One of the most important and fundamental teachings in Judaism is that all human life is sacred. The Talmud states, “Anyone who destroys a human life is considered as if he had destroyed an entire world and anyone who preserves a human life is considered to have preserved an entire world.” Judaism’s appreciation for humanity is also extended to the earth that surrounds us. As Deuteronomy 20:19 proclaims, “When you besiege a city…you shall not destroy its trees; You may eat of them, but do not cut them down; for a man’s life depends on the trees of the field.”

For this reason, Rabbi Zamir Issayev’s recent trip to the Nagorno-Karabakh region is noteworthy.
Rabbi Zamir Isayev, an Israeli raised rabbi who relocated to Azerbaijan in order to head the Jewish School in Baku, recently published a YouTube video in Hebrew, highlighting the vast destruction of both human life and the environment when Armenia controlled the Nagorno-Karabakh region: “I want to show you what happened to the Azerbaijani people during the time they were under this occupation and I want to show you the vandalism that Armenia did against the Azerbaijani people.”

“Most of the way from Zangilan is very dangerous because of the explosive devices left by the Armenians in all of the area,” he recounted. “As you can see, contractors are working to clean up the area from the explosive devices. The second the area was liberated; one can already feel the difference. Slowly, life is returning here. On both sides along the way, we can see entire villages that were destroyed. There is not a single building. All the buildings were destroyed after the occupation. Not a stone remains.”

Rabbi Isayev compared what the Armenians did to Nagorno-Karabakh to an apocalyptic movie: “It is hard to see with your eyes such a reality. In the First Karabakh War in the 1990’s, Armenia succeeded to occupy 20 percent of Azerbaijan, the area called Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding areas. Almost a million people were expelled from their homes and became refugees. Because of the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan, 20,000 Azerbaijanis were killed and 50,000 were wounded. 4,000 disappeared and there is no information on them till now. Because of the Armenian occupation, 900 Azerbaijani cities, 150,000 homes, 9,000 public buildings, 693 schools, 855 kindergartens, 695 hospitals, 2,670 kilometers of roads, and 280,000 kilometers of forest were destroyed.”

Rabbi Isayev noted that when the Azerbaijanis were compelled to flee during the First Karabakh War, they took nothing with them but the clothes on their backs. However, he added that when the Armenian settlers fled the area during the Second Karabakh War, they made sure that they bulldozed their homes to the ground, uprooted trees and desecrated cultural and religious heritage sites before they left for Yerevan: “It is very shocking. They turned homes into graveyards.”

However, in recent days, Azerbaijan has been working to repair the ecological damage to the area, in addition to bringing the refugees back to whatever is left of their homes and aiding the families of Azerbaijanis who perished during this conflict. According to the Yasat Foundation, “In 44 days, 2,823 soldiers of the Azerbaijani army were martyred and more than 11,000 were seriously injured. After the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia came to an end, a need for improving the life standards of the wounded and the families of martyrs became an important topic. Social protection and improvement of the welfare of the servicemen and martyrs’ families have always been a key component of state policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Extensive state support mechanisms have been developed in this direction, covering the abovementioned persons with comprehensive state care.”

The Yasat Foundation, which was established by Azerbaijan’s President, offers wounded Azerbaijanis and the families of slain Azerbaijani soldiers “repayment of consumer loans and other debt obligations before the status of the martyr’s family or disability is determined; payment of treatment and psychological support expenses; payment of expenses related to education, professional training, as well as assistance in the development of creative potential; improvement of living conditions. It should be noted that since December 15, 2020, the staff of the foundation have met with around 11,847 family members of 2,745 martyrs and 288 seriously wounded people, recording their needs.”

Elvin Huseynov, the head of the Yasat Foundation, noted that Israeli doctors will be invited to provide medical treatment to the Azerbaijani victims of this conflict: “Negotiations are going on about sending staff to our country. Most likely, they are expected to arrive in Azerbaijan by the end of February. About 10 doctors (ophthalmologists) who will come to Azerbaijan will examine our servicemen who have injured their eyes or lost both eyes. According to the joint decision of foreign and local doctors, the decision will be made on the operations of our veterans. Surgical procedures that will be possible across the country will be held here and other operations will be conducted accordingly abroad.”

In a recent Facebook post, Rabbi Isayev noted that the Jewish community is an integral part of Azerbaijani society and that Azerbaijani Jews do not remain indifferent to the cries of their nation. For this reason, he cited the importance about raising awareness about the plight of Azerbaijani civilians in the international community. As Elie Wiesel once stated, “To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

As a rabbi, Isayev visited the recently liberated areas to make a film about them in Hebrew, so that Israeli audiences can get a glimpse about the humanitarian suffering that this conflict caused. By doing this, the Jewish community is bearing witness to the atrocities that were committed there and respecting the sanctity of human life, as well as the environment, by speaking out about the atrocities that were committed against the Azerbaijani people. As Mohammed Mossedeq, Iran’s only democratically elected prime minister who was overthrown in a coup d’état, once stated, “If I sit silently, I have sinned.”

This Op-Ed/Analysis is the author’s personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of