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Azerbaijan: Israel's #1 trade partner from independent states of former Soviet bloc

Imagine yourself to be a majority-Shiite-Muslim, Turkic nation bordered by Turkey, Iran, Armenia, Russia, and Georgia. Then picture yourself as a close neighbor and friend to the not-so-small Jewish community that has called your country home for more than 2,500 years. Many outsiders cannot quite fathom your close relationship with the nation of Israel. But then again, most outsiders cannot fathom the status quo of the entire Caucasus region, which you call home. Popular and media accounts run roughshod over the region’s historic and contemporary complexities, with diaspora interests running the show much of the time.

Some activists in the well-organized Armenian diaspora question the Azerbaijan-Israel relationship on cultural as well as on pragmatic grounds. One of these activists got it extraordinarily wrong in an article recently published in The Forward. These advocates question the strong trade relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel, in which the former receives military and technological support in exchange for oil. Little attention is paid to joint agricultural and technology ventures to name a few. Does Israel, they ask, really want a well-armed Muslim neighbor on a border with volatile Iran? Israel they claim instead should seek an alliance with Armenia. They base their argument on presumed historic ties and parallel histories—and mutual bad experience with Turkey.


Positive ties between the Jewish people and the Turkic nations extend far back into history. Sultan Bayazid II in the 15th century opened his doors to Jews when they were expelled from Spain. Many positive examples of Jewish-Turkic cooperation appear later, in the history of the Ottoman Empire.

Lesser known to the most of the world than the Turkish Jewish story is the record of Muslim-Jewish cooperation and friendship that exists in the religiously moderate Azerbaijan. In what is considered to be the only all-Jewish town outside of Israel, Jews have lived in the so-called Red Town of Quba in northern Azerbaijan since at least the sixth century. Many Jews who have left Azerbaijan for Israel still feel a strong connection with Azerbaijan; many of these so-called “Mountain Jews” return regularly to Quba and identify in Israel as Azerbaijani Jews.

Jews who have come to Azerbaijan over centuries have played key roles at the top levels of government, in culture, in business, and indeed throughout society. An estimated 25,000 Jews live in Azerbaijan today, and the Jewish aspect of Azerbaijani society is openly expressed if not embraced by Azerbaijanis of many backgrounds. Like any multicultural society, Azerbaijan has its share of individuals and factions who act prejudicially. Still, anti-Semitism has been nearly non-existent.

Some Armenian writers have cited the Armenian massacre at the hands of Turks in 1915 as a common experience of genocide with Jews in Israel, particularly those who experienced the Holocaust. Such an argument ignores the well-documented Armenian acts of aggression against Azerbaijanis during the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Particularly gruesome was the 1992 mutilation and murder by screwdriver and all manner of barbaric means—some would say an intended genocide—of Azerbaijanis in the Khojaly Massacre. Several leaders of this massacre, some of whom are today leaders in Armenia, including the Armenian president, have not been brought to justice.

Also as part of the record of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenian forces destroyed numerous cultural treasures of Azerbaijan’s long history in this cradle of Azerbaijani culture. It is difficult to reconcile that fact with the attempt to show Armenian and Jewish compatibility.

The Azerbaijani side of the Nagorno-Karabakh story is that more than 20% of their land is under occupation by Armenian forces. Without question, Armenians and Azerbaijanis have done bad things to each other over the decades since this conflict began. But a visit to Azerbaijan will reveal numerous Armenian residents—there has been a sizeable population for centuries. A visit to both Armenia and occupied Nagorno-Karabakh will reveal no Azerbaijanis, and no Jews, respectively. Refugees from both these places—Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh—will be found in the hundreds of thousands (roughly 1 mil) in Azerbaijan.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in fact does help to explain why Azerbaijan seeks allies who can offer support in the face of Iranian and Russian support for Armenia. But complexities of the relations between and among all these countries obscure reasonable analyses meant for the “average reader” in the West. The strongest voices prevail in reports on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

As the Azerbaijani diaspora makes its voice heard, the West will begin to understand better Azerbaijan and the Israeli-Azerbaijani connection and hence many aspects of life in the larger region. The Western media, one hopes will begin to delve beyond the talking points that emerge in article after article. The thinly veiled stereotyping of an oil-rich majority-Muslim republic should dissipate. In its place one hopes to see thoughtful depictions of a modern nation with a rich capacity for tolerance and forward thinking. Certainly Israel and other U.S. allies do well to pay attention.



