In Azerbaijan, tolerance and multiculturalism have deep historical roots which are developed in modern society and supported at the state level. All conditions are created for the peaceful and secure residence of representatives of various nationalities, cultures and religions; historical monuments, mosques, churches, temples, synagogues are gently preserved and, as necessary, restored. The unique atmosphere of tolerance and intercultural dialogue in Azerbaijani society attracts attention as a role model for the development of multiculturalism. Currently, there are dozens of representatives of different religions such as Muslims, Christians and Jews who habitually and regularly resided in Azerbaijan.
With respect to the history of Jewish people in Azerbaijan, it goes back thousands of years. Therefore, it can be argued that the Jewish diaspora in Azerbaijan is one of the first in the world. For many people, it is somehow unusual to hear about harmonious coexistence between Muslims and Jews, but we can see a vivid example of such relations in Azerbaijan. Today, they are settled in many cities in Azerbaijan (such as Baku, Sumgait, Oghuz, Ganja, Goychay, Guba) and divided into three communities consisting of up to 30.000 people: Mountain Jews, Ashkenazi Jews and Georgian Jews. The settlement of Krasnaya Slobada, located in Guba city, is the only place in the entire post-Soviet world where Mountain Jews compactly live. There are currently 7 active synagogues and eight Jewish religious communities throughout the country.
Additionally, there are different Jewish non-governmental organizations operating in Azerbaijan such as the Azerbaijan-Israel Friendship Society, Sokhnut Jewish Agency, large Jewish charitable organizations such as Coynt, Vaad-L-Khatzola, Azerbaijan Jewish Women’s Humanitarian Association, Jewish religious schools (Yeshiva), Azerbaijan-Israel Cultural Relations, a women’s society called Hava, etc. Here, you can witness memorial plaques in the buildings of famous Jews in Baku – Nobel Laureate, physicist Lev Landau, Honored Doctor of the Republic Solomon Gusman, Karabakh war hero Albert Agarunov and others.
When it comes to Azerbaijani diaspora living in Israel, we can observe the friendly attitude of Jewish people. In Israel, there are approximately 80,000 Azerbaijanis.
Here, in the Azerbaijani community, native languages, cultures, national traditions, as well as the connection with the historical homeland, are preserved and developed. In this sense, it is important to note the invaluable role of the Azerbaijani diaspora organizations which acquaint the Israeli public and new generation of diaspora with the traditions and cultural heritage of Azerbaijan, promotes its achievements and recreation areas, holds national holidays and fairs, celebrates both bright and difficult moments in the history of the Azerbaijani nation.
This is not just an impersonal and formal relations between two nations. Otherwise, how can the smooth and integration to the societies of the both countries be explained? Well, it is all about shared family values, mentality, respect for elders and concern for the young and the less able-bodied, hospitality, forgiveness, compassion, goodwill, reconciliation and commitment to the higher ideal of humanism. These kind of qualities help Azerbaijani and Jewish peoples to understand and support each other.
It is common knowledge that there were painful and tragic chapters in the history of both nations: the Holocaust, the Khojaly massacre, inquisitions, genocides, ethnic cleansings, etc. For instance, since 2019, the American Sephardi Federation organized two times commemoration ceremonies for the victims of Khojaly massacre. On its part, the above-mentioned Azerbaijani Jewish diaspora organizations in different parts of the world and Israel themselves also arrange such kind of ceremonies in the memory of tragic events of the Holocaust.
On the governmental level, the duty of preserving national identity and national interests, expanding inter-diaspora relations and protecting cultural and political rights for the Azerbaijani diaspora extends to the State Committee on Work with Diaspora of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Moreover, this governmental body has active ongoing relationship not only with Azerbaijani diaspora, but also with different Jewish organizations around the world, such as American Sephardi Federation, the American Jewish Federation, The Jewish Federation of North America, Reut Institute, National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, Ministry for Diaspora Affairs (Israel), the Interdisciplinary Center, Science Abroad, Momentum, Birthright Israel, Birthright Excel Israel, Mosaic United, etc.
For the last three years, representatives of the State Committee carried out a number of visits to Israel in pursuit of diverse goals. The ultimate aim of such visits were meeting with Azerbaijani diaspora and its relevant organizations in order to get acquainted with their successes and challenges. Sometimes, these kinds of visits had proved to be a exchanging process of knowledge and experience for establishing new diaspora strategy based on the experience of Jewish community.
