The Azerbaijani-Israeli friendship has reached new heights since Azerbaijan opened up its embassy in Tel Aviv. In an exclusive interview with the Jewish Press, Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to Israel Mukhtar Mammadov stressed that his country seeks to have positive relations with all of its neighbors including Iran: “We have a big Azerbaijani community that has been living in Iran for centuries. More than 25 million Azerbaijanis live there.”
However, due to Iran’s attack on his country’s embassy earlier this year, he noted how the relations between Azerbaijan and Iran deteriorated significantly: “One security guard lost his life and two others were wounded. This was an organized terror attack. In response, the Azerbaijani government evacuated the embassy staff. Since then, we have had tense relations. As a result, our relations are at the lowest level in their history.”
He called on the Iranian government to prosecute all of the perpetrators of the attack upon the Azerbaijani Embassy earlier in the year.
When asked about the plight of Azerbaijanis living in Iran, Ambassador Mammadov emphasized that it is important for Azerbaijan that Azerbaijanis living in Iran keep their human and civil rights: “They should have the right to live and work in dignity,” he said, adding: “We want good relations with every country. We are negotiating, even though our lands were taken by force, by aggression, and by violence. We decided to use any peaceful means that are possible.”
But Ambassador Mammadov noted that Azerbaijani patience has its limits: “If we are forced to and are dragged into war, Azerbaijan will defend itself,” he warned.
Mammadov insisted “Azerbaijan will never allow any country to impose its will on with force. We are ready to have stable relations with any country that’s ready for it. It is an expression of our goodwill to want to live in a peaceful neighborhood and to make it prosper. If they want peace, we will reciprocate. If not, we are ready to tango.”
Mammadov described the parallels between Azerbaijan’s national leader Heydar Aliyev and Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion:
“Both men arrived on the scene during the most difficult times in their respective countries. Both committed their lives, all their energies, and all their efforts, to making their countries stronger, surviving challenges and threats, and making their countries better places for their people to live. And both strove to help their compatriots who were living in diasporas.”
The Azerbaijani Ambassador noted many parallels between the Jewish and Azerbaijani Diasporas as well: “In both countries, more of their people live abroad than in their homelands. Both nations care about the rights of their brethren in the diaspora. For the past thirty years, Azerbaijan has been engaging with the Azerbaijani diaspora in several countries.”
The Azerbaijani Ambassador described how multi-culturalism has been part of Azerbaijan’s DNA for centuries: “We have more than 40 different ethnic groups living in the territory of Azerbaijan. They never experienced any kind of persecution or feeling of ethnic hatred or religious hatred. Our country never has had anti-Semitism. We do not have it now and I am sure that we won’t have it in the future. If you go out on the streets of Azerbaijan, many people do not know what the word anti-Semitism means because it is alien to the local culture. It has been our national policy to have people of all faiths go to their respective places of worship and pray for religious holidays and any other special days. They can speak their language at schools in Azerbaijan. We teach the different languages of the different ethnic groups. Because of learning Azerbaijani, people study Russian, Hebrew, Kurdish, and so on. Some of them have their own media outlets as well.”
“We organize many events in different parts of the world presenting Azerbaijani multi-culturalism,” he continued. “In today’s world, when there is a rise in antisemitism and other forms of prejudice, a rise in ethnic hatred in many parts of the West, anti-racial discrimination, there is a country where you don’t have any of it. This is a model that many countries can take as an example. This is something you cannot export overnight, but it is something that we can share with the world.”