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

After Azerbaijani forces retook Shusha, the cultural capital of the Azerbaijani people and a peace agreement was signed that was favorable to Azerbaijan, Azerbaijanis, both in Azerbaijan and the Diaspora, have been waving Israeli flags at every available opportunity, as a token of appreciation for both Israeli humanitarian assistance and the weapons that Israel sold them, which tipped the strategic balance in their favor.  No other Muslim nation except for the Kurds has ever waved the Israeli flag across the streets of their nation.   This right here demonstrates how much Israeli-Azerbaijani relations are blossoming.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated when he visited Baku, “The world sees so much intolerance, so much darkness, and Azerbaijan is an example of what relations can be and should be between Muslims and Jews everywhere.”   After all, Azerbaijan is the only country on the planet where Jews feel so secure that they do not bother to lock up the synagogues at night, for anti-Semitism is that alien to Azerbaijani culture.  Nevertheless, despite this reality, there are some pundits writing articles in the Israeli media, claiming that Israel’s support for Azerbaijan was a strategic blunder.

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These pundits claim that Azerbaijan attempted to commit a “genocide” in Nagorno-Karabakh against its Armenian inhabitants and that the Jewish people who survived the Holocaust should not support that.  However, what these pundits fail to realize is that such false claims actually work to minimize the atrocities that were committed by the Nazis, for Azerbaijan did not commit any genocide, much less a holocaust, in Nagorno-Karabakh.

When truth be told, Azerbaijan had the ability to reconquer the rest of Nagorno-Karabakh and to expel its Armenian inhabitants.  Instead, they decided to opt for a peace agreement, where they would reclaim all seven Azerbaijani districts that Armenia seized in the 1990’s alongside part of Nagorno-Karabakh, including their cultural center in Shusha.  In return, the Armenians would be able to hold onto part of Nagorno-Karabakh, benefit from the blockade ending, and would all be able to stay in their homes under Azerbaijani control, thus receiving assurances that their lives, property and livelihood would be protected.   This does not sound like a “genocidal” state to me in the slightest and any claims that Azerbaijanis committed a “genocide” do nothing more belittle the memory of Jews and others who survived a real genocide.

These pro-Armenian pundits claim also that Nagorno-Karabakh is historically part of Armenia.  However, four UN Security Council Resolutions—822, 853, 874 and 844—recognize that the Nagorno-Karabakh region is part of Azerbaijan and that Armenia should unconditionally withdraw from these territories.  Nevertheless, over the past thirty years, Armenia has been subsidizing settlers to relocate to this region that legally does not belong to them, after one million Azerbaijanis were ethnically cleansed from the area following the Khojaly genocide.

The Khojaly genocide was a horrific crime against humanity that took place in 1992.  According to Rabbi Israel Barouk, 613 people were massacred in Khojaly and 487 others were severely maimed over the course of one day, merely for the crime of being Azerbaijani: “Of those who perished, 56 were killed with particular cruelty: burning alive, scalping, beheading, gouging out of the eyes, bayoneting of pregnant women through the abdomen.” Rabbi Barouk added that 1,275 Azerbaijani civilians from Khojaly were also taken hostage by the Armenian forces, who tortured, maimed, and raped them.

Nevertheless, while up until very recently displaced Azerbaijanis were barred from returning to their homes, according to Elina Mkhitaryan from the Nagorno-Karabakh Territorial Administration and Resettlement Department, since 1993, Armenians who wished to relocate to Nagorno-Karabakh were given “financial incentives for land cultivation and cattle breeding.  Their relocation costs were also paid for.”

This is a direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which explicitly bars the transfer of a civilian population to an area that was conquered in a war.   The Fourth Geneva Convention was specifically created to prevent another genocide like the Holocaust, where Germans vanquished six million Jews yet had German settlers move to the area of conquest.  However, Armenia directly violated this important international law and until recently had barred one million Azerbaijani refugees from returning to their homes, while deliberately settling Armenians from the diaspora and Armenia proper in their place.

Every indication demonstrates that the recent conflict was a war of self-defense for Azerbaijan, not a genocide.  From July till the signing of the peace agreement, Armenia wantonly targeted civilian population centers in Azerbaijan with the goal of harming innocent citizens, which is a war crime.  In fact, Human Rights Watch even confirmed that Armenia slaughtered Azerbaijani civilians using cluster munitions.  Azerbaijani Prosecutor General Kamran Aliyev recently wrote to the UN Human Rights Council, proclaiming: “As a result of the Armenian Armed Forces’ shelling of the second biggest city of Azerbaijan Ganja with ballistic missiles on October 4th, 5th, 8th, 11th and 17th, 26 civilians, including six children and 10 women, were killed while 142 people, including 32 children and 57 women, were injured.  Ganja, with a half-million population, is more than 100 kilometers away from the conflict zone.”

