Azerbaijan is a True and Reliable Strategic Partner of Israel in The World
By Arye Gut, Israel-based expert in international relations, head of “International projects for society” Non-Governmental Organization.
Israel-Azerbaijan partnership has evolved through the two countries’ robust cooperation in various dimensions. Israel was one of the first countries to recognize a sovereign Azerbaijan. No country in Eurasia has closer or friendlier ties with Israel than Azerbaijan.
First, Israel-Azerbaijan relations are of the strategic and military-technical partnership nature, held at the highest intergovernmental level of trust and ongoing mutual dialogue. Today, this strategic partnership is diversified into other sectors of the economy, including agriculture, hi-tech, healthcare and military-technical partnership. It should be emphasized that in the world’s marketplace, the State of Israel is one of Azerbaijan’s major strategic oil buyers.
Azerbaijan, a predominantly Shi’ite country, is also home to other ethnic and religious groups, including ancient Zoroastrian, Christian and Jewish communities. Respect and tolerance for national minorities have played a vital role in the development of the country from the days of the Silk Road to the present.
Azerbaijan experienced the biggest test after the collapse of the USSR; it was during this period that the tolerance of the Azerbaijani people has been tested for strength. Armenia, well aware of the centuries-old experience of Azerbaijan’s tolerance for national minorities on its territory, exploited the weakening of the central government of the USSR and political instability in Azerbaijan, and unleashed a war against the peace-loving and tolerant Azerbaijan. As a result of the war imposed on Azerbaijan, Armenia occupied Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions, and more than one million Azerbaijanis became internally displaced persons and refugees.
The invasion resulted in brutal massacres and ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijani civilian population. Information of the facts of violence against Azerbaijanis was reflected not only in the reports of the Azerbaijani side, but also in the reports of various international organizations, including in the reports of foreign journalists of authoritative western newspapers.
Despite the terrible bloody conflict, Azerbaijani society has preserved and even strengthened the values of tolerance and multiculturalism. Azerbaijan’s participation in the process of negotiations on the Karabakh issue is a manifestation of tolerance. The country, which has lost 20% of its territory, has been sitting at the negotiating table with the occupying country for more than 28 years. Isn’t that a sign of tolerance? Doesn’t this country have the right to liberate its territories?
On the morning of 27 September 2020, Armenia’s Armed Forces launched a large-scale attack, subjecting settlements and frontline positions of the Azerbaijani army to intensive fire from large-caliber weapons, mortars and artillery devices of various caliber, following which, in order to halt the Armenian army’s attack and ensure the security of the civilian population, the Azerbaijani army command decided to launch a rapid counter-offensive along the whole front. Because of these clashes, martial law and a general mobilization were declared in Armenia. In Azerbaijan, martial law and a curfew were declared, with a partial mobilization being declared on 28 September. The clashes escalated rapidly into the Second Karabakh War.
In the battles that followed, Azerbaijan advanced rapidly. Initially liberating a number of villages and strategic bridges, its forces had liberated the whole of Karabakh’s southern border with Iran by 22 October and they then began moving towards the Lachin Corridor on 23 October. That corridor was the only relatively major highway connecting Armenia with the so-called Karabakh entity; control of it would prevent Armenia from replenishing fuel, ammunition and military reinforcements. Until then, Azerbaijan had put the Armenian army under daytime attack from conventional artillery, mortars and even direct fire and guided missiles to halt their military convoys. During the war, Jabrayil was liberated on 4 October, Fuzuli on 17 October, Zengilan on 20 October, Gubadli on 25 October and Shusha city on 8 November.
Details of the patriotic war have not yet been fully clarified, but it is safe to say that the operation to liberate Shusha from occupation will be forever in the annals of history. The crown, the beating heart of Karabakh – Shusha is a natural fortification, so it was impossible to enter the city with tanks or other heavy weaponry. There were two options to take it. Firstly, to defeat the enemy’s forces in the city by air strikes and artillery fire. Azerbaijan’s military command did not choose that way, due to the inevitably extensive destruction of the city that would result. The alternative was hand-to-hand combat, and this was the strategy adopted.
