Israel considers Azerbaijan as a pillar of stability in an otherwise volatile region

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Baku, 6 December 2016 –

Dan Stav

Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador

of the State of Israel in Azerbaijan

"The creation of Israeli state 52 years ago was a great event in the world. The existence of Israeli state in the last years, its development and the creation of the country, after centuries-old hardships of Jewish people, demonstrated how important this event, that is, the event that took place 52 years ago, was for the Jews and all the humanity…..The friendship existing between Azerbaijan and Israel has deep roots. The Jews have lived as equal people in Azerbaijan for centuries. The Azerbaijanis have never considered them the representatives of some foreign nation. Our people will never forget that since the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century the Jews living in Azerbaijan have had great services in the development of Azerbaijani science, culture, public health, economics and industry and left their lasting imprints''.

Excerpts from a speech delivered by the late honorable Heydar Aliyev, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, at the official reception in honor of the national day of Israel - May 11, 2000.

The relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the State of Israel are based on a sound and profound mixture of deep and genuine friendship, shared interests in numerous areas, tremendous potential for further development the relation for the mutual benefits of both states and peoples, similar challenges emanating from the inherent instability in the Middle-East and a principled approach regarding the importance of peaceful resolution of conflicts and disagreements.

Israel recognized the Republic of Azerbaijan on 25th October 1991; only a week after the Supreme Council of Azerbaijan had adopted a Declaration of Independence. Thus, Israel was the fourth state to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan. It was done even before the 29th December 1991 referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for the Independence supporters.

With all fairness, it should be stated that the establishment of diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan was part of wider plan to develop relations with the whole Central Asian and Caucasus region. However, these relations have been built on a unique platform. Nowadays Israel enjoys good relations with all 8 states in these regions. Nevertheless, I believe that the relations with Azerbaijan have a unique dimension and importance since the first days of their inception.

Both countries are strategically located on strategically important international routes from time immemorial. The land of Israel lies along the Mediterranean coastal route connecting the successive empires that rose and fell in the Nile valley with the Mesopotamia which saw the emergence and destruction of many empires throughout the millennia. Both states were forced to cope with a devastating war with at least one neighbor and with a large influx of refugees or internally displaced people (IDP’s). Both countries and societies did a lot in order to integrate the new-comers. Both counties are still compelled to deal with lingering conflicts. Both sides, however, were able to register an impressive development despite the regional volatile situation and lingering conflicts that compelled the respective governments to allot a considerable portion of the national budget to defence.

One may argue that relations between states are based on interests and those historical similarities and challenges by themselves cannot provide sound based on sound and stable long term relations. But it should be stressed that these historical similarities are only part of a fascinating ties between the people of Azerbaijan and the people of Israel, ties that preceded the creation of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the State of Israel by at least a millennium and a half. This period was marked by the harmonious co-existence of thriving Jewish communities of mountainous Jews with their neighbors who mostly adhered during different periods to different religions: Zoroastrianism, Christianity and later Islam. There is historical as well as archeological evidence for this long shared history between the people. It is well possible, however, that Jews had been living here even a millennium earlier when some Israelite tribes found their way to the Caucasus after the destruction of the Israelite kingdom around 720 BCE. Another fascinating story is the role played by Jews in the life of Khazaria Empire. While it may be next to impossible to validate the theory about the arrival of Jews to Azerbaijan 25 centuries ago, it seems most likely that a sizable number of Jews have been living in the area of today’s Azerbaijan for a long history.

Azerbaijani people offered warm hospitality and a genuine acceptance to prosecuted minorities: be it the Molokans who settled in Azerbaijan in the beginning of the 19th century or at the first Ashkenazi Jews migrated to Baku around the same time. Since then, Ashkenazi Jews continued to come to Azerbaijan including during the 2nd World War. All of them were warmly received by the people of Azerbaijan and quickly integrated in the highly rich ethnic-religious mosaic of Baku and Azerbaijan contributing to the host science and culture of the hosting country. When Jews migrated to the state of Israel they didn’t do it out of fear or persecution: They left a generous hosting country in order to reunite with their Jewish brethren. Since their migration, they serve as a human bridge between the two people, remarkably contributing to the multi-layer and diverse relations. They are respected Israeli citizens and it the same time actively and ardently advocate for the cementing of relations between the two friendly states.

Both Israel and Azerbaijan consider the socio-economic dynamics as well as the military-political ones within West Asia as of great relevance to them while formulating their national security as well as foreign policies. While Israel is as part of West Asia, Azerbaijan is bordering it. The recent years dynamics in that region especially since 2010 ill perceived, mostly in the West, as "Arab Spring” turned out to be in a number of chaotic eruptions of extreme violence and brutality. The fast and dramatic occurrences may cause in some cases profound changes as of some of the characteristics of this region’s political entities, transforming vast areas of West Asia to perpetuate bleeding battle fields. Parts of West Asia were turned into scene of deliberate and horrendous violent campaigns against millions of innocent and helpless civilians, including women and children. West Asia witnessed indiscriminate use of violence by a regime against its own population; it witnessed the flocking of thousands Jihadists from all parts of the globe and the transformation of this area into a struggle for influence between hegemonic powers, directly or through proxy terrorist organizations, resulting in deepening rift between Shia and Sunna. West Asia witnessed indiscriminate targeting of mosques and shrines by Jihadists who show no mercy for human lives or respect towards other beliefs or creeds.