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Diana Cohen Altman is Executive Director of the Karabakh Foundation, a U.S. 501 (c) 3 cultural charity foundation focused on Azerbaijan and the rest of the Caucasus. A former museum director, Ms. Altman teaches and writes about Azerbaijani Jewish history.


  1. Sumgait, baku, kirovabad, margara.. are we forgetting the massacres of armenian civilians? Are we also forgetting khojaly was a launching station for shells that targeted stepanakert civilians? Many of which who already escaped Azerbaijani pogroms? Are we also forgetting the 3,000 Armenian khachkars (cross stones) at the cemetery in julfa, nakhichevan that were destroyed by Azeris? Some of those khachkars datesd back 1200 years.. But azeris claim Armenians never lived in nakhichevan and this was there way to destroy our history and heritage. Like barbarians they broke them with sledgehammers. Why don’t you report this diana Cohen Altman?

  2. Azeris are proud of this fact that anti-Semitism does not exist within this Muslim majority country, and the country and its leadership believe that they set the example in creating an environment where anti-Semitism simply does not exist. The population believes that its Jewish communities are Azeri Jewish communities and have co-existed and lived peacefully in the country for over 2,000 years.
    Any attack on our Jewish communities is regarded as an attack on all Azeris and the environment for hate, intolerance and bigotry towards minorities, simply does not exist. This is not to say that the country does not have its political difficulties, though this extends to the territory of Nagorno Karabakh and is a territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
    Azerbaijan’s co-operation with Israel also extends significantly in a range of areas and its leadership continues to develop stronger ties. Yet, what is clear is that Azerbaijan does not see its influence exerted in its region through the use of force and takes the position of quiet diplomacy and the use of the military is simply not an option for a country that values and cherishes its independence and its way of life in what has fast become a turbulent region due to strategic and resource based interests.
    Azerbaijan and Israel have much in common. Both are states that have developed recently in history and who have a rich heritage. Both states have also been through conflict and are small geographically and in terms of their population. As an example of what can be achieved through bilateral relations, Azerbaijan is leading the way in ensuring Muslim and Jewish relations.
    Let us hope that the future also brings peace to all, for all Palestinians, Israelis and neighbouring countries in the region.

  3. Ms Altman,

    Some Armenians understand that Israeli relations with any neighbors on the external periphery of Arab states was one of the tenets of Ben-Gurion and Sassoon – Israel's Periphery Doctrine. And why not, it was in Israel's interest, even if that doctrine is now dead. Other Armenians expect perceptions of a Jewish moral high ground and ethics to guide Israel's foreign relations. These are foolish expectations since neither steer any state's foreign policy. Let's look some other place for an explanation.

    Israel receives about forty percent of its oil from Azerbaijan and is the top supplier of high technology weapons to Baku. Azerbaijan has stated that these weapons will be used to liberate Nagorno-Karabakh from the native Armenians who fought and won the right to live on those lands. Who cares about people who fight for the right to live on their ancestral lands. To sweeten this economic relationship, some Jewish publications have begun advocating Azerbaijan's anti-Armenian state policy. Many such publications have not bothered to investigate what they report and thus will end up on the wrong side of history. Such are the vagaries of expediency. Major Jewish groups in the US engaged in similar advocacy, lobbying for the Turkey state against US recognition of the Armenian genocide. This lobbying appears to have ended. The result of such policy and others that included military and security cooperation with Turkey, Israel actually profited from interfering with and thus delaying justice in this crime against humanity.

    Yerevan, Armenia

  4. Bedors Hajian I`m not Azerbaijani but I was born in Baku . In regards to the land that God has promised Israel, Genesis 15:18 declares to Abraham, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.” God later confirms this promise to Abraham’s son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob (whose name was later changed to Israel). When the Israelites were about to invade the Promised Land, God reiterated the land promise, as recorded in Joshua 1:4, “Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea on the west.”
    According to Genesis 15:18 and Joshua 1:4, the land God gave to Israel included everything from the Nile River in Egypt to Lebanon (south to north) and everything from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River (west to east). So, what land has God stated belongs to Israel? All of the land modern Israel currently possesses, plus all of the land of the Palestinians (the West Bank and Gaza), plus some of Egypt and Syria, plus all of Jordan, plus some of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Israel currently possesses only a fraction of the land God has promised.

