As Jews celebrate Hanukkah across the world, I cannot help but see many parallels between the situation in Agdam following the Second Karabakh War and the Maccabees reclaiming the Temple in Jerusalem following their revolt against the Seleucid Greeks. For me, the recent liberation of Agdam is a modern-day parallel for our liberation of Jerusalem thousands of years ago on Hanukkah.
During the Seleucid Greek oppression, the Jews were denied the right to study Torah, to do circumcision, to eat kosher food, and to observe Shabbat and holidays. In fact, the Talmud even related that Antiochus IV even insisted upon raping Jewish brides before granting them the right to marry. The Seleucid Greeks desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, forcing the Jewish people to sacrifice pigs and other unclean animals there. As a result of this grave oppression, all Jews who believed in the sanctity of the Torah deserted the cities and hid in the caves, where they revolted against the Ancient Greeks, so that they would obtain the freedom to live as Jews once again.
While ancient Judean cities became void of G-d fearing Jews under Seleucid Greek rule, the city of Agdam became a ghost-town and was desolate under Armenian rule. Indeed, the destruction witnessed in Agdam was more like what the Jewish people experienced following the suppression of the Bar Kochba Revolt in 135 CE, when the Jewish people were ethnically cleansed from Jerusalem utilizing brute force by the Roman occupiers.
Arye Gut, the executive director of the Azerbaijan House, stated recently: “Before the occupation in 1993, the city had a railway station, numerous educational institutions, a theater, beautiful gardens, historical monuments, wonderful samples of culture and architecture. Here lay the only Museum of Bread in the former Soviet Union, where, according to the Ministry of Culture of Azerbaijan, there were exhibits dating to antiquity and the Middle Ages – which included samples of fossilized grains, types of rare cereals, books related to agriculture, valuable manuscripts, ancient tools, etc. All this was barbarously destroyed.”
“More than 100 architectural monuments, 80 cultural and historical monuments, mosques, and rare manuscripts were destroyed and subjected to vandalism,” he added. “According to a report by the US Refugee Committee, of the 153,000 residents of Agdam, 128,584 became internally displaced persons. Today, there are only deserted streets overgrown with weeds and the ruins of destroyed buildings. The city has been plundered and burned. The smoke from the fires was visible from 20 kilometers away.”
However, while the occupation of Agdam was more like the Roman destruction following the Bar Kochba Revolt for it represented the complete destruction of a society rather than merely the Torah-fearing members of society, there are still some parallels to the Hanukkah story regarding the liberation of Agdam. Like the Seleucid Greeks in antiquity, the Armenians placed pigs in Azerbaijani mosques and desecrated Azerbaijani places of worship. And after 27 years of being a ghost town, the Azerbaijanis who used to live in Agdam have returned to their city. Just as the Maccabees cleansed their temple in Jerusalem, the Azerbaijanis visited the remnants of one of their mosques and held a prayer service there, for the first time in 27 years. Furthermore, like the Maccabees, they are cleaning up the place and trying to rebuild after the destruction, so that their people can live there once again.
Yehuda in the Book of Maccabees proclaimed, “Nothing can prevent G-d from saving us, whether we are few or many. It is not great numbers of soldiers or heavy weaponry that brings us victory in a war. It is rather a spirit of valor, one that stems from true faith. We are fighting for our nation and our Torah, whereas they are coming upon us with haughtiness and evil, to destroy us, our wives, and our children and to take our property. The G-d of our fathers will not abandon us. He will smite them before us. Arise, my brothers! Go out and fight without fear.” In the end, the Maccabees prevailed against the Seleucid Greeks and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem to G-d, for they fought with a spirit of valor.
Similarly, the Azerbaijanis were fighting to reclaim their ancestral lands that historically belonged to them in a war of self-defense and G-d granted them victory. Azerbaijani President Ilhan Aliyev also hailed the restoration of control over the areas as a historic achievement: “All citizens of Azerbaijan, representing different peoples and religions, live in peace and good neighborliness. We all lived with one dream and now we fulfilled it. We won a victory on the battlefield and on the political arena, and that victory opens a new era for our country. It will be an era of development, security and progress.”