Why did chief rabbi of Russia pave his way to South Caucasus through Azerbaijan?

 A large delegation of all the rabbis of the post-Soviet area led by Chief Rabbi of Russia and the and chairman of the Federation of the Jewish Communities of Russia and Federation of the Jewish Communities of the CIS Berel Lazar recently visited Azerbaijan. The delegation included Jewish businessmen and rabbis from Russia, the Baltic States, Kazakhstan, Georgia and other countries. A joint trip to Azerbaijan served as an opportunity to share experience and establish business contacts. During his visit to the “Land of Fire” Berel Lazar visited the village of Krasnaya Sloboda in Guba district. The delegation of Russian rabbis has accompanied by a representative of the Jewish community, member of Azerbaijan’s parliament Yevda Abramov, head of the Executive Authority of Krasnaya Sloboda Pesach Isakov, director of the Jewish House of Baku Shaul Davidov.

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During the visit, the delegation got acquainted with synagogues, educational institutions, a museum, a cemetery where Admor Gurshumov, a religious figure, was buried. The guests were briefed on the history of the settlement, densely populated by the mountain Jews, the friendship and brotherhood of the Azerbaijani and Jewish peoples, respectful and warm attitude of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and the people of Azerbaijan towards the Jewish
A question arises: Why did the Jewish delegation chose Azerbaijan as their destination to visit in the South Caucasus?

    The answer is obvious as today Azerbaijan is home to the largest Jewish community in the South Caucasus. After the collapse of the USSR, Jews from many post-Soviet republics have repatriated to Israel. All post-Soviet states had similar problems, and Azerbaijan had even more. Those years saw Armenia unleash a war against Azerbaijan and capture 20 per cent of the historical territory of Azerbaijan. However, Azerbaijan was the most native and warm place to live in for many people and Jews did not want to leave this country despite the alluring opportunity of living in advanced countries. The reason is that Jews in Azerbaijan feel safer and more comfortable than in many leading countries of the world. All in Azerbaijan from President Ilham Aliyev to ordinary citizens have humane, warm and cautious attitude towards all nations, including Jews.

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Azerbaijan is the pearl of the South Caucasus, uniting the western and  eastern civilizations and pursuing a peaceful policy towards all peoples and states of the region and the whole world. Azerbaijan also follows the principles of mutual understanding and friendly relations with all nations and confessions living within the state. Various nations, including Jews, live as one family, in friendship and harmony in Azerbaijan.

    By tradition, Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the strategic partner of the State of Israel, annually addresses the Jewish community and congratulates the Jewish people on all holidays. In his recent congratulatory message on the occasion of the Rosh Hashanah, President Ilham Aliyev stressed that Azerbaijan is located at the crossroads of civilizations, that the country has preserved the traditions of multiculturalism and is one of the rare places where there is mutual

respect and trust between representatives of different faiths and cultures.

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President of Azerbaijan meets with Jewish Comminity          

The leadership of Azerbaijan have always showed unprecedented concern and warm attitude towards the traditions and life of the Jewish community of the country. With the assistance of the President of Azerbaijan, two new synagogues and the largest educational Jewish center in the South Caucasus were built in Baku. This new educational complex was built with the support of the Or Avner Foundation, a philanthropic foundation that was established by the Israeli billionaire Lev Levayev and the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, headed by First Lady of Azerbaijan, First Vice-President of Azerbaijan,  Mehriban Aliyeva. The Jewish museum, which will be the first Jewish museum in the South Caucasus, is under construction.

The attitude of Azerbaijanis towards Jews can be confirmed by facts: it
enough to look at the famous Jewish settlement - Krasnaya Sloboda located in the beautiful mountain district of Guba. The village of Krasnaya Sloboda is the unique place which is densely populated by Jews, it’s a real oasis in the post-Soviet area and Azerbaijan can be proud of it.

     Given these facts, we understand why exactly Azerbaijan became the pivotal destination in the Russian chief rabbi`s itinerary.

   Berel Lazar’s views were echoed by Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, during his historical visit to Azerbaijan in September, 2016. He said: "I know that during the Holocaust Azerbaijan became one of the few shelters and then a real home for European Jews who saved their lives and their children's lives from the Nazis.

    The notion of "Mountain Jews" seemed very abstract and incomprehensible to me, I have heard a lot about them, but I have never seen their settlements. In Guba region of Azerbaijan I saw a warm and friendly attitude of the Azerbaijani people and the leadership of the country towards the mountain Jews. I visited a beautiful synagogue in Krasnaya Sloboda and was very inspired when saw how many people came to meet our delegation and me."

   Krasnaya Sloboda is an excellent example to other countries. Azerbaijan can be proud of its achievements in the field of multiculturalism. In this region, Jews and Muslims have lived peacefully and harmoniously for centuries. Despite the ethnic cleansing and aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan, which resulted in occupation of  20% of the country's territories and emergence of one million refugees and internally displaced persons, Azerbaijan did not change its principles and became a true model of dialogue among civilizations and confessions and a hub where everyone can find common language, live amicably and peacefully. Tolerance and multiculturalism are the key foundations of the Azerbaijani society.