  5. Khojaly is used a political prostitution weapon in the international arena by Aziks and Israelis. There is no truth to Khojaly other than the documented fact, by Azeri journalist Chingiz Mustafayev, that the Azerbaijani army used its own people, Az citizens, as a buffer to prevent the Armenian soldiers from attacking their post. This plan did work, Armenian army did not attack the buffercitizens. They shelled their own citizens to display the massacre as an Armenian led aggression 1/2 km from the Azik post, whereas the Armenian line was several kilometers away from this site, which had NO artillery. However such artillery was stationed in Khojaly by Azeri troops, as Khojaly was specifically used as a high ground site to shell the innocent Armenian civilians of Stepanakert.

  6. Bedors Hajian Paliestine being a nation in the past, cough, cough, interesting. It was only a district name given by the Romans. Can anyone name a leader of the "palestinian" people before 1900?

    Can anyone name one single "palestinian" or even just an Arab city built or became a city between 715AD and 1900AD during the Islamic occupation of land of Israel?

    Face the facts, the arabs have not built anything. They captured the existing historical cities and settled in them, (typical, and we witness this in Europe today) but they have never bothered to build any new city for 1200 years. so a "nation"?

    The palestinian people was invented by the presence of the Jews in Israel. They have no previous borders – The land was British before 1948, and Turkish before 1917 for several centuries.

    Judea and Samaria (or the "west bank" – heck, "they" don't even have a name of their own to describe that piece of land?) were occupied by Jordan for 19 years between 1948 and 1967 and the arab residents had an automatic Jordanian citizenship. How come the "palestinians" did not revolve against the Jordanians? Oops. They were Jordanians. Jordan has cancelled their Jordanian citizenship only when it ceded its territorial claims on Judea and Samaria in July 1988, more than 20 years after losing the land to the Israelis.

  7. This is obviously another propaganda job well accomplished with Azerbaijani oil money. Too bad Jews buy this nonsense. Armenians and Jews have a far greater and older history than Azeris will ever have. During the pogroms on Armenians , Jews too were targeted by the Azeris but hey oil money can buy any sort of propaganda nowadays so why bother right…

  8. we lived in this land for thousand of years. We are the descendants of Atropatena people, Albanians, Medes, many different Turkic tribes (who lived in the Caucasus since very early ages – read your own history books – Khorenatsi, Faustus of Byzantium, Yeghishe, Sebeos) etc. We created Albania, Shirvanshahlar, Atabeks, Karakoyunlu, Akkoyunlu, Safavid states in this land. Does it hurt you that we call our land "Azerbaijan"? tell me about 200 000 Armenians who were brought into Caucasus by Russians only in the 19th century. enough. enough of your hatred towards us. remember you Armenians lived in peace under the Muslim rule in history (until foreign forces started to manipulate and use you Armenians against us).

  9. Clearly Armenian groups sharing racist views and hatred against Azerbaijanis and Jews are unhappy of thriving relations and strong partnership between the State of Israel and the Republic of Azerbaijan. It suffices to read some of the comments left by Armenian readers regarding the present piece to witness once again profound contempt and animosity towards these two friendly nations. Those groups have been trying to question the Azerbaijani-Israeli relations by raising unfounded claims, as it was the case lastly at the above-mentioned piece published at The Forward. Diana Altman’s overview of the strong bonds between a Muslim-majority nation and a Jewish State vehemently rejects Armenian assertions on the nature of those relations, and in addition, she compellingly debunks Armenian lies and falsifications regarding the ongoing illegal occupation of Azerbaijani lands by Armenia and reminds the atrocities, including a massive ethnic cleansing and cruel massacres carried out against civilian Azerbaijani population, historically settled in those territories.

  10. To Jewish Press dot com,

    You are doing a huge disservice to your readership by not verifying what you print, even if you have a savvy audience. Ms Alman claims no Jew live in Armenia. This is absolutely false. Even Armenia's first president's wife was Jewish. I refer readers to a statement last month by the leader of Armenia's Jewish community in:

    This calls into question the rest of what Ms Altman wrote.

    Yerevan, Armenia

  11. This article is one the rare attempts to dissemintae the true facts and opinions on the postion of Azerbaijan. I think this is why, from the comments, we can see that armenians are in panic and so warried about. Normally they have power in US to disseminate any false statements and wrong opinions which always blames Azerbaijan in almost everything. We can see those attitudes again in the following comments of armenians. Just want to thank the author for the attempt to fight for the justice and truth!

