This is especially true and revealing, given the sharp and continuing expansion of economic ties with Israel, given the purchase of Azerbaijani oil and Israeli investments in the Azerbaijani economy and agriculture. In turn, Azerbaijan needs modern high technologies in agriculture, military industry, telecommunications, and this list can be continued. At the same time, countries promote educational, humanitarian and cultural projects.

The visit of the Israeli Prime Minister to Azerbaijan on December 8, 2016 was super historic. Despite the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu was in Baku in August 1997, this visit was the first official visit of the head of the Israeli government to Azerbaijan for the 25-year history of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Azerbaijan. This meeting between Prime Minister of Israel and Azerbaijan President in Baku once again confirmed that the political dialogue between the two countries is at the highest level, while the economic component and trade turnover are constantly growing. Azerbaijan-Israel cooperation and partnership are flourishing; trade turnover between the countries is almost 3.5 billion dollars. If earlier this turnover was focused on the oil and gas industry, currently the development of this relationship is diversifying, covering other sectors of the economy.



As Alexander Murinson wrote that in the near future, "it is likely that Azerbaijani-Israeli relations will only increase in areas such as scientific cooperation, information technology, medicine, water purification, agriculture and cultural exchanges. More importantly, strategic cooperation in defense and intelligence fields, as well as in the fight against terror, has proven that two small countries located in an expanded Middle East, have found the unique blend for a successful symbiotic relationship in a highly insecure environment".

Military-technical partnership between Israel and Azerbaijan is actively and permanently developing and strengthening. In recent time, some Israeli media, with the help of some representatives of the Armenian lobby in Israel, are trying to spread false information about the "problems" in Israeli-Azerbaijani military cooperation. After the April events of 2016 - during a rapid counter-offensive, the Armenian side's front defense line was broken in multiple places and Azerbaijan army has retook several strategic heights and inhabited places. We actually have seen anti-Israeli hysteria and antisemitism in Armenia, even in Israel the Armenian community held rallies against the Azerbaijani-Israeli partnership.

Concerning the criticism of Armenia on Israeli-Azerbaijan military cooperation, it necessary to emphasize that Azerbaijan and Israel themselves 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 with it. Azerbaijan does not ask that there are military bases of the third state – Russian Federation on the territory of Armenia and what military assistance this country provides and will provide to the Republic of Armenia, which occupied 20% of Azerbaijan territories. It is absolutely absurd and senseless when a country that has been occupying the territory of Azerbaijan for more than 25 years accuses official Baku in violating the norms of international law. Armenia started its undeclared war, with the goal of extending Armenian territory to the greatest degree possible at the expense of Azerbaijan.

At the beginning of 1992, Armenia began using Russian military and material assistance to intensify its occupation, starting with settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh. The worst atrocity took place on February 26, 1992, when Armenian forces perpetrated a genocidal massacre against Azerbaijani civilians in the town of Khojaly. The bloody massacre that transpired in the small Azerbaijani town of Khojaly was also a crime against humanity. Armenian armed forces, like the Nazis before them, committed unspeakable atrocities and barbaric acts. 613 people were killed, 487 people were crippled, and 1,275 civilians — men, women, children and the elderly — were captured, murdered, raped and tortured in manners reminiscent of the Nazis. Most notably, the mass extermination of the civilian population of Khojaly was carried out for one reason — all were Azerbaijanis. International journalists and an official Azerbaijani investigation reported disfigured corpses, dead women and children, and the murder of fleeing civilians.

Unlike in the aftermath of World War II, the Nuremberg Trials, and the ongoing hunt for Nazis, the perpetrators of the extermination of Khojaly live freely in the modern-day Republic of Armenia. Many, even today, occupy high-level positions in government — former defense minister Seyran Ohanyan, current Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan, to name a few of the notables. Each participated in atrocities and like the Nazis, they must be brought before an international court to answer for their crimes. Like the Nazis, copious records exist attesting to their involvement and complicity. Unlike the Nazis, who were personally secretive about their crimes, several of these men gave interviews to the media lauding their criminal acts. Their reign, too, will end, as the Nazis did and as Armenia grows out of its warring infancy.

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. History will not forget the cruelty of a 20,000-strong Nazi Wehrmacht Armenian legion during WWII. Led by an Armenian nationalist commander called Dro they participated in death marches and the annihilation of thousands of Jews and others disliked by the Nazi regime.

It is even more absurd when you consider the current official ideology in Armenia: The Republican Party, which has ruled since 1998, openly claims its fidelity to anti-Semite and fascist Garegin Nzhdeh a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. It is worth emphasizing that the forces of some marginal political groups do not support the cult of these bloodthirsty fascists and anti-Semites, behind these actions is the state, or rather the criminal terrorist leadership of the modern Republic of Armenia. The fact that Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan once again confirm that they consider themselves real and genuine heirs of the Armenian fascist and anti-Semite Nzhdeh in the opening ceremony of the monument to the fascist and anti-Semite, General Garegin Nzhdeh. A square is named after Garegin Nzhdeh and monument of Garagin Nzdeh is created and opened in the heart of Armenian capital. Let`s underline: a cult cannot be created by some marginal political groups – it is the government that stands behind these acts.

At different times, Armenia has tried to avoid peace negotiations by artificially escalating the situation and violating the ceasefire regime. To this end, the Armenian army has intensified armed provocations in the occupied territories, targeting Azerbaijani residential settlements and the civil population.



