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April 10, 2016 6:28 am

A Memorial For a Jew in a Muslim Land: A True Story

avatar by Israel Barouk

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Gagik Avsharyan's restored T-72 tank stands as a memorial commemorating the capture of Shusha. Photo: Wikipedia.

Gagik Avsharyan’s restored T-72 tank stands as a memorial commemorating the capture of Shusha. Photo: Wikipedia.

The Martyrs’ Lane in Baku, Azerbaijan, begins as an ascending walkway of white stone. Visitors and mourners pass rows of shiny, polished walls, ensconced with slate grey markers — these are graves or memorializations of the victims of wars, massacres, and other hardships felt by a young growing democracy.

Walking through the memorial, I stopped to pray at the grave of a particular soldier. Albert Agarunov, an Azerbaijani National Hero and renowned tank commander, was one of the last standing soldiers during the invasion of the Azerbaijani town of Shusha by Armenian troops. On May 7, 1992, at the age of 23, Albert left the safety of his tank to maneuver the vehicle around the bodies of victims, literally laying in the street, in order to protect and respect their memories. He was on the ground,directing his tank to drive around the bodies of fallen men, women and children when a bullet took his life.

Albert was an Azerbaijani Jew, and he is one of the nation’s most celebrated war heroes. Raised in a large family of Mountainous Jews in Baku, Albert was known for being a good son, brother, and friend, and a hard, cheerful worker. When Azerbaijan was attacked by invaders in the early 1990s, all Jewish residents had the option to move to Israel, Europe, or US to avoid both the incoming violence and serving in the armed forces. As with so many other Jews, Albert decided to stay when his ancestral country was experiencing some of the most difficult times of its history.

Albert volunteered to join the Azerbaijani Armed Forces, and became one of the most effective operatives in the fight to protect the country from brutal invasion, ethnic cleansing, and occupation. Albert was so adept as a sharpshooter that the invading militias put the largest bounty on his head, above the price of any other soldier they were hunting.

Albert’s story is practically overwhelming. Albert was a Jewish man who is a celebrated as a war hero in a Muslim country, which is a fact to trump all paradigms about Muslims and war, Jews and war, and most fundamentally, what is possible between Muslims and Jews living together as a community. This story goes way beyond a peaceful co-existence.

Since the legend of Albert Agarunov is a true story, it also serves as hope, inspiration, and a profound source of pride. The lessons of Albert’s heroism are magnified by the lessons we can learn from the nation for which he served; a Muslim nation that has always lived harmoniously and in equality with a diverse population of Jewish people. May this story inspire us all.

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  • mimi

    How did Abraham from the bible did equality between his wife Sarah who she was his first cousin and her maid Hagar the 2nd woman to Abraham?

  • mimi

    Israel first of all is a jewish land before it get to be Palestinian. I can say over and over and over.

  • Victor

    “Muslims Terrorists” are only the ones that a threat to Israel. The rest we arm them irrelevant whom they kill. To close the arms deal, we write little cute propagandas stories.

    • GZ


  • Ayda

    People die during wars. Please keep in mind that Armenians were in war to get their lands back. Lands that were taken by Stalin and handed to Azeris. The Jewish soldier was in the army but was not fighting for a just cause. Thousands of our young men died to get back our land. Human life is precious regardless of their religion. Glad to hear that you are so impressed by the respect they paid and are giving them a lot of recognition but know that you can’t find one Jew in the Northern Iran where Azeris live because they will not allow any Jews to live in their towns.

    • Russ

      This Is A Lie

    • Russ

      Dirty methods the Armenian propaganda

  • Yalchin

    Azerbaijani mountainous jews are inseparable part of todays Azerbaijani nation.
    BTW, Great thanks to Israel for high tech weapons which saved dozens of Azeri soldier lives during April war campaign against Armenian aggressors.

  • D Cripps

    In no attempt to detract from the actual goodwill of Azerbaijani Muslims toward Jewish people, I suggest that this is likely linked to the low support for sharia-law in that country. In Pew’s 2013 poll on “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society”, only 8% of the Azerbaijani Muslims polled favoured making sharia-law the law of their country…

    Where there is support for sharia-law there is belief in Islamic supremacism, and denigration of ‘the other’, along with oppressive doctrinal-based laws toward non-Muslims.

    • Excellent insight and connection!

  • Marie Halperin

    What an amazing story! Mazel Tov. The Azerbaijani-Jewish friendship is a ray of light and hope in the entire darkness we have in the wider Middle East.

  • Ephraim