Photo Credit: Ambassador George Deek
An Azerbaijani child outside the Israeli embassy in Baku which is adorned with flowers and candles, October 9, 2023.

In the wake of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Azerbaijan’s national leader Heydar Aliyev, the founder of the independent state of Azerbaijan, the documentary “The Great Leader and the Jews” was displayed to residents of the Mediterranean coastal city of Netanya. Student journalist-singer Layla Valayev opened the presentation by greeting the audience with the song “Heydar Xalqim will say.”

In the presentation, the presenter Manjana Ahmadova noted that Israel remembers Heydar Aliyev’s important role in establishing friendly and strategic relations between our countries. Constantly learning and applying his heritage, he hoped to be the greatest example of Muslim-Jewish friendship to be shown to the world. Afterwards, the audience was shown “The Great Leader and the Jews,” which was well-received.


In the film, as the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy, I stated: “Heydar Aliyev, the national leader of Azerbaijan, is a great leader of the Jewish people. He is one of the greatest allies that we have ever known in the Muslim world. Heydar Aliyev from the moment he rose to power reached out to Israeli leaders, like Shimon Peres, Benyamin Netanyahu. He met with them. He envisioned that one day there would be an Azerbaijani Embassy in Tel Aviv. In the 1990s, he even gave a speech to American Jewish leaders where he said that this was going to happen in the near future.”

I added: “Unfortunately, because of the political situation, it did not happen when he was alive. But it was implemented by his son, the wonderful President Ilham Aliyev. But the vision of Heydar Aliyev was to have an Azerbaijani Embassy in the State of Israel. Why did he want an Azerbaijani Embassy in the State of Israel? Because he knew that Jewish people were living in Azerbaijan beside the Muslim people there in peaceful harmony. He envisioned a multicultural Azerbaijan, where different religious groups, races, and ethnic groups live together and peacefully coexist, greet each other on their holidays, etc.”

I continued: “It was always his tradition to greet Jewish people on Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah. He even fought against the Soviets who wanted to destroy the matza making machines. When he liberated Azerbaijan from the yoke of Soviet tyranny, he even restored the synagogues and built new ones, and gave them back to the Jewish people. He was a great leader who wanted the Jewish people to live happily in Azerbaijan. He was very sad because of the yoke of Soviet tyranny, after the grave massacre on the 20th of January, that many Jewish people left Azerbaijan because of the oppression that the Soviets did against them. And he wanted them to come back”

I noted: “He was very proud about how Jews from Azerbaijan were spreading Azerbaijani culture, language, customs to different parts of the world, including in Israel. He would have been proud when he saw how Azerbaijani Jews were protesting in Israel in solidarity with Azerbaijan at the height of the corona pandemic in the Second Karabakh War. He would have been very proud of that as he was always proud of the special bond between Azerbaijani and Jewish people and for this reason, it is very important for us in Israel to honor the legacy of Heydar Aliyev as he is a good friend of the Jewish people and his son, the President Ilham Aliyev is continuing in his wonderful legacy. I am very pleased to have said that I was at the grand opening of the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tel Aviv in Israel, the vision of Heydar Aliyev which was implemented by the great President Ilham Aliyev.”

Prominent Middle East scholar Dr. Mordechai Kedar added in the film: “The time of Heydar Aliyev as president of Azerbaijan is defined by a good life for Jews in Azerbaijan. They feel equal and with full rights. They feel like everyone else. The activity of Heydar Aliyev for the Jewish community in Azerbaijan is excellent and every country should emulate the attitude of Heydar Aliyev for the Jews in Azerbaijan. The attitude between the Azerbaijani government and Israel is deeply connected to the attitude of Heydar Aliyev to the Jewish community in Azerbaijan. These are two combined issues.”

According to him, “Thanks to President Heydar Aliyev, Jews feel comfortable in Azerbaijan and the relationship is so great. We celebrate the 100 years of the birth of Heydar Aliyev and I think that his name should be carried by everyone and his memory as well. Ilham Aliyev continues the attitude of his father between Israel and Azerbaijan and the attitude of his country towards the Jewish community. I wish the Aliyev family to be prosperous as it was till this very day.”

Saadat Shukurova Israilov, head of channel 24, vice president of the International AzIz organization and chairwoman of the Donna Gracia Center for Diplomacy, stated in an interview: “Azerbaijan is the world’s center of tolerance. We observe this in everyday life. As we know, Jews have been living in this land for more than two hundred years without claiming any land. The fact that Jews with a similar destiny and roots call the land of Azerbaijan the Motherland, with their great love and sympathy, shows that there was never any anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan. Moreover, Azerbaijanis of Jewish origin, regardless of the country they live in, promote their Motherland Azerbaijan in a good way”

According to her, “In fact, the Great Leader Heydar Aliyev said that Jews have two hearts, regardless of which country they live in. One heart beats for their country, and the other for Israel”! The Great Leader also always expressed the opinion that “Jews can always live completely freely in the land of Azerbaijan”. In connection with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Heydar Aliyev, the founder of the independent state of Azerbaijan, prominent politician and statesman, and the declaration of 2023 as the “Year of Heydar Aliyev”, I decided to make a documentary film called “The Great Leader and the Jews” in Israel. And the film has already been made in 3 languages.”

She stressed: “I would like to mention that when Heydar Aliyev established the modern state of Azerbaijan, the policy of tolerance was chosen as the main criterion, and Muslims living in Azerbaijan, as well as other religions and beliefs, were respected and respected. He is a genius who went down in history as the savior of the Azerbaijani people.”

Israelov noted how Heydar Aliyev, “the founder of the Republic of Azerbaijan, will always live on the pages of history as an outstanding politician and statesman. I think that Heydar Aliyev’s legacy should be constantly studied and applied. Because Heydar Aliyev is a great friend of the Jews and Israel, I, as an Azerbaijani of Jewish origin, devoted a great deal of space to the promotion of relations between Israel and Azerbaijan. I consider it my duty to carry out the work assigned to me by filming and promoting the documentary film “The Great Leader and the Jews.””

She concluded: “I would like to note that Netanyahu’s warm attitude towards Heydar Aliyev, his support of Aliyev as a political leader and, as a result, today’s all-round relations between Azerbaijan and Israel are no secret to anyone. Heydar Aliyev has an exceptional role in the development of these relations. As a Jew, I want to express to the world, by making a documentary film, evaluating Heydar Aliyev’s attitude towards the Israeli people and his right decision, that there is no difference or importance of nationality in order to be friends and brothers.”


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Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and an Israel-based journalist. She is the author of "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media."