President Sargsyan often declares that Armenia is consistently building up its defense capability in the framework of military-technical cooperation with Russia. He stressed the role of the 102nd Russian military base located in Armenian territory. Moreover, Armenia joined the anti-aircraft defense system of the Russian Federation in November 2016.Clear, Armenia does not have independent defense strategy as well as military procurement policy. Armenia is a member of Collective Security Treaty Organization and bilateral agreement on establishment of joint military union with Russia deprives Armenia from all tenets of having independent armed forces.

I believe that the possible military cooperation between Israel and Armenia are nothing more than a political bluff. In order to supply the weapons to Armenia, Israel should have strategic relations with this country, and really these relations on zero level. Armenia does not have financial means to make serious defense procurement contracts with Israeli companies.

From commercial point of view, Armenia does not promise any perspective. Armenia, as a subsidy and donation, acquires Russian military equipment and technology. Isolated in the South Caucasus region, Armenia, due to the occupation of the Azerbaijani lands, has remained largely outside the main geopolitical and geo-economic projects associated with the gas and oil resources of the Caspian Sea. It is an indisputable fact that Armenia is the most dependent and poor country in the South Caucasus. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia has been completely tied up and depends on Russia's external political and economic ambitions. Armenia, a small country with a population of 1.5 million, has been in the position of geopolitical isolation in recent years.



The Defense Minister of Israel Avigdor Lieberman is one of the architects of the Azerbaijani-Israeli strategic partnership.

The State of Israel supports the fair position of Azerbaijan - it actively supports the territorial integrity of the country and calls for resolving the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict within the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. For more than 25 years, the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia has continued. As a result of this aggression, there are 1 million refugees in the country. In this complex geopolitical situation, support for Azerbaijan's fair position on the part of 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.

Other than military, the relations between the two countries also concern the energy, medical, agricultural and technological sector. Today Israel represents the second importer after Italy of Azeri oil; 40% of oil imported from Israel, corresponding to about 30 million barrels a year, comes from Azerbaijan via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan. More over Israel participates to the economic diversification efforts promoted by the Azerbaijani government to reduce the vulnerability of oil market.

"We obviously have a strong energy relationship," Netanyahu said in an interview with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. "We are talking not only about the sale of oil from Azerbaijan to Israel, which is a very important part of our oil imports, we are talking about the use of common facilities for exporting gas and gas, Interconnection of Israel's gas exports potentially to a large gas pipeline that is being built as we are now talking about Azerbaijan in Turkey ". Prime Minister Netanyahu referred to a plan to export Israeli gas via Turkey to European markets, using The Trans-Anatolian (TANAP) and Trans-Adriatic (TAP) pipelines run by Azerbaijan.
As an Israeli citizen, I can say proudly that the leadership of Azerbaijan shows a great degree of deference and partnership to the Jewish community. Under the patronage of President Ilham Aliyev two synagogues and the largest Jewish educational center in the South Caucasus have been built. Plans are in place for the first Azerbaijani Jewish museum, which will be the first Jewish museum in the South
Caucasus.

If one wonders how the majority Muslim country of Azerbaijan came to such a rich alliance with Israel today, one need look no further than the Red Village, a tiny river conclave in the mountainous region of Quba. There, for centuries, a Jewish community has thrived amid a Muslim population. The ancient town of ‘Krasnaya Sloboda’ (Quba) in northern Azerbaijan, said to be the only all-Jewish town outside
of Israel, is the pride of Azerbaijan.



During historical visit of World Jewish Congress Ambassador Ron Lauder to Azerbaijan I had honor to ask him about his impressions of the Jewish community in Azerbaijan. Ronald Lauder pointed out that it was very interesting to be acquainted with the Jewish identity and Jewish way of life in Azerbaijan. "I know that during the Holocaust, Azerbaijan became one of the few havens for the European Ashkenazi Jews who saved their lives and the lives of their children from the Nazis. The notion of "Mountain Jews" once seemed very abstract to me. I have heard a lot about them, but I have never seen their settlements. However, in Azerbaijan’s Guba district, I saw a warm and friendly attitude of the Azerbaijani people and leadership towards the Mountain Jews. I visited a beautiful synagogue in Krasnaya Sloboda and was very inspired to see a large number of people who met our delegation and me

Honestly, I did not expect to see a powerful Jewish community in a Muslim country with a Shiite majority. There are no such precedents in the world. I think that the Krasnaya Sloboda is a great role model for other countries. Azerbaijan can be proud of its achievements in the area of multiculturalism. As a President of the World Jewish Congress, I highly appreciate the respectful and warm attitude of the Azerbaijani people and the Azerbaijani leadership towards the Jewish community and I want to express my sincere gratitude to the President of Azerbaijan," – said me Ronald Lauder during his visit to Azerbaijan

In this region, Jewish and Muslim Azerbaijanis have been living harmoniously for centuries. Despite Armenia’s ethnic cleansing and aggression toward Azerbaijan, which includes occupation of 20% of its territories and one million refugees and internally displaced people, Azerbaijan is a true model of inter-civilizational and interfaith dialogue. Tolerance and multiculturalism are key foundations of the Azerbaijani society. Azerbaijan has made a concerted effort to create and foster the necessary political and social conditions for developing and strengthening the
country’s traditions of multiculturalism and tolerance.

Time and again Azerbaijan has demonstrated that harmony is possible and issues can be resolved without resorting to violence or strife.

It is important to emphasize that President Ilham Aliyev has earned the respect of much of both Israeli society and the Jewish community in other countries of the world for his commitment to secularism, multiculturalism and tolerance, for respectful attitude to all religions and peoples living in Azerbaijan.


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