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On Opposite Sides: Jews In Azerbaijan & Armenia Are Living In Fear Amid Caucasus Conflict

On Opposite Sides: Jews In Azerbaijan & Armenia Are Living In Fear Amid Caucasus Conflict 1
People take refuge in a bomb shelter in Stepanakert, the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. Armenia accused Azerbaijan of firing missiles into the capital of the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, while Azerbaijan said several of its towns and its second-largest city were attacked. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

The Jewish communities in Azerbaijan and Armenia say they are living in fear due to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, a complex conflict with many players, including Turkey, Russia, and Iran and even Israel, which is the top supplier of weapons to Azerbaijan and receives 40% of its oil supplies from the Muslim country.

“The situation is exceedingly difficult in Azerbaijan now,” said Rabbi Zamir Isayev, the representative of Vaad L’Hatzolas Nidchei Yisroel in Azerbaijan and the director of the Baku public Jewish school, according to a report by The Jewish Press. “The Armenian Armed Units have been bombing civilian population centers. They fired rockets at Baku even from the territory of Armenia proper. They tried to bomb the most important power station in the country.”

“We are afraid that the rockets from Armenia can damage shuls and the local Jewish community’s buildings,” he added. “We are very much concerned that Armenia could deliberately target the Jewish community, just as they are harming other civilian population centers in Azerbaijan. Because the local Jewish community supports their government, the Armenians are already harassing the Azerbaijani Jewish community.”

There are about 30,000 Jews who call Azerbaijan their home, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Lev Spivak, the President of the International Association of Israel and Azerbaijan (AZIZ), added: “Ganja has faced attacks in recent days, and it has a Jewish community. It has become like Sderot. I do know many Jews who fought in Nargano-Karabakh, both in the 90’s and today too. They are proud of their service to Azerbaijan. If we speak of the pride of the Azerbaijani Jews in Israel, everyone wants to help Azerbaijan. They send money to help people there. They always call and check in on people. I know people who were in contact with people there and want to come to help with the war. In contrast, there is no real Jewish community in Armenia.”

The history of the Jews in Armenia dates back over 2,000 years but the Jewish population in the past century has remained quite small, with about 500 Jews currently living there, mainly in the capital Yerevan. The Jewish community in Yerevan is headed by Chabad Rav Gershon Burshtein.

“My father’s family are all there [in the Armenian capital of Yerevan],” David Galfayan, an Armenian Jew living in Israel, told The Media Line. “We speak daily. The situation is extremely difficult for them.” Galfayan is the head of the Noyan Tapan Armenian Center for Culture and Education in Israel.

“There hasn’t been a general draft yet, but many are volunteering to fight. It’s our people there [in Nagorno-Karabakh]. We must protect them. We’re extremely angry with the Israeli government for selling weapons to Azerbaijan. It’s not only detrimental to the Armenian people, but to the Israeli people as well.”

“There are many terrorists that Turkey has imported from Syria to fight in Azerbaijan. All those weapons we’re supplying them, tomorrow will reach our borders and be turned against us,” Galfayan asserted.

“There is a lot of anger toward Israel,” Tsvi Kan-Tor, chair of the Israel-Armenia Chamber of Commerce, told The Media Line. “I speak with my friends in Armenia and they all say one thing: ‘Why are you killing us?’”

“One of my acquaintances [in Armenia] had a son who enlisted to fight,” Kan-Tor says. “A few days ago, his [military] post was hit by a drone, which they say Israel sold to Azerbaijan. This is as personal as it gets.”

But Yakof Abramov, the representative of the Azerbaijani Jewish community in the United States, told The Jewish Press: “It is terrible to blame Israel. Armenian lobby groups always try to harm Israel around the globe. The Armenian officials always condemn Israel yet cooperate with Iran, who seeks to destroy Israel.”

“They use double standards. Israel is a sovereign country and they have their own interests around the world. Azerbaijan has exceptionally good relations with Israel. This relationship is two way. No one can say to Israel and Azerbaijan, why you are so close? Armenia is close to Iran, who is a world sponsor of terrorism, especially in the Middle East. The relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan is not like that between Armenia and Iran. The cooperation is totally different.”

“Azerbaijan uses some Israeli weapons, but Armenia uses Russian weapons,” he explained. “Additionally, Russia gives the weapons to Armenia for free, but we pay for the weapons we got from other countries. Armenia has Russian forces in its territory. Azerbaijan does not have military forces from other countries. Azerbaijan does not have any reason to get help from other countries, especially given that we are secular and multicultural country. We have many churches and synagogues. In contrast, anti-Semitism is widespread in Armenia. They put a swastika on their Holocaust memorial. They have fascist monuments there.”

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