Table of Contents:
First Shi’ite Country: Azerbaijan’s Historic Speech at AIPAC Conference: Benjamin Weinthal, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 2, 2020
Israel and Azerbaijan: Yes, Jews and Muslims Can Be Friends!: Milikh Yevdayev, Jewish Journal, Sept. 25, 2018
Evolvement of the Azerbaijan-Israel Relationship: Interview with an Expert: Philip Roehrs-Weist, Caucasus Watch, Oct. 25, 2018
Will Azerbaijan Join the Anti-Iran Coalition?: Eldar Mamedov, Lobe Log, July 16, 2019
______________________________________________________First Shi’ite Country: Azerbaijan’s Historic Speech at AIPAC Conference
Jerusalem Post, Mar. 2, 2020The country of Azerbaijan carved out a historic role for itself by being the first majority Shi’ite country to have a cabinet level minister on Sunday deliver a speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference to advance the troika of relations among the Caucasus nation, Israel and the US.Samir Sharifov, the Azerbaijani finance minister, told a packed AIPAC crowd that “Cooperation with Israel is not limited to oil supply, we are interested in widening cooperation in defense and transfer of technology. “ He noted that Israel’s one of the few “states that supported in Azerbaijan in need, with armaments.”In a second act of cutting edge history, Sharifov read remarks from Mehriban Aliyeva, the first vice president of Azerbaijan. “It is gratifying that our former compatriots of Jewish origin, living nowadays in the United States and Israel have maintained close ties with Azerbaijan and contribute to the strengthening of our relations with these countries, we are much grateful to them.”She delved into the history of Jews in Azerbaijan, noting “Azerbaijan had also embraced thousands of Jews who tried to escape Nazi oppression during World War II and became a second home for them.”
Recorded history shows that Jews have lived in Azerbaijan for 2,600 years. There are an estimated 30,000 Jews currently living in Azerbaijan. “At the time of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic of 1918-1920—the first parliamentary democracy in the Muslim world, the Jewish community actively contributed to the development of the country,” said Aliyeva.
Azerbaijan, which secured its independence in 1991, just reached the 10 million population mark, said Sharifov. The glasnost—or opening of relations among Arab nations and Israel—remains part and parcel of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy. “Azerbaijan is very important for the recent trend in relations between Arab states and Israel,” said Sharifov.
Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the US, told The Jerusalem Post that “It is very significant that a cabinet minister is speaking to the Jewish community- this shows the level of partnership we have with the Jewish people.”
He noted that there is “no reason to hide it [relations with AIPAC and Israel]. Our relationships are always transparent and positive and based on mutual interests. They are never against anybody else.” In a broad-ranging interview with the ambassador, Suleymanov said “Both Turkey and Israel need each other in the region.”
Azerbaijan borders Turkey, Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Turkey and Israel maintain frosty relations. Iran’s regime is considered Israel’s greatest security threat. He noted that “The example of Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel breaks the ice” between Arab countries and Israel. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
I have talked a lot and have written many articles about how strong the Azerbaijan-Israel relations are and how these countries are important to each other. Last week marked another important milestone in the development of our bilateral relationship and was special for the Jewish community of the majority-Muslim Azerbaijan. On September 13-17, the Defense Minister of Israel Avigdor Lieberman visited Azerbaijan, as part of his visit to the region, which also included a trip to neighboring Georgia. Lieberman had visited our country before on several occasions, but only as a Foreign Minister. What makes the recent visit special is that it was his first visit to Azerbaijan in his capacity as Israel’s Defense Minister, and compared to his one-day stay in Georgia, he spent full five days in Azerbaijan, holding many high-level meetings. This alone is a striking example of how Israel attaches a great importance to its relationship with Azerbaijan.
A major highlight of Lieberman’s visit was his meeting with the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, under whose visionary leadership the strategic partnership with Israel has been elevated to the current level. He also met the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, Interior Minister and other high ranking officials, as well as the country’s Jewish community leaders. At all meetings, successful cooperation between the two countries in various fields was commended. Azerbaijan’s unique model of multifaith tolerance, harmony and multiculturalism was also hailed during the meetings.
As the Head of the Community of the Mountain Jews of Baku, I was honored to meet with Mr. Lieberman to discuss the current status of the Jewish community, as well as the fruitful cooperation between our two nations. I was delighted to present Lieberman with Albert Agarunov Award on behalf of our community. Newly established by the Community of the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan, this award is presented to Azerbaijani and foreign nationals, who strongly contribute to the strengthening of Azerbaijan’s defense capabilities. It is no coincidence that the award is named after Albert Agarunov. Hailing from “Qırmızı Qəsəbə” (Red Town), which is today one of the largest all-Jewish towns outside of Israel, Albert Agarunov was a Jewish warrior and tank commander. He voluntarily enlisted in the Azerbaijani Army in 1991 and fought in the Nagorno-Karabakh War, defending the territorial integrity of his homeland – Azerbaijan against invasion and aggression by Armenia. Albert was killed in 1992 on the battlefield near the Azerbaijani town of Shusha by an Armenian sniper. He was posthumously awarded the title of National Hero of Azerbaijan and was buried at the sacred Martyrs’ Lane in Baku. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
In an exclusive interview with Caucasus Watch, Aynur Bashirova describes the historical development and the current state of the relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan. Aynur Bashirova has completed her bachelor’s at Vesalius College in International Affairs, her master’s at University of Kent in Brussels in International Law, and an advanced masters’ at the Institute for European Studies (IES) of the VUB in European Integration. She has been a visiting fellow at the Rubin Centre in Herzliya, Israel, in 2017, where she published a comprehensive article on the issue together with Professor Ahmet Sozen, which can be accessed here. Currently, she is still continuing her research on Israel’s bilateral relations with Azerbaijan and her general areas of research include Israel, the South Caucasus, the Middle East, foreign policy, and defense.