  12. Actually, the facts are true ones. Thanks for this. Armenians remains monothnic country in Caucasus commiting ethnic cleasing many nations as well as Azerbaijanis. But the justice will restore.very soon we will take back our lands-Karabakh, afterwards will go directly azerbaijanis historical land -Irevan (Yerevan).

  13. “The ASALA terrorists who seized the Turkish consulate in Paris in September 1981 told the police that they were trained in Palestinian camps. Evidence exists that ‘extremist [Palestinian] fraction’ collaborated with ASALA in its bloody attack on the Ankara airport in August 1982. After its forces overran the PLO strongholds in Lebanon during the summer 1982, Israel reported that captured PLO documents confirmed the ASALA-PLO connection.
    A detailed ‘Wall Street Journal Report’ stated that ASALA ‘trained with radical left-wing Palestinian groups (the PLFP and the PDFLP) and sent more than 100 members through Fatah’s schools for foreign terrorists in Hamouriah, south of Damascus, in Syria.”
    Michael M. Gunter, “Transnational Sources of Support for Armenian Terrorists,” “Conflict Quarterly,” V-4, Fall 1985, p. 34.

  14. Great video about armenian terrorism…

    Maxime Gauin a French historian specializing in the late Ottoman history and the Kemalist revolution talks in this video about specific topics relating to the Armenian case. He talks about the Turkish archives, how the Armenian organizations like the ARF (Dashnak) use the 1915 events as a political tool rather than actually to commemorate the victims or to encourage historical research and he talks about the origins of the recent Turkish lobby. Furthermore, he also talks about many other topics.

  15. "They base their argument on presumed historic ties and parallel histories—and mutual bad experience with Turkey." İt is unsuccesfull compare. First of all there are not antisemitism in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan people more tolerant for Jevish community than Armenian

  16. I do understand..and the author understands propaganda well in is skillfull at painting the picture she gets paid for…..what excuse is there for destroyng ancient artifact grave yeards and claiming the ancient history of your neighbor as your own……..Armenians have contributed much to the Turkish people..Armenian without Armenia has been their goal and it has cost the victems their way life and security……..

  17. I wish you didn't believe that ..a small group like the Armenians can only be in a position of fear and defense….there has never been any respect by the race that conquered them hundred of years back…Armenian survived with a bowed head and they are still trying to survive among powerful hostility.

  18. Long live Azerbaijan-Israel friendship!

    In the history Armenians were always betrayers and were used by different powers. This is a only nation survived by selling their women bodies in churches, committing crucial crimes and accepting terror acts normal in their religion. Many of them always served Satan and they were victim of Satan. Even now in California, San Francisco many of them are slaves of Satan. Even Zionists know that and hate them.

  19. Well organized article on Israel-Azerbaijani relationships. All above stated and said is right. Me, as an ordinary Azerbaijanian agree on everything what is posited in the article. In case of "armenian shock" after the posted article, I can say that it is pure jealousy and illiteracy, logical and historical lack in brains and behavior of Armenians as a nation. I do hope that Israeli support for Azerbaijan, both government and nation, will last forever.

  20. Another brain-washed tartar thinking that it has any history or culture of its own, or anything to be proud of. Even your oil industry was started by Armenians. Your primitive envy and hatred towards Armenians only shows how primitive you remained.

  21. You are a fine one talking about jealousy and illiteracy. A so called nation, without its own language or alphabet. Perhaps you could enlighten us when was the first Azeri book published? 1924 or later?

    Uneducated, primitive people you are.

  22. Ms Nigar,

    Oh, so the Armenians betrayed the people of Azerbaijan and were untrustworthy traitors. Is that why they were expelled en masse and then had to fight for their lives, or do you refer to a similar policy regarding Jews in Nazi Germany? You were unclear in your comment.

    Yerevan, Armenia

  23. Yuriy Aleksander you member of betrayer nation, I am a Zionist not taitar and I am proud of being Zionist. Soon you will see how you get ed off by Azerbaijan-Israel which you called "taitar"s. Even your false education and history can not find out who were Khazars and Khazarian Empire. Get the hell out of here or otherwise We ll send you there.

