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December 11, 2015 4:31 am

In Azerbaijan, Muslims and Jews Are Allies

avatar by Arye Gut /

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 An aerial view of Baku, capital of Azerbaijan. Photo: Khortan via Wikimedia Commons.

An aerial view of Baku, capital of Azerbaijan. Photo: Khortan via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.orgNo 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. But the reasons for this close relationship lie in the longstanding friendship between Azerbaijanis and Jews living in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan, a predominantly Shi’a 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. Minorities, as well as women, have been ubiquitous in Azerbaijani government since its independence from the Soviet Union. Unlike many cultures, Azerbaijanis have never viewed Jews as foreign or alien. Israelis with roots in Azerbaijan are doing a great deal to foster the emerging economic and even geopolitical cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel.

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 1918-20, 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.

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, including Nagorno Karabakh and seven adjacent districts, creating nearly 1 million Azerbaijani Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and ethnically cleansing the remainder. The bloody act of genocide, which was committed with incredible brutality and barbarism in Khojaly, is one of the most horrible tragedies of the late 20th century. Cruel and merciless scenes of that massacre will always remain a never-healing scar in the hearts of Azerbaijanis. Armenian armed forces and units of mercenaries did not spare life of any Khojaly resident who failed to leave the town and its suburbs. As a result, 613 people were killed and 487 were wounded. In addition, 1,275 civilians (including elders, children, and women) were taken hostage and subjected to unprecedented tortures, insults, and humiliation. This tragedy is an act of evil against humanity.

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 20 years of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijani society has maintained harmony amongst its religions and ethnicities. Today, Azerbaijan is a strong independent state, leader of the South Caucasus geopolitical and geoeconomic processes. Azerbaijan is conducting its own multi-vector foreign policy, independent from Turkey or from Tehran’s foreign policy. Thus, Israel and its people have great respect for Azerbaijan and its president, Ilham Aliyev. They appreciate the efforts of the grand development of the economy in Azerbaijan, which is becoming an important, strong, and independent actor on the international scene.

Azerbaijani-Israeli relations are a positive, strategic partnership. Azerbaijani-Israeli trade cooperation flourishes and amounts to nearly $4 billion. Although previously focused on the oil and gas industry, it is now extending to other sectors of the economy. It is necessary to point out that Israel is one of the main buyers of Azerbaijani oil to world markets, but Israel has several more reasons to seek stronger relations with Baku. First, Israel wants to show the international community their full loyalty to the Muslim countries, secular and otherwise, that remain friendly to Israel. Azerbaijan plays an important role as a reliable supplier of energy, including about 40 percent of oil supplies to Israel. In exchange, Azerbaijan needs modern Israeli high technology, agriculture know-how and technology, communications and computer technology, and modern weaponry. The list goes on and on.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I am the grandson of Boris Stoyanovsky, an officer in the Soviet Army whose family was murdered by the Nazis in Ukraine, and as such participated in an International Holocaust Remembrance Day conference in Baku. What made this a unique endeavor is that I traveled to a Muslim-majority nation, the Republic of Azerbaijan, for the conference, co-organized by the Baku International Multiculturalism Center and Baku Slavic University. During the conference, my Azerbaijani friends expressed their condemnation of the cruel actions and genocide perpetrated by the Nazi fascist regime against my Jewish ancestors. During the conference’s discourse, I viscerally felt that Azerbaijanis perceived the pain and suffering of the Jewish people as their own. As a citizen of the State of Israel, it is clear to me (and the long anti-Semitic free history of Jews in Azerbaijan), that the leadership of Azerbaijan has not only incorporated attitudes toward Jews that transcends mere tolerance into its policies, but also into the fabric of its society. 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.

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 historian Rovshan Mustafayev provides extensive evidence of the Armenian units’ involvement in genocide of Jews, particularly a report of sonderkommando “Dromedar” about the operation in western Crimea; as a result of this operation, 17,645 Jews were executed. In honor of such Armenian fascists like general Dro and Nzhde, they mint coins and glorify them in both feature and documentary films. A square in the Armenian capital has been named after Garegin Nzhdeh. A cult cannot be created by some marginal political groups—it is the government that stands behind these acts. The successors of Dro and Nzhdeh are incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan and Minister Seyran Ohanyan, both of whom committed a bloody massacre in the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly in late 20th century.