He added: “The Armenian Armed Forces at different periods fired on the Azerbaijani strategic facilities, including the Mingachevir hydroelectric power station, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipelines, the Oguz-Gabala-Baku water pipeline, and others.”  According to the Azerbaijani government, between September 27 and the signing of the peace agreement, 93 civilians were killed and 407 others were injured.  Furthermore, 504 civilian facilities, 3,326 private homes and 120 apartment buildings in Azerbaijan were also damaged due to Armenia wantonly targeting civilian population centers.

Considering this, how can Azerbaijan be the aggressor?  After all, Azerbaijanis were suffering just like Israelis do in Sderot and Ashkelon.  The fact that the Armenians lost the war big time and also suffered does not make it a “genocide,” just as the so-called Palestinian Nakba was no genocide.

Some of these pundits deny that anti-Semitism is a problem in Armenia, claiming that it is Azerbaijani propaganda.   However, when truth be told, members of the Armenian community called me a “Zionist terrorist” and a series of other profundities, merely for writing in support of Azerbaijan.  Similarly, Irina Tsukerman, a Jewish international human rights lawyer, also suffered from a series of anti-Semitic insults due to her support for Azerbaijan.

In fact, not too long ago, Yediot Achronot reported that Vladimir Pogosyan, an Advisor to the Chief of the Armenian Army General Staff, compared Israel to Nazi Germany and threatened: “We will not forgive anyone, and we will not forget whose hands are covered in Armenian blood. The day will come, and we will take revenge. Israel, Turkey, and other countries built the Azerbaijani army. And what did they achieve by that? We will win! Have no doubt about it.”

This was not the first time that Armenians waged blood libels and other anti-Semitic attacks against the Jewish people.  In 1553, an Armenian woman spread a rumor that the Jews sacrificed Christian blood at their Passover Seder in Amasiya.  Several Jews were imprisoned, tortured, and were hanged.  In the end, the Armenian who was supposedly murdered by “bloodthirsty Jews” was found and the Turkish government prosecuted the accusers.  Moses Hamon, the sultan’s personal physician, then succeeded in getting a fireman from the Turkish sultan, which prohibited Turkish judges and prosecutors from prosecuting blood libel cases.   The Turkish sultan made this decision during a time when blood libel accusations against Jews were alive and well across the Christian world.

As Efrat Aviv wrote in Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Turkey: From Ottoman Rule to AKP: “In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the loathing of Armenians and other Christians towards Jews stemmed from religious and financial motives and was thus probably stronger than that of Muslims.  Jews were subject to attacks by Christians.   Jews passing through Christian neighborhoods occasionally risked physical assault; sometimes Jews were accused of ritual murder.  As a result, Jews generally preferred to settle near or within Muslim neighborhoods.”

Later in 1918, a group of Armenian nationalists massacred around 3,000 Mountain Jews in Guba during their murderous genocidal rampage that sought to clear ground for the establishment of an ethnically pure Armenia.  Arye Gut, the executive director of the Azerbaijan House, wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “A total of 15,036 Mountain Jews lived in Guba before the genocide.  20% of them were murdered. In his research, Professor Rovshan Mustafayev wrote about these atrocities, pointing out that not only materials collected by the Extraordinary Investigative Commission under the chairmanship of A. Khasmamedov testify to the discovery of the names of murdered innocent Jews. Reliable factual materials preserved in the personal archives of the Jews who had survived the tragic events of the early 20th century also bear evidence of the crimes of the Dashnak gangs against the Mountain Jews. Honorable pensioner Yakov Ilich Abramov keeps valuable materials that testify to the criminal atrocities committed by Hamazasp’s criminal collaborators against the Jews of Guba region in May 1918, in order to realize the mythical idea of Armenians – the formation of the ‘Greater Armenia.’”

A pro-Armenian academic recently noted that Yad Vashem recognizes 11 righteous gentiles from Armenia, who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust, as proof that Armenians are not anti-Semitic.   While these 11 Armenians should be commended for their bravery, their heroism still does not make up for the fact that 20,000 Armenians assisted Adolph Hitler in implementing the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, where they rounded up Jews and massacred them.   Furthermore, in the 1930’s, in the critical period leading up to the Holocaust, Armenian-American media outlets such as Hairenik claimed that Jews were a “poisonous element” and referred to the slaughter of Jews as “surgical operations.”

