Azerbaijan’s long history of tolerance is a model for modern times
WithÂ SyriaÂ mired in open revolt, several other Middle Eastern and North African countries still reeling from the Arab Spring, andÂ IranÂ at loggerheads with the United States over its nuclear program, it was astounding to hearÂ Israel’s president refer to a Muslim country this week not as a problem but as part of the solution.
The occasion was a visit toÂ IsraelÂ by Azerbaijani Foreign MinisterÂ Elmar Mammadyarov, accompanied by a large delegation of Azerbaijani Jews, including a Jewish member of the parliament. WhileÂ Mr. Mammadyarov’s trip this week was historic – it marked the first visit toÂ IsraelÂ by an Azerbaijani foreign minister – the rhetoric was not.Â Azerbaijan’s long-standing friendship withÂ IsraelÂ – and its support for the two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – have been policy for years.Â IsraelÂ has even askedÂ AzerbaijanÂ to help broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Unbeknownst to many,Â Azerbaijan, a secular country with a predominantly Muslim population that sits on the United NationsÂ Security Council, has had a close relationship withÂ IsraelÂ since the beginning of its independence from theÂ Soviet UnionÂ a generation ago. Indeed, it might surprise many to know thatÂ Azerbaijan, with a Shiite-majority population and a shared border withÂ Iran, supplies some 40 percent ofÂ Israel’s oil. A subsidiary of theÂ State Oil CompanyÂ of Azerbaijan Republic is aidingÂ Israel’s quest for energy security by drilling off the Israeli coast in the Mediterranean. The countries also have a close partnership in the defense sector.
During a period when old grudges and prejudices color nearly every global event,Â Mr. Mammadyarov’s visit toÂ IsraelÂ is a hopeful sign. It’s refreshing when two countries with diverse cultural backgrounds make common cause and become friends, rather than hew to tired stereotypes that seem to define every facet of the modern world order.
The strategic relationship betweenÂ AzerbaijanÂ andÂ IsraelÂ is held together by a human story.Â AzerbaijanÂ is home to a thriving Jewish community of about 30,000, which has lived there in peace for at least 2,000 years. When, over the centuries, Jews in the surrounding regions found themselves persecuted, they foundÂ AzerbaijanÂ a haven. During World War II, many European Jews escaping Nazi persecutions found shelter inÂ Azerbaijan.
Over the years since independence,Â AzerbaijanÂ also has proved to be a staunch and reliable ally of the United States and Europe. The Caspian region is increasingly important to the West as the strategic juncture between the Middle East and Central Asia, and Baku has become a strong regional partner at this critical intersection.
My country has long been dedicated to promoting stability and security in its neighborhood.Â AzerbaijanÂ has played a vital role in supporting the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan and has been providing valuable overflight, refueling and landing rights to 40 percent of the material that coalition forces …read more