In contrast, Israel’s view Azerbaijan as an anchor of stability based on a deeply rooted harmonious co-existence between ethnic groups, cultures and religion. In fact, Azerbaijan serves as an alternative model to the inconceivable violence and absolute lack of mutual tolerance between Shia and Sunna. Azerbaijan is perhaps one of the very few places surrounding West Asia where Shia and Muslim conduct joint prayers. This peaceful tradition is enhanced by and manifested in a constitution that guaranties the separation of religion and state. Furthermore, for Israel the strong bond between Israel and Azerbaijan, their governments as well as people proves that a Muslim majority country and the Jewish state can enjoy excellent and diverse relations. These relations are based on mutual respect for each other, strong bonds of friendship, mutual interests and considerable convergence of perceptions about regional and global issues.

Indeed, the relations between Israel and Azerbaijan are not only based on time tested friendship. Israel considers Azerbaijan as a pillar of stability in an otherwise volatile region. In addition the strategic location of Azerbaijan on two major transportation routes – the East – West transportation corridor as well as the North-south corridor – makes Azerbaijan a major transportation hub globally. The investments needed in order to upgrade these routes as well as the potential use of the East-West corridor offers great opportunity for the Israeli private sector.

Israel and Azerbaijan have consistently been showing great interest to promote the bilateral economic relations between the two countries. Indeed, these relations have become yet another sound pillar of the bilateral relations. Israel strongly believes that there is a room to further development sound and sustainable economic relations. In order to achieve that both governments are expected to work in concert to establish a conducive environment for the private sector to do business. Such a conducive environment includes agreements on promotion and protection of investment, which has already been signed; agreement on avoidance of double taxation which hopefully will be signed soon. In addition, Israel believes that it will be highly desirable to sign an agreement on economic cooperation which will help to streamline the efforts to energize the activities and comprehensive engagement of both private sectors in Azerbaijan and in Israel.

Azerbaijan remains a highly important and reliable source of energy for Israel. Israel imports from Azerbaijan a considerable part of its oil needs. Israel also follows with great interest the remarkable progress that has been registered in the construction of the TANAP project. Once the internal processes regarding the energy policy of Israel are completed, the option to export Israeli gas through TANAP may be seriously considered. Such a development will be mutually beneficial for both countries.

Many Israeli companies in diverse field (IT, pharmaceutics, agriculture, defence, HLS, clean tech, water management) have been active in Azerbaijan. The oil price slump and the determination of the government of Azerbaijan to diversify the economy in addition to the intention to introduce in-depth reforms make Azerbaijan even a more promising destination for Israeli export and investments. On 12th January 2015 Azerbaijan’s President declared 2015 the Year of Agriculture in order to give a new momentum to the development of agriculture and accelerate its modernization. Israel recognizes the great potential in the agriculture sector. Israeli companies are showing growing interest to explore the possibilities for taking part in upgrading the agriculture sector.

Pharmaceutics is another promising sector for cooperation. Some of Israeli largest companies in this field showed great interest in operating in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government has emphasized its interest in promoting the production of high quality local production of medicines. Such joint ventures may offer great opportunities for Israeli companies.

Israel and Azerbaijan attach great importance to higher education as a tool to guarantee a sustainable development that is based on home grown scientists and experts. Hence the embassy of Israel in Baku attaches great importance to further enhancing the cooperation in this area. Such cooperation is desired in many aspects of higher education as well as various disciplines: IT, Agriculture, Agro-business, and Medical studies, Early Childhood Development and in other disciplines as well. One of the projects that Israel is keen to promote is sharing Israeli know-how, expertise and experience in the field of agriculture. This can be done through Azerbaijan State Agricultural University in Ganja.

Azerbaijan and Israel have been highly successful in developing diverse and mutually beneficial bilateral relations. This success story is the result of a number of factors: close and warm relations between both people from time immemorial; close relations between the political leaderships in both countries which is based on mutual respect; strong belief in the desirability of resolution of conflicts with neighboring countries through peaceful means and diplomacy; shared understanding as for the dangers emanating from the chronic instability in the Middle-East aggravated in recent years by the rise of unprecedented sectarian brutality and the cardinal importance of multiculturalism and inter-religion harmony. Furthermore, the growing economic interactions between the private sectors offer yet another important pillar for sustaining mutually beneficial and substantial economic ties. Based on the achievements in bilateral relations in the first 25 years since Azerbaijan gained independence, Israel and Azerbaijan can undoubtedly expect the strengthening and enhancement of the relations in the years to come.

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