Can you give our readership a short summary of how the partnership between Azerbaijan and Israel came into being and how it developed over the decades?
First of all, the relationship between Azerbaijanis and Jews predate the creation of their respective states. There are several Jewish communities in Azerbaijan, the biggest ones being the Caucasus Jews and Ashkenazi. There was never anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan. Indeed, one of the Zionist movements, Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) was established in Baku in 1891, the prominent Rothschild family established the first oil company, Caspian Black Sea Company, in 1883 and had an enormous contribution to laying the foundations and development of the energy industry in the country, and during the First Republic of Azerbaijan (1918-1920), Jews were appointment to several ministerial positions, to name only a few examples.
These events had a big role to play in the establishment of the partnership between Israel and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. Azerbaijani expatriates in Israel talked well about their host country and for Israel the past relationship was an important catalyst to see Azerbaijan as a trustworthy partner.
In 1991, Israel was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan. In 1993, Israel opened an embassy in Baku. However, the foundations of the current partnership were put in place in 1997, during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Azerbaijan, where he met with then President of the new country, Heyder Aliyev. In this meeting, Netanyahu emphasized the importance of policy coordination in two areas, energy and security, which became the cornerstone of Israel-Azerbaijan relations. Since 2012, the relationship started getting deeper and more known; more agreements were reached, SOCAR (public energy company of Azerbaijan) acquired a 5% share in Med Ashdod and this is the first experience of SOCAR outside of Caspian Basin. Since 2016 until now, Israel-Azerbaijan relations became more known to public as media became more eager to publish the developments and interviews.
Israel-Azerbaijan relationship came into existence and continued to develop due to several factors. The lack of anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan is only the first factor. Many Jews are respected members and contributors of Azerbaijani society. Azerbaijani Jews residing in Israel are also active in informing Israeli public about the Jewish life in Azerbaijan, most notably AZIZ (Diaspora Organization of Azerbaijani Jews in Israel) headed by Lev Spivak, Arye Gut (an active blogger and commentator), Yosef Shagal (Israeli journalist and former Knesset [Parliament of Israel] member), Alex Wexler (now retired Israeli politician) to name only few. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
As the United States speeds up the militarization of tensions with Iran, the role of neighbouring countries in either exacerbating or mitigating them is going to be crucial. Some of Iran´s neighbours, such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and, until recently, the United Arab Emirates, appear to be pushing the United States toward war with Iran. Others, such as Iraq, Oman, and Qatar, pursue a policy of “active neutrality”, seeking diplomatic engagement between Washington and Tehran. And still others sit on the fence, carefully monitoring developments, but without positioning themselves on either side. That, however, can change should the situation degenerate into a military confrontation.
One of the actors belonging to the latter group is Azerbaijan. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in his speech in the Asia Society in New York in April 2019, singled out Azerbaijan as one of the countries with which Iran´s relations have recently improved. That is true, but Azerbaijan also enjoys close relations with two of Iran’s antagonists—the United States and Israel. Should tensions erupt, Azerbaijan will come under pressure from both to provide at least tacit support in their campaign against Iran, such as the use of Azerbaijani territory for anti-Iranian intelligence activities, if not as a launching pad for military attacks. The last time a military action against Iran over its nuclear program seemed plausible, in August 2011, Iranian Major General Hassan Firouzabadi angrily rebuked Baku for allegedly turning itself into an Israeli outpost, and predicted an uprising of its people against Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
Another potential fallout of a conflict involving Iran would be a re-ignition of irredentist claims on Iranian Azerbaijan, where, according to some sources, up to a quarter of Iran’s population lives. Although Baku officially distances itself from these claims, the notion of a “south Azerbaijan” that needs to be “liberated from the Persian yoke” is still very much present in Azerbaijani political and intelligentsia circles. If Iran is destabilized, pan-Turkist agitators from both north and south will try to seize the momentum to advance their long-cherished dream of a “Great Azerbaijan”. Some pro-regime change circles in the United States and Israel have long advocated Iran’s balkanization—i.e., its disintegration along ethnic lines. The government in Baku, far from harbouring any sympathies to Iran, might at some point be compelled to “help the southern brethren”.
Conscious of these complexities, Iran has studiously avoided antagonizing Azerbaijan. On the most critical issue for Baku—its unresolved conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region—Tehran has firmly supported Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. Even Azerbaijan’s attempts of appropriate Iran’s cultural heritage—such as claiming exclusive ownership of the famous Persian poet Nezami Ganjavi, who lived in the territory of modern Azerbaijan in 13th century—have been met only with the mildest of Iranian rebukes.
Iranians have thus clearly signalled their preference for maintaining the status-quo in their relations with Azerbaijan. If, however, Azerbaijan is persuaded or pressured to support an American or Israeli military action against Iran, they are likely to revert to the tactics they used in 1990s: manipulating and securitizing pro-Iranian Shiite groups in Azerbaijan to pressure the Aliyev administration. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
FOR FURTHER REFERENCE:
Lessons for Israel from Azerbaijan’s Election: Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 15, 2020 — Three Israelis served as foreign observers in Azerbaijan’s snap election last Sunday, in which the Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan) party won the majority of seats in the single-chamber parliament.