Israel and the United
States have a little-known ally in an equally little-known region of the world
“Azerbaijan stands as a friend of the United
States and a friend of Israel in a very difficult neighborhood,” said Elin
Suleymanov, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the United States.