With this knowledge, the State Committee was able to create the following programs for Azerbaijani diaspora members: Brain gain program, “Chamomile” Azerbaijani Diaspora Women`s Network, Azerbaijani Diaspora Youth Professional Network, Leadership Development Program, E-Academy, Although different, but strong together, etc.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, these programs, which were actually planned to be implemented offline, are now operating on the online basis in the form of workshops, lectures and interactive discussions. Jewish people, who live abroad and in Azerbaijan, were frequent guests in the framework of a number of the above-mentioned programs. Those are, for instance, architect Michael Geller, journalist Larry Luxner, CEO of the Reut Group Eran Shayshon, CEO of the American Sephardi Federation Jason Guberman, journalist Irina Tsukerman, Director of TOM Global Nadav Yesod, American Jewish Committee`s Director of Russian and Eurasian Affairs Samuel Kliger, CEO of the Momentum, CEO of Birthright Excel Israel Idit Rubin, Director of the International Programs Department at the Museum of Jewish People Yael Rosen, Head of the International division and resource development at Chaim Sheba Medical Center Yoel Har-Even and others.
Specifically, it should be noted that there is a program called “Although different, but strong together” the goal of which is to expand relations with diaspora organizations, communities and religious organizations in the Republic of Azerbaijan. It was launched on the 22th of May during the online meeting of the chairman of the State Committee with leaders of various communities and religious organizations in Azerbaijan, including Chairman of the Religious Community of Baku Mountain Jews Milikh Yevdayev, Chairman of the Baku Religious Community of European Jews Alexander Sharovsky and Chief Rabbi of the Baku Religious Community of European Jews Sneor Segal. Afterwards, there were a lot of online meetings between the Azerbaijani diaspora and Jewish community organized by the State Committee.
With a regard to the latter events, on September 27, 2020, Armenian armed forces roughly violated the ceasefire and intensively fired on the positions of the Azerbaijani frontline. From that date till today, Azerbaijani cities located far away from the conflict zone, such as Ganja, Mingachevir, Absheron, Barda, Khizi, Terter, Kurdamir and other districts, including densely populated villages, are under heavy artillery fire by the Armenian armed unities. As a result of their missile strikes, about 100 people died and 400 are injured. The presence of children, women and the elderly among the dead is another clear example of Armenian cruelty. In addition, 1704 houses and 327 civilities are damaged as a consequence of heavy artillery and rocket fire by the Armenian army.
The aggressive policy of the Armenian government is resolutely condemned by Israeli officials and world Jewry in their recent statements. This is the kind of gestures that are glaring examples of the solid support, adequate assessment of the current situation, great friendship and stable partnership with Azerbaijan. After all, as a result of the 30-years` Armenian military aggression, 20 % of Azerbaijani territories fell under Armenian occupation, more than 1 million people became refugees and internally displaced persons. Another kind of assistance provided by Israeli government that helps Azerbaijani modern army to rise up against Armenian occupation, defend civil citizens and restore historical validity, the law and order. Furthermore, advocates of justice in the face of Jewish people around the world stand together, shoulder to shoulder, with Azerbaijani diaspora who organizes diaspora activities in Tel-Aviv, Berlin, Toronto, New York, San-Francisco, Florida, Illinois and other cities.
Recently, on the 31st of October, with participation of hundred members of the Jewish community in Baku and the Azerbaijani community in Israel, there was an online meeting held between the Chairman of State Committee and Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs Mrs. Omer Yankelevich, Chairman of the Baku Religious Community of European Jews Alexander Sharovsky, Chief Rabbi of the Baku Religious Community of European Jews Sneor Segal and the head of the Azerbaijani House in Israel Shirin Nekhamiya. It shows solidarity between two states even in difficult times in Azerbaijan.
During the meeting, the Chairman of the State Committee Mr. Fuad Muradov said that one of the priorities of the state policy of Azerbaijan is the peaceful and friendly coexistence of representatives of different nations and religions. The Minister of Diaspora Affairs Mrs. Omer Yankelevich, in its turn, expressed her understanding of what it is like to be living under rocket attacks and fighting from houses and wished peace to Azerbaijan.
Vugar Mammadov is the director of International Resolutions and the Protocol Department at the State Committee on the Work of the Diaspora in Azerbaijan.
This Op-Ed/Analysis is the author’s personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of JerusalemOnline.com.