Op-Ed: To Azerbaijan, With Love
In what Muslim country did the chief of police of the capital city tell the Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Director of the Conference of Presidents of major Jewish organizations (“Conf. of Pres.”) that it’s “totally okay and safe” for him to wear a yarmulke openly in the capitol’s streets?
Well, if you guessed Iran, you guessed wrong, and need to read a bit more Arutz Sheva News. The answer is Azerbaijan. A country, (I’m embarrassed to admit), I really didn’t even know how to spell until this week.
I more clearly discovered this beautiful country Tuesday when I attended a press briefing at the Conf. of Pres. for the Azerbaijan Ambassador to the United States, Amb. Elin Suleymanov. Of course, I brought as a welcome gift to Amb. Suleymanov, a 3-dimensional topographic raised-relief map of the entire Middle East (not my 3-d map of Israel).
Amb. Suleymanov’s eyes sparkled when he first saw the map, because he immediately saw he had a new way to explain the strategic importance of Azerbaijan, and he said I “especially love this map because I’m a geographer.” But then with an unusual politeness and kindness, he looked at me and said, “Would you please sign the back,” which I of course did.
But while he loved my map, I loved him and what he had to say about Azerbaijan, his country of 9.5 million, mostly Shiite, people.
In short, he said Azerbaijan is “proud of its Muslim heritage, but is a staunchly secular country.”
Azerbaijan has had a continuous Sephardic Jewish presence “in the mountains” for almost 2600 years. During World War II, Azerbaijan was a relatively safe haven for Ashkenazi Jews who were fleeing Nazi occupied Russia.
Azerbaijan is enjoying a “reverse aliyah” (in his words), where successful Azerbaijani Israelis are returning to Azerbaijan as a second home, and real estate prices in the Jewish area are the highest per square foot in the world!
When the 1990s Azeri revolution from the former Soviet Union occurred, Jews as well as Muslims defended their new Azerbaijan against Russian guns and died. The leading Azeri Islamic Sheik, the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, the Chief Sephardic Rabbi, and the leading Russian Orthodox Priest, all marched at their funeral.
In Azerbaijan, he stated there is no anti-Semitism but cooperation and respect for all religions.
Amb. Suleymanov explained that Azerbaijan is the only country in the world to share a border with both Russia, to the north, and Iran, to the south. And as such, Azerbaijan serves as a critical independent and free east-west corridor from east to west, and vice versa. Through this corridor go critical Caspian Sea reserves of gas and oil to the West.
In fact, Israel receives 40% of her current oil supply from Azerbaijan. So, for Israel, Azerbaijan is an indispensable critical ally. He stated Israel and Azerbaijan share a “deep defense cooperation.”
As for America, Azerbaijan serves as a key defense supply-node from the west to American troops in Afghanistan. So, Azerbaijan is saving and protecting both the lives of American soldiers in the field, and Israeli lives by fueling Israel’s air defense against attack.
It is especially important that despite Azerbaijan’s ability to sell their gas at a “good price,” and with really no pipeline capital investment costs, to Russia immediately to the north, Azerbaijan has taken the strategic decision to invest its sovereign capital in a pipeline to the west. He explained the reason Azerbaijan took this risky step is that they see themselves as becoming part of Europe, both economically and politically.
Azerbaijan sees its future with the western pluralistic societies which value freedom and democracy.
As for its Iranian neighbor to the immediate south, there are 30 million Azeris in northern Iran, so the relationship is not an easy one. Azerbaijan is extremely secular and as such, Iran sees it as a threat to its severely religious rule. When Iranians see thriving Azerbaijani Shiites in bikinis enjoying the world, they have to ask themselves “why are we dressed up in these costumes?”
Unfortunately, there is not only Iranian jealousy, but also, of course, Iranian terrorism. Iran tried to bomb Azerbaijan hosting of the Eurovision contest (the American equivalent of “American Idol.”) The Iranians didn’t send people to boo the singing, but instead sent them to explode bombs against the singers. The Azeris armed forces had to have military frogmen patrolling the area to stop Iranian commandos from infiltrating the area and attacking the contest site.
In my great surprise, I discovered that Catholics of Armenia are Iran's and Syria’s allies against Azerbaijan. In fact, Iran enabled and assisted the Armenians in attacking the Sovereign Azeribaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990’s. Over 800,000 Azeribaijanis became refugees. And instead of terrorism, Azerbaijan has continued to attempt all manner of peaceful resolution with Armenia, but to no avail.
I only wish everyone reading this could have seen and heard Amb. Elin Suleymanov to understand that there are good Muslims. There are, it seems, many well-meaning Muslims. There are Muslims who want a better and brighter Western pluralistic enlightened future for their children. But more urgently, there are good Muslims fighting a live battle against the waxing evil of bad Muslims.
The good Muslims vitally need our support and help.
As I wrote earlier, Amb. Elin Suleymanov exuded warmth, truth and goodness. And when he asked me to sign my name on the back of my 3-d map, I wrote “To Azerbaijan, with love.”