JPost: Azerbaijan is the genuine sample of intercultural, interfaith and inter-civilizational dialog
Before a month I have participated at the 4th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue on the theme "Advancing Intercultural Dialogue: New Avenues for Human Security, Peace and Sustainable Development" was organized in cooperation with UNESCO, the UN Alliance of Civilizations, the UN World Tourism Organization (WTO), the Council of Europe, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the North-South Center of the Council of Europe.
As an Israeli political analyst, I did speech at plenary session on "Heydar Aliyev and Interreligious harmony in Azerbaijan" as part of the 4th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue I reported about multicultural and tolerant nature of Azerbaijan, Jewish-Azerbaijan dialog, Israeli-Azerbaijan relationships and genuine human bridge between Jews and Muslims in Azerbaijan.
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.
The real test for Azerbaijan’s tradition of religious and national tolerance was during the collapse of the Soviet Union. In this deeply troubled time, ethnic Armenians invaded some 20 percent of Azerbaijani lands creating nearly 1 million Azerbaijani Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and ethnically cleansing the remainder. Despite such large-scale murder and displacement, the core principle of peaceful coexistence continued to define Azerbaijani society. Even as violence has flared over the past more than 25 years of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijani society has maintained harmony amongst its religions and ethnicities.
Each year head of secular Azerbaijani state Ilham Aliyev addresses the Jewish community regarding the enormity of the Holocaust genocide and urges all Azerbaijanis to recognize and remember the Holocaust as a lesson of what one man can do to another. This year Mr. Aliyev stated, “Hearts still hurt for the broken fates of millions of innocent people suffered from the horrors of the tragedy, which remained as a black page in history.
Unfortunately, similar crimes have repeated even nowadays. The Armenian military aggression against Azerbaijan in the end of the 20th century, bloody terror and mass violence, and the unprecedented Khojaly tragedy happened before the very eyes of the international community.”
What does the Holocaust and Khojaly have in common? Although very different, it is important to note that Israeli President Rubi Rivlin touched upon the Khojaly in his speech to the UN General Assembly at the event dedicated to the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Khojaly, a town in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, still occupied today by the separatist and terrorist Armenian regime was home to nearly 25,000 Azerbaijanis. On the eve of February 25, 1992 Armenian armed forces began the final takeover of the area. As the entire town’s population began to flee Khojaly, Armenian armed forces and members of the No. 366 Soviet motorized rifle regiment confronted the townspeople with fierce gunfire. The terrified and unarmed population, including woman and children, were slaughtered. Because of the atrocities of the Armenian armed forces, 613 people have been killed and 487 people were crippled.
The elderly, children and women who have been captured were subjected to unprecedented torture, abuse and humiliation…incidentally atrocities similar to that of ISIS today. Khojaly was not only directed against the Azerbaijani people. It is clearly, a crime against humanity. The most terrible and immoral fact that an ideologists and perpetrators of the atrocities of Khojaly act of genocide today continue to occupy high-ranking posts in Armenia and many others – former Armenian defense minister Seyran Ohanyan, current Armenian President Serj Sargsyan and former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan and others.
Today it is historical fact that this terrorist and separatist ruling elite in Armenia immortalizes at a state level fascists and anti-Semites who participated in annihilation of European Jewry. Before two years ago, former Armenian Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan submitted a draft resolution recognizing the Holocaust to the country`s legislative body.
In explanation of his move, he told the media: “Some say that we should not recognize the Holocaust unless Israel recognizes ‘the genocide of Armenians”.
It is a vivid evidence of the fact that anti-Semitism in Armenia exists at a state level. It is impossible to compare the fate of European Jews in Europe - humiliated, insulted, burned and burned alive in the fascist furnaces of Auschwitz, Soribor, Dachau with the fate of separatist Armenians who cherished the creation of "Great Armenia" in the territory of the Ottoman Empire.
Armenia occupies the first place in the post-Soviet space on anti-Semitic sentiments. The poll of the Anti-Defamation League in June 2014 showed that the level of anti-Semitism in Armenia (58%) was the third largest in Europe and the highest in the post-Soviet space and among Eastern European countries. Thus, about 1.3 million out of 2.2 million Armenian residents have anti-Semitic sentiments. Such a high level of anti-Semitism in Armenia can be compared only with the Arab countries hostile to Israel in the Middle East.