On 8 November, Azerbaijan Supreme Commander-in-Chief Ilham Aliyev gave our people the good news of Shusha’s liberation. The winning of Shusha, in fact, decided the fate of the war. The next day came news that more than 70 villages had been liberated, and one day later Prime Minister Pashinyan was forced to sign an act of capitulation, accepting the terms of the President of Azerbaijan.
I visited these liberated territories for the first time in my life.
I have been in shock by the moral and human damage caused as a citizen of Israel and as a native of Azerbaijan. I felt as if a terrible and brutal plague had come to these lands. Not a single house, kindergarten, school, library, or museum remained. Cemeteries, mosques and churches lay in ruins. Armenian looting and vandalism wiped Aghdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil and Zangilan off the map.
What used to be streets and houses were now only doorways, columns, and scattered window frames. All of the ruins were overgrown with trees. The ruins looked ancient, like the remains of some long-gone empire. Aghdam in particular was living evidence of how a population with almost 130,000 people was transformed into a heap of unnecessary stones.
I often asked myself how anyone who loves life could do such a thing. How they could deliberately destroy and desecrate everything sacred and human, whether they be museums, libraries, mosques, churches or even cemeteries. The Armenian forces that occupied Nagorno-Karabakh did not even respect the dead.
I saw the mausoleum of Panah Ali Khan, the founder and first ruler of the Karabakh Khanate. It was turned into a barn, where they kept cows and pigs in it. They destroyed, dug and stole the grave of the famous Azerbaijani poet Khurshudbanu Natavan. What remained looked very scary. Moreover, such a sight was everywhere.
These vandals with particular cruelty destroyed the cultural objects in the liberated territories that make up the cultural heritage of Azerbaijan. For 27 years, they purposely destroyed all traces of the Azerbaijani cultural heritage in Aghdam and other occupied regions. This included important items related to the history and culture of the Azerbaijani people that were “systematically plundered and destroyed, including works of art, cultural works, world-famous carpets, memorials honoring prominent figures in Azerbaijan and other items that were on display in museums.
In these territories, the Armenians looted and burned 12 museums and 6 art galleries, as well as 9 palaces of historical significance; 40,000 exhibits of rare historical significance were plundered; 44 temples and 18 mosques were desecrated; 927 libraries were destroyed. Over 4,600,000 copies of books and rare handwritten manuscripts were eradicated.
Today, the Azerbaijani system of multiculturalism has been able to withstand the test of strength, maintain true harmony and dialogue between religions and ethnic groups in Azerbaijan. Using the example of Jews, I want to say that Azerbaijanis have never considered Jews to be foreigners.
For 2,600 years, the Jewish people have never faced harassment, insults, pogroms and antisemitic actions on the territory of modern Azerbaijan. Every Jew who has ever been to Azerbaijan can confirm that Jews living there can safely attend the synagogue without going through security cordon, walking around the city in national clothes and hats. To do the same even in some developed Western countries today is almost impossible and very dangerous.
We do not interfere in the sovereign rights of peoples to interpret our history, historical past and perpetuate the memory of our national heroes. However, we should not be silent when people involved in the monstrous crimes of the Holocaust turn into national heroes.
From my point of view, the installation of a monument for Garagen Nzhdeh in Yerevan once again confirms that a large-scale cult of these fascists has been created in modern Armenia, destroying both representatives of my people and Soviet soldiers. As an Israeli citizen, I can only proudly say that the leadership of Azerbaijan and personally of Aliyev demonstrate a great degree of respect and reverence for Jewish community. Under the patronage of President Ilham Aliyev, two synagogues, and the largest Jewish educational center in the South Caucasus have been built. The first Azerbaijani Jewish museum is planned to be created, which will be the first Jewish museum in the South Caucasus.
The world-famous village of Krasnaya Sloboda, Guba region – “Caucasian Jerusalem” in the north of Azerbaijan, which is considered the only settlement of compact Mountain Jews outside of Israel, is the real pride of Azerbaijan. Jews and Azerbaijanis have lived peacefully, harmoniously, like brothers in this region.
The State of Israel also highly appreciates the role of the Azerbaijani leadership in relation to the Jewish community. Without this tradition of respect and partnership, close bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Israel hardly existed.
Relations between the two, as well as between Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani Jews, cannot be explained by simple mutual interest. Common values and common history permeate modern interstate relations. Both countries are enriched with human ties and determination to live in diverse and religiously tolerant societies.