    Azerbaijan again and again demonstrates that harmony is possible and that any problems can be solved without the use of violence or strife. President Ilham Aliyev is distinguished by his special attitude towards different peoples and ethnic groups living in the country. He earned respect of much of both the Israeli society and the Jewish community in other states of the world for his commitment to secularism, multiculturalism and tolerance, for respectful attitude to both the Jews  and all faiths and peoples living in Azerbaijan.

     That is why Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar said: "Thank God, everything here is wonderful. We are witnessing the development, the Jewish life is also developing here, the synagogue is repaired,  museums and mikvahs are built. Therefore, I am sure that Jews will live comfortably here for many years because the leadership of the country understands that it is important that the Jewish population here feel confident. I wish all Azerbaijan prosperity, success. We will come and see how the Jewish life develops here. 

Why did the Jewish rabbinical delegation not choose the trip to neighboring Armenia? The answer is clear: unlike Azerbaijan, which is an example of multiculturalism and tolerance in the world, Armenia is the most mono-ethnic country in the post-Soviet area, where chauvinism, nationalism, glorification of fascists and anti-Semites became an integral part of the state policy of incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan’s regime.

   Anti-Semitism in Armenia is, unfortunately, an unrecognized fact. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Jewish minority and Jewish heritage have declined sharply. The end of Soviet power eliminated all restrictions, and anti-Semitic attacks and statements in Armenia increased dramatically. The continuing economic collapse of Armenia, cultural violence against the Jews,  publication of anti-Semitic books and broadcasting of television programs prompted them to flee Armenia. In addition, the decision of the Jews was influenced by the cruel attitude of the Armenians towards Azerbaijanis living on their historical land in Armenia for thousands of years as well as towards the Yezidi Kurds and other nationalities. Now it was the Jews` turn.

    The Holocaust memorial was desecrated several times in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan. Of course, many countries have experienced such anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli incidents. However, in Armenia such incidents are supported even by politicians and media representatives.

    Under such circumstances it is hardly surprising that the majority of the Jewish population of Armenia either fled from Armenia or marry Armenians not to be subjected to harassment. Unfortunately, the Armenian government does nothing to curb the growing anti-Semitism in the country. As long as Armenia pursues a policy of limited nationalism and accuses others of its own economic and political problems, the few

hundred Jews remaining in Armenia will continue to suffer.

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At the same time, the erection of a monument to the Armenian fascist and anti-Semite, general Nzhdeh in the center of Yerevan, once again confirms that the current regime created a large-scale cult of these fascists who killed both representatives of our people and Soviet soldiers. They mint commemorative coins, produce documentaries and feature films about Armenian  terrorists, include information about them in school textbooks.

   If the world community continues to turn a blind eye to the propaganda of fascism in Armenia, tomorrow the Armenian leadership can put a monument to Adolf Hitler. Meanwhile, it is the current leadership of the Republic of Armenia, and not some marginal political groups, who stand behind the creation of the cult of these bloodthirsty fascists.

    After the establishment of the Collective Security Treaty Organization Academy in Armenia, the Institute of National Strategic Studies named after Drastamat Kanayan of the Ministry of Defense of Armenia expressed its intention to cooperate with the new structure. I think, this is the end of the line, when the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the Armenian Defense Ministry is named after the fascist and anti-Semite who annihilated more than 30,000 Jews. History will never forget the cruelty of the 20,000-strong Armenian legion in the Wehrmacht during World War II, one of the founders of which was fascist Nzhdeh. “Thanks to” the Armenian Legion, Simferopol, Evpatoria, Alushta, Kerch and Theodosia, as well as other areas of the Western Crimea, were completely cleared of Jews. After this, can we indifferently look at how the Armenian fascist and anti-Semite is glorified as a national hero in present day Armenia?

    When the Armenian experts are asked why the fascists and anti-Semites like Dro and Nzhdeh are being glorified in Armenia today, they respond that this is done in order to raise the fighting spirit of the Armenian people. Do the Armenians have no other heroes than the Nazis?  Was there really no Armenian heroes of the Soviet Union in the Red Army?  We just need to understand that in Armenia glorification of fascists and anti-Semites has become an integral part of the state policy of the current leadership of Armenia. The fact that Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan participated in a ceremony to unveil the monument to general Nzhdeh confirm that they consider  themselves to be real and genuine heirs of the Armenian fascist 

 Garagen Nzhdeh.

At the same time, the erection of a monument to the Armenian fascist and anti-Semite, general Nzhdeh in the center of Yerevan, once again confirms that the current regime created a large-scale cult of these fascists who killed both representatives of our people and Soviet soldiers. However, it is good that in the South Caucasus there is such a tolerant state as Azerbaijan, which creates a balance in the region in opposition to anti-Semitism in Armenia.

    And as the chief rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar correctly noted, the Jewish community in Azerbaijan is developing, and the Jews will live here comfortably for many years, and he wished prosperity and success to Azerbaijan

Arye Gut

Political Analyst