  24. The statements and assessments on the Khojalu events made by some
    high-ranking Azerbaijani officials, human rights activists, journalists, and
    inhabitants of Khojalu refute completely the false theses of Baku.

    Thus, Azerbaijani human rights activist Arif Yunusov writes: "The town and
    its citizens were deliberately sacrificed to the political goal" (Zercalo
    Azerbaijani newspaper, July 1992).

    Following is the testimony by Tamerlan Karaev, in due time Chairman of the
    Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijani Republic: "The tragedy was committed by
    the Azerbaijani authorities, specifically – by a top official" (Mukhalifat
    Azerbaijani newspaper, April 28, 1992).

    Even Heydar Aliev admitted that "the former leadership of Azerbaijan is also
    guilty" of the Khojalu events. According to Bilik-Dunyasi Agency, yet in
    April 1992, he expressed an extremely cynical idea, "The bloodshed will
    profit us. We shouldn't interfere in the course of the events".

    Later, when representatives of the Popular Front came to power, Azerbaijani
    former Minister of National Security Vagif Guseynov stated shortly before
    his arrest that "the January events of 1990 in Baku and the events in
    Khojalu are the doing of the same people", hinting at some political figures
    from the Azerbaijani Popular Front.

    The abovementioned facts testify unambiguously that the Azerbaijani party is
    guilty of the civilians' killing in Khojalu, having committed a monstrous
    crime against its own people for political intrigues and power struggle.

    It is noteworthy that the number of victims stated by the Azerbaijani party
    increases from year to year. A few days after the neutralization of the fire
    points in Khojalu, the number of casualties stated by the Azerbaijani
    officials made 100, increasing in a week to 1234; according to the
    parliamentary commission's "specification", it made 450, and in Heydar
    Aliev's decree "On the Azerbaijani Genocide" the casualties were estimated
    at thousands.

  25. Shame on any person, specially Jews who deny the Armenian Genocide.

    The following have affirmed the historical fact of the Armenian Genocide:
    The International Genocide Scholars
    The Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide (Jerusalem)
    Institute for the Study of Genocide (NYC)
    126 historians from different nationalities
    The European Parliament
    Council of Europe
    World Council of Churches
    European Alliance of YMCAs
    Permanent Peoples' Tribunal
    22 Countries

  26. We would not know about the Turkish concentration camps where Armenians were starved to death if it was not for a movie made by a German photographer. Hitlers Nazi party took these as an example to follow in Jewish extermination and thought the rest of the world would not care as they had ignored the Armenian murders.

  27. Yuriy Aleksander Let me remind you majority of Azerbaijanis are Turkic descent. And our language is Turkish… Unlike your statement, We do have our own alphabet . (search for Old Turkic Alphabet).
    Most Western countries use Latin doesnt mean they have never had their own alphabets…
    Please come up with different ideas 🙂
    Im letting you decide about who is uneducated and primitive 🙂

  28. 80-90 years Armenian Diaspora could lying the world about Azerbaijan realties. In General they tried as much as possible to prove Azerbaijani an nation bloodsucker and usurper. Of course this direction was failure at the end. Starting Haydar Aliyev and successfully policy develop by Ilham Aliyev direction showed all the world Azerbaijan reality. Approximately 500 years friendship is best example and best answers to all questions about our nation character!!Jewish community feel their self very comfort and free without any pressure and discrimination in all times history. The only example is Azerbaijan whereas have not any discrimination other nations in country. The religions, ideas is free in Azerbaijan.

  29. Another Turkish, Azeri revisionist propaganda article!
    In April 1992, the first President of Azerbaijan Ayaz Mütallibov during an interview with a Czech journalist Dana Mazalova confessed that Azerbaijani opposition was guilty of the Khojaly tragedy, and that Armenians had left an open corridor for the citizens to pass through before attacking. This was the last "mistake" of Ayaz Mütallibov, which produced a fertile ground for Aliyev to accuse him in betrayal. Later, Ayaz Mütallibov had to resign and flee from the country. the interview is archived and what Ayaz Mutalibov said can be verified.

    Why would any country have dealings with Azerbaijan, a country with one of the most and worst human rights abuses run by Islamic dictator!

  30. Armenians have contributed much to the Turkic people..and were known for their loyality,,but with due respect mam, it is the ego in man that wants to attack the weak and no nation is free of evil rulers…read the newspapers of that time..governments lie regularly….pride kills…..

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