“This is an historic visit,” President Shimon Peres said on Monday, when
greeting Elmar Mammadyarov, who is the first foreign minister of Azerbaijan to
visit Israel, even though diplomatic relations between the two countries were
established exactly 21 years ago.
By contrast, Peres visited Azerbaijan
in June 2009 to strengthen and expand strategic and political ties between
Israel and the largest country in the Southern Caucasus region; and last year MK
Avigdor Liberman, in his capacity as Israel’s foreign minister, also visited
Azerbaijan, at which time he met with the nation’s leaders, including
Mammadyarov, who has been in office since 2004.
Mammadyarov arrived with
a sizable delegation, including five members of the Jewish community. In
alluding to the old joke that “when there are two Jews, there are three
opinions,” he said that he had brought five Jews representing eight
His delegation also included a member of
Peres said that Mammadyarov’s visit officially promotes the
good relations between Azerbaijan and Israel.
Mammadyarov conveyed the
regards of President Ilham Heydar to Peres, who said that not only did he know
the present president of Azerbaijan, but he also knew his father, Heydar Aliyev,
who was president from 1993 to 2003.
Peres added that he admired both,
and described Aliyev as “a very special leader” who did everything possible to
ensure that Azerbaijan would become a nation in its own right and not submissive
to anyone else.
He said that both father and son had shown “outstanding
character and courage.”
Peres expressed his confidence that Azerbaijan
would become a major player in its region, and forecast that it would have a
great future, based both on its human wealth and its natural resources,
particularly as it is now developing in advanced areas of science and
Even though Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, the history of
its Jewish population goes back for many centuries, and the Jews of Azerbaijan
have never experienced persecution.
Indeed, during the Second World War,
Azerbaijan was a haven to those European Jews who were able to get
Peres commented on the good relations between the political
establishment and the Jews of Azerbaijan.
Trade between Israel and
Azerbaijan, which is one of Israel’s principal oil suppliers, has grown to
something in the realm of $125 million, rising to $4 billion with the inclusion
of energy, and may increase substantially, as discussions between Mammadyarov
and the Israeli leadership will include energy and trade relations in addition
to political, economic, scientific and technological cooperation.
commonalities between the two countries, Peres said that Azerbaijan takes a
clear stand against terror and war and wants to introduce peace in a troubled
area that is not yet free from terror and violence.
In this context,
Peres emphasized that Iran – which is one of Azerbaijan’s neighbors – is funding
terror, developing nuclear weapons and casting a heavy shadow over the entire
Peres commended Azerbaijan for its policy of peace,
independence and culture.
Mammadyarov declared his country to be
independent and prosperous, with a multi-cultural society.
is sensitive in formulating policy, he said, and believes firmly in goodneighbor
However, it continues to have problems with Armenia with
regard to “the notorious conflict and occupation of our
Nonetheless, Azerbaijan continues to abide by United Nations
resolution 822, unanimously adopted on April 30, 1993, which urged Azerbaijan
and Armenia to cease hostilities, resume negotiations and bring an end to the
Mammadyarov said he hoped that the Armenians realized that a
good neighborhood is not based on occupation.
“One of the reasons for our
good relations with Israel is that you recognize our problems,” he
There are approximately 40,000 people of Azerbaijani origin living
in Israel while maintaining close ties with the country of their birth, said
Mammadyarov, who credited them with helping to expand business opportunities in
Azerbaijan is interested in expanding its economic
relations with Israel, he said, to which Peres responded that cooperation in
science and technology looks very promising.
Peres also remarked that
while it was good to have a policy of good neighbors, “the neighbors need to
have that policy too.”