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. The State of Israel, too, appreciates the role of the government of Azerbaijan vis a vis the Jewish community. Without this tradition of respect and partnership, the close bilateral relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel would not exist. Importantly, President Aliyev has earned the respect of a wide swath of Israeli society for his dedication in this realm and to the Jews of Azerbaijan. The relationships between Israel and Azerbaijan, as well as between Muslim Azerbaijanis and Jewish Azerbaijanis, cannot be explained away by simple mutual self-interest. Common values and a shared history permeate the modern relationship. Both countries are enriched by the human connections between them and a determination to live in diverse and religiously tolerant societies.

Arye Gut, head of the Israeli non-governmental organization International Society Projects, is an expert on the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.

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  • Robert

    What a typical Muslim denial story of the Armenian Genocide.. and coming from one of the worlds most human rights abusing countries on the planet, Azerbaijan!

    • Truth

      I saw in all replies, you mention ISIS. There is no any connection with Azerbaijan and ISIS. ISIS is not connected to Islam too. They just use it! In Koran it is forbiden to kill people!

      There are plent of books talks Armenian terrorism, go and read them before connecting ISIS to Azerbaijan! There has not beem any terror organisation consist of by Azerbaijanis. ASALA is your terror organisation who killed people in all around the world! Additionally, Armenia supports PKK, recently 300-400 PKK terrorists moved from Syria to Kharabakh-Azerbaijan (occupied lands by Armenia)

  • Oğuz Türk

    Thank you Mr. Arye Gut, for this informative article.
    Azerbaijan is a historical land of many Jewish peoples, and governments such as khazars. Our history tells us we are the same people, regardless of present religious diversity.
    Long live Israeli Azerbaijani friendship.

  • If Joseph ,of the Bible, did not go to Egypt, Egypt would not exist ! Joseph was Imhotep of Egypt . The God of Abraham gave Djoser , the king, ie. pharaoh a dream to save Egypt. Joseph as 2nd in command built gran storage next to the step pyramid, to save Egypt. Imhotep means the one who came in peace ! He became chancellor of Egypt. His tomb can not be found because Moses took Joseph’s bones to Mt. Sinai. So the God of the Christians & Jews is the Father/Son/Spirit & the true God of Creation of life ! We are all brothers & sisters & should be reversing Global warming , our true common enemy ; to save our home planet Earth !

  • Mehman

    To all our Jewish friends, do not listen to armenian trolls. Their aim is to spread lies and filth. Please visit Azerbaijan and see it all with you own eyes. We have been best friends and allies throughout centuries.

    • Robert

      Go back to your Muslim ISIS terrorist cave douchebag!

  • Stefan

    A friend of mine, a Jew from Azerbaidjan, told me the story of his Alyiah.

    In January 1990, still in the Soviet Union days, he and his family got the much desired exit visa from USSR.

    They sent their belongings to Israel, liquidated their household and moved in with some Muslim Azeri friends for a few days, in wait for their flight to Israel, via Moscow.

    Then the awful Baku pogrom occurred on January 12, 1990.

    The bands of Azeri marauders came to massacre all the Armenian population of Baku.

    Some “good neighbors” reported to the killers about the refugees in the apartment building and they assassins pounded on the door: “Give us the Armenians”.

    Their hosts answered: “No, they are Jews and they are leaving to Israel”.

    When the Azeri bandits were persuaded that no Armenian was hidden there, they left and that was that.

    Many Armenians were killed on that day.
    Then, the Soviet Army came and ordered the rest of the Armenians in Baku to get out of their houses with only the clothes they could carry and were walked through a corridor of Soviet troops to the Caspian sea port, where they embarked on ships bound for Turkestan, then transferred to exile in Russia and wherever.

    The truth is that the Jews lived relatively trouble-free in Azerbaidjan. There was much less anti-Semitism in Azerbaidjan than in Russia and the European part of the Soviet Union.

    The other truth is that very few Jews lived among the Armenians and there was no anti-Semitism there either.

    The third truth is that Israel has strategic interests in Azerbaidjan, commercial and otherwise.

    There is some tension between the secular regime of Azerbaidjan and their fanatic anti-Semitic ayatollah regime in Iran.
    The Iranians do anti-Israeli propaganda and organized some anti-Israeli terrorist attacks in Azerbaidjan.