In contrast, the World Jewish Congress noted that there are Ashkenazi Jews, who fled the Holocaust and settled in Soviet Azerbaijan, which was known to be a more religiously tolerant area inside the Soviet Union.   Furthermore, Hamza Sadygov, an Azerbaijani military officer in the Red Army, captured Nazi General Johann von Roddenburg, who conducted experiments on Jewish children.  This Azerbaijani officer in the Red Army also is known to have saved 30 Jewish families from the Nazis.

And he was not alone.  More than 600,000 Azerbaijanis fought with the Red Army against the Nazis during World War II.  In fact, some brave Azerbaijani women such as the partisan Aliya Rustambeyova, Ziba Ganiyeva, Almaz Ibrahimova and Captain Shovkat Salimova fought against the Nazis with the Red Army as well.  Azerbaijani forces assisted the allies in the Defense of Brest Fortress, the Siege of Leningrad, the Battle of Moscow, the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Kursk, and the Battle of Berlin.  Azerbaijanis also fought against the Nazis in the Battle of the Caucasus, thus bringing to a halt Hitler’s plan to capture Azerbaijan and to deprive the Allies of Azerbaijani oil.  Azerbaijani oil decisively helped the Red Army and thus the other Allied nations to defeat the Nazis during World War II, as they supplied the Soviet Union with 80 percent of their oil.  This ultimately helped to save the existence of the Jewish people as a nation.

Furthermore, today, while Azerbaijanis wave Israeli flags and boast about how much they value their local Jewish community, in the center of Yerevan, there is a monument glorifying Nzhdeh, one of the Armenian SS officers, whom the Armenians consider to be a national hero.   According to the Pew Research Center, 38% of Armenians would not permit Jews to be citizens in their country.   Furthermore, the Anti-Defamation League noted that 58% of the Armenian population holds anti-Semitic views.   At the same time, in a recent protest in front of the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles, the Armenian Youth Federation compared Israel to Nazis Germany, proclaiming: “Israel is complicit in war crimes and genocide,” which constitutes a modern day blood libel accusation.    And yet, some pundits claim that “there is no anti-Semitism problem in Armenia,” even though the Holocaust memorial in Yerevan has been vandalized twice.

It is essential to emphasize that modern-day Armenia is a proxy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is the number one state sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East.  While some Armenians tried to note that Azerbaijan also has trade relations with Iran, there is a big difference between trading with Iran and being a proxy of Iran.

An Azerbaijani government official emphasized that Azerbaijan’s trade relations with Iran are merely part of their policy to pursue positive trade relations with every country in the Middle East region and that they are not strategic at all, noting that Azerbaijanis still have not forgotten nor forgiven how Iranian negotiators created the necessary conditions for Armenia to invade the Nagorno-Karabakh region in the 1990’s.   Nor is the Azerbaijani government happy with the fact that the Iranian government repressed Azerbaijanis seeking to protest in solidarity with them nor do they like how Iran has been giving logistical support to Armenia.

While some media pundits claim that Armenia supports Iran merely because they are a land-locked country without that many allies, I think that it is a bit more than that.  An Iranian dissident, who grew up among Armenians in Iran, stated the following regarding the Armenian people: “The Armenians never liked Israel.  The Iranian Islamist and communist brainwashing worked well for this community.  Right now, due to the open borders between Iran and Armenia, a lot of Iranian Shias live there and as I heard, they love Iranians.”   In contrast, most Azerbaijanis do not “love” the Islamic Republic of Iran.  To the contrary, they view Iran to be a strategic threat, even though they feel the need to trade with them to preserve regional harmony.

In conclusion, I continue to support Azerbaijan as she implements the new peace agreement, despite what some media pundits may write.  I do so for Azerbaijan is a tolerant multi-cultural country with zero anti-Semitism, while far too many Armenians are anti-Semitic.  I do so for Armenia is a proxy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, while an Israeli official confirmed that Azerbaijan has aided Israeli intelligence operations against Iran.

I do so for while Azerbaijanis wave Israeli flags in gratitude, the Armenian Prime Minister goes on anti-Israel rants and one of his officials even went as far as comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, an action that led to an anti-Israel spectacle in front of the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles.  And I do so for international law is on the Azerbaijani side, while Armenia’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh violated four UN Security Council resolutions.   For all of these reasons, I will continue to be an outspoken advocate for the Azerbaijani cause, even if it is not popular in some circles.

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Rachel Avraham is a senior media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent for the Israel Resource News Agency. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”
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