Rachel Avraham
Rachel Avraham Courtesy

The relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan is getting stronger. About one month ago, Azerbaijan approved a tourism cooperation agreement with Israel. Around the same period of time, Israel and Azerbaijan signed an agreement on air transport. And not too long ago, it was reported that Azerbaijani and Israeli film-makers are cooperating to produce a documentary on the Mountain Jewish community in Oghuz.

Azerbaijan’s Tourism Office even held a carpet display, which highlighted the talent of the Mountain Jewish community in Guba, Azerbaijan.

There, they displayed the artwork produced by Azerbaijani Israeli artist Rami Meir, who is famous for depicting the lives of Mountain Jews in his art. Meir was born in Baku and attended the Baku Art College, where he specialized in embossing artistic objects and jewelry. Later on, he would move to Israel, which would inspire him to recreate the history of the Jewish people in Azerbaijan.

The Mountain Jews are Jews who are indigenous to Azerbaijan, who have been living in the Caucuses nation for centuries. They are the descendants of Persian Jews from Iran. Mountain Jews took shape as a community after Qajar Iran ceded the areas in which they lived to the Russian Empire as part of the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813 Some say that they are descended from the Lost Tribes who left Israel after the Destruction of the First Temple in 587 BCE. They are members of a rural Jewish population which used to live in isolated communities up till the beginning of the twentieth century. For this reason, Meir’s artwork shows beautiful lush greenery and average Jewish people working, as this is how the Mountain Jewish community in Azerbaijan lives.

Azerkhalcha took some of his paintings and artistically wove them into carpets, which colorfully display different aspects of Jewish life in Azerbaijan. The three carpets that highlighted Meir’s work at Azerbaijan’s Tourism Office included “The Almighty,” “Pomegranate Garden” and “Guba Carpet Weavers from Red Settlement 2022.”

In a recent press release, Azerbaijan’s Tourism Attaché Jamilya Talibzadeh said, “We are thrilled to host such an honorable artist in Israel. Heritage, tradition and culture as well as authentic arts are some of the main factors attracting tourists and Azerbaijan has these in abundance. We are specifically aiming to draw attention to the Jewish heritage and its roots in Azerbaijan with Rami Meir’s impressive work.”

Talibzadeh proclaimed at the event: “We hope that by being impressed by the carpets displayed here, you will be eager to visit Azerbaijan.” Talibzadeh added on her Facebook page: “People in legends dream about flying carpets taking them far far away. We suggest you take a direct flight to Baku and make your dream come true.” The carpet display at Azerbaijan’s Tourism Office highlighted the Quba region’s Jewish heritage and how much the Azerbaijani government values its Jewish citizens, by having its national carpet company take an Israeli artist's paintings, and make them into carpets.

At the event, Asmar Abdullayeva, the creative director at Azerkhalcha, one of Azerbaijan’s main carpet producers, declared: “Our carpets have a very rich history. It is not just 10 years or 20 years. It is about three big periods of our history, before the Soviet period, the Soviet period and after independence.” The older the carpet is, the higher the value of the carpet on the market. For example, carpets from the Soviet period today are more expensive than carpets that were produced after Azerbaijan became an independent state.

Unlike many of the carpets that are produced today, Azerbaijani carpets are handmade, with women sitting on the floor and weaving them for hours on end, all throughout the day. In some cases, it can take years to weave these carpets. Carpets are a major part of Azerbaijani culture. Abdullayeva proclaimed: “Carpets are something that we take with us all through our life. When the kids are born, they get new carpets. When they move out of home and get married, it is one of the valuable pieces that we present as gifts. Of course, we move our carpets throughout our lives. Everywhere we go, we take family carpets. It is our family tradition. All of our moments in the past are represented in the carpets. This is the spirit of the carpet. It is not just something beautiful in the house. It is about energy and our life.”

According to Abdullayeva, “Since Azerbaijan became independent, our government opened a company that exports throughout the world high quality hand-made carpets. This is because they have a very complex certification process.” Azerkhalcha helps foreigners through this complex certification process. Whenever one purchases an Azerbaijani carpet, one must register the purchase with the Antiquities Authority, who will produce a special certificate saying that the Azerbaijani government authorizes this individual to take this particular carpet outside of Azerbaijan. This is because carpets in Azerbaijan are considered a national treasure, which needs to be cherished and protected.

Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”