    By and large, Israeli-Azeri are government and personal relations are good.

    The fourth truth is that there is no Israeli interest in Armenia: neither commercial nor strategic or otherwise.

    Armenia’s terrestrial link to its patron, Russia passes through the mountains of Georgia, who is neither a friend of Russia (to say the least), nor is it excessively friendly to Armenia.

    To East and West, Armenia has closed borders to its enemies: Azerbaidjan and Turkey.

    That’s why it keeps good relations with Iran, too good to be of any help to Israel.
    Unlike Azerbaidjan, Armenia is a country poor in economical resources and has not much to sell to Israel.

    Summing up, the conflict between Azerbaidjan and Armenia is bad, but is no business of Israel.

    We must keep good relations with both of them, avoid inference and hope for the best of the two of them.

    Wish them well.

  • This reminds me of Spain before the inquisition, when all factors living there created the Golden Era of living together. It’s good to know that the 2 hundred years of Jewish life has roots in today’s Golden Era of Azerbaijan. There will always be extremest within all countries. I hope for all their citizens to enjoy living in peace and prosperity.

  • Johanan Ben Shmuel

    What a shameful article, which in essence co-opts the narrative of a nasty dictatorship. Perhaps Mr. Gut would explain why such a tolerant and respectful country would ethnically cleanse its Armenians from its capital city in a 1990 pogrom. He would also do well to elaborate on the country’s terrible Human Rights record, or the culture of incitement against Armenians in the country today, which if anything ressembles that of the PLO. Furthermore, as Yair Auron has shown, efforts to portray the Armenians as nazis are part and parcel of the Turkish propaganda strategy to delegitimise the Armenians and minimise or deny the Armenian genocide. Even though Israel needs friends in the Muslim world, it’s better to have none if that means losing one’s moral compass.


      You better get the fact right first. in 1987 Armenians start to destroy Nagorno-Karabakh and first they start to deport Azerbaijanis from Yerevan which is historical Azerbaijani land was given to Armenia as capital in 29 may 1918. According to that when we gave Yerevan Armenians should leave their claims to Nagorno-Karabakh. But they occupied it. You are probably pro-arminian person or dont know the history. You talk only about armenians then go and look to Khojaly genocide. You dont have any rights to accuse Azerbaijan in Human Rights case as well. Because you dont know why these journalists are in prison. No they are no in prison because they are in opposition. And EU is based on total double standards. ECHR 1951 Article 9 and 10 have been violated by France when they passed regulations about fake “armenian genocide”. Go and learn history first

      • Robert

        ISIS calling you, Islamic history altering terrorist!

    • Yelena Sinitsyn

      Truth is always more complicated than black and white view of the world. I also cringed reading parts of this article but there were not good and bad sides in Armenian-Azeri conflict, both sides had their thugs and murderers, and deportation as well occurred in both countries that were Soviet republics at that time. And at the same time,many Azeris saved their neighbors, coworker, hid and helped them to escape. I was there, a know some people on both sides. As for the Aliyev clan: who can say they are the best, the country is democratic, the people are thriving etc. But look at Syria , Iraq, Libya: what good came from others interfering with dictatorship? It’s better be current peaceful imperfect Azerbaijan than Iran with it’s nuclear ambitions and ayatollahs.The attempts to force and make it better can be disastrous.

      • Truth

        Here are the reason of deportations… Armenia is a monoethnic country, have you ever asked yourself its reason? They have always been used by Russia and killed muslims. If they attack you, thrn you should also attack, there is no way… Read the article on Azerbaijanis in Armenia (former Erevan Khanate). How they killed Azerbaijanis, their ethnic cleansing, how they destroyed ancient buildings to change the history for their benefit…




      • Al Perov

        I agree, and absolutely support good relationship with Jewish nation, but Armenians also like a next door brothers, sharing culture and customs, a lot of mixed marriages.
        I believe what happened in past and going on now is not what true Armenian people want, there is no bad nation but bad , eval leaders that make nation look bad.
        Today more and more Armenians are standing up for stop the war and make a peace

    • chris taylor

      Couldn’t agree more. Well said. This is not news, this is propaganda.

    • Land Of Fire

      You know nothing.
      You are ethnic armenian.

      • Robert

        Go find your ISIS cave terrorist, viva Armenia!