We are all well aware that Armenia is the most mono ethnic country where chauvinism, nationalism, exaltation of fascists and anti-Semites became an integral part of the state policy of the current Sargsyan regime. It is worth emphasizing that the cult of these bloodthirsty fascists and anti-Semites is not carried out by some marginal political groupings, but behind these actions is the state, or rather the criminal leadership of the modern Republic of Armenia.
The fact that President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan and former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan participated in the opening ceremony of the monument to the fascist and anti-Semite Gen. Garagen Nzhdeh once again confirm that they consider themselves to be real and genuine heirs of the Armenian fascist and anti-Semite Nzhdeh.
I am sure that incumbent president Serzh Sargsyan and former minister Seyran Ohanyan who committed a bloody massacre in the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly in late 20th century they are the successors of the Armenian fascist general Dro and Nzhdeh. Suffice it to remember Serzh Sargsyan`s words that ‘before Khojaly, the Azerbaijanis thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We were able to break that stereotype’.
And this really demonstrates that Serzh Sargsyan and his entire clan in the government of Armenia are genuine and worthy successors of Dro and Nzhdeh. The bloody act of genocide, which was committed with incredible brutality and barbarism in Khojaly, is one of the horrible tragedies of the late 20th century. Cruel and merciless scenes of that massacre will always remain a never-healing scar in the heart of Azerbaijan.
The history has never forgotten the cruelty of a 20,000-strong Armenian legion as part of the Wehrmacht in the WW II. “The aim of the Armenian legion led by nationalist commander Dro (who personally participated in the annihilation of thousands of Jews) was to persecute and annihilate Jews and others disliked by the German army. At the same time, the Armenian legion organized death marches at concentration camps.
In his “Death Tango” book, the late Azerbaijani historian Rovshan Mustafayev provides a lot of evidence of the Armenian units` involvement in genocide of Jews, particularly a report of sonderkommando “Dromedar” about the operation in Western Crimea. “From November 16 to December 15, 1941, some 17,645 Jews were executed. Simferopol, Eupatoria, Alushta, Karasubazar, Kerch, Feodosia and other regions of Western Crimea were cleaned of Jews,” Rovshan Mustafayev notes in his book.
Another situation concerning Jews and Jewish community you can see in Azerbaijan Republic. 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.
Krasnaya Sloboda (Quba)
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.
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, intercultural 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.
Let’s not forget that 20% of Azerbaijani lands are occupied by Armenia and every 7 resident of the country is a refugee. There has never been anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan and I am citizen of Israel very proud of this factor of tolerance and respect to all religious confession. It is irrefutable fact that Azerbaijan is a real sample of dialogue between civilizations. Show me any other country-either Muslim or Christian - where two synagogues and the biggest educational Jews center in the South Caucasus have been built under patronage of the President of the country. I think you will not find any other country.
The relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani Jews, could not be explained away by simple mutual self-interest.
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 historic, as it is 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. Military-technical partnership is actively developing and strengthening.
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.
Ilham Aliyev and Benjamin Netanyahu opened a new page in strengthening relations between the countries and peoples. Azerbaijan is a magnificent and brilliant example of tolerance and mutual respect. Mutual respect, which was manifested in Azerbaijan to Jews for 2600 years, the excellent attitude towards them further strengthens the sympathy for Azerbaijan and admiration for Azerbaijan. Common values and a shared history permeate the modern relationship. Both countries are enriched by the human connections and a determination to live in diverse and religiously tolerant societies.
Time and again, Azerbaijan has demonstrated that harmony is possible, and issues can be resolved without resorting to violence or strife. Furthermore, it is evident and clear that Jews and Muslims in Azerbaijan have peacefully coexisted as brothers – and have become forever linked through common history and destiny.
I can say with pride that unlike many so-called civilized countries and peoples of Europe, Azerbaijanis never betrayed Jews, and Jews never betrayed Azerbaijanis.
Arye Gut, Israeli political analyst