  • Interested in news about this (to me) little known country, many thanks and God bless, thank you.

    • Nora Halpert

      Thank you. I never realized there was a country … who knew? It makes me want to visit. Not just because of the Jews, which I am, but even now I believe they sound like a people that have held true to their history, their culture. What Hitler did, that no one talks about, was destroy the culture of Europe wiping out entire villages, small towns that went back 1,000 years an entire European culture. He killed the soul of Europe. It’s so heartbreaking.


    Wow! Another Sheep country..HaShem bless Azerbaijan! Long Live Israel!

  • milo friesen

    How can the muslim religion of Azerbaijan be expanded to replace the violent political form?

  • Azerbaijan leads a multi-year hostile policy toward Israel. This is confirmed by a votes of this Muslim country’s representatives in the UN. All of them, without exception, were against Israel, in support for the Palestinian terrorists, and thus for the destruction of Israel and for the murder of Jews. All of the Jews. Including the author of this article.

    • Truth

      Phalestin is against Azerbaijan, because there are too many Armenians and they support Armenia, even they helped Armenia.. Why to support Phalestin?

      There are too many Jews in Azerbsijan, you do not even feel they are Jews, ethnic people live Azerbaijan as if their is no ethnic difference

  • I was unaware of this aspect of Armenian anti-jewish history .I previously supported Armenia’s case against Turkey but after reading this article I will have to rethink & reconsider

    • Stefan

      There is no Armenian anti-Jewish history.

      Even the story of the two Armenian nationalist commanders written here, Garegin Nzhdeh and Drastamat Kanayan is much more longer and complex than written here.
      There is plenty of fascinating material about them available on the web.

      All in all, nothing is white-and-black.

      We, the Israelis, must keep good relations with both Azerbaidjan and Armenia.

      At the same time, we must recognize the Armenian Holocaust and condemn without any reservation the Turkish avoidance of responsibility for the abominable genocide committed against the Armenian people.

      Nothing good comes to us from the cynicism prevalent in the Israeli political establishment in this regard.

      We will never rebuild our friendship with Turkey on the graveyards of the million Armenian people exterminated by the Ottoman Army during and after 1915. Never.
      We must uphold our ethics.
      To hell with Erdogan and Islamo-Nazism.

    • chris taylor

      Should research a bit more before changing your mind. This article is inaccurate in its portrayal of the conflict between Armenia and the historically aggressive Azerbaijan.

    • Vick

      And you believe everything you read?

    • Vivian

      Howard, This article is BS. Armenians DO NOT have an anti-Jewish history. If anything Armenians have suffered genocide just as Jews suffered holicaust and have many similarities. It sounds like someone is trying to deflect blame from themselves and label Armenians. I don’t believe this article to be true. Acts of this nature are considered shameful and unheard of to Armenian people. It’s against their faith and what they stand for. I’d like to see some proof that this is true.

    • Robert

      lol, your just a trolling Islamic Turk or Azeri,, go back to bed!

    • Truth

      Muslims were killed in that time too. All done because of Russia, Russia wanted to destroy the Empire and used Armenians. Turkey ready to open archieves, but Armenia doe not want…. I read an old article of Ter-Petrosyan (former president of Armenia) he said opening archives is againt us… It is just a propoganda of Armenians, they try to show themselves as oppressed nation… This documentary made by an American..

  • herb Glatter

    Thank you very much for this important story, it deserves more broad distribution

  • David Davidian

    Regarding Azerbaijani “tolerance”, I would suggest the readership look at the photos here: showing Azerbaijanis burning Israeli, Armenian, UK and American flags, earlier this year.

    Yerevan, Armenia

    • Mehman

      Stop your filthy armenian lies! Go troll somwhere else. This is about Jewish people and Azerbaijanis that have always been best friend ends allies. My own two neighbours are Jewhish and I pretty much grew up in their homes playing with their kids. Now I am 44 and we still maintain friendhsip.


    YASHER KOACH HA SHLEMA. Long Live Israel and Our Allies.


      yes of course you are “armenian” it is something called democracy. Probably you dont know what is judicial regulations for that after the process. So dont show it we burn and use armenain flag as toilet paper. We have highest respect to ISRAEL and JEWS. If 3 or 4 people controlled by IRANIAN EMBASSY it doesn’t mean that we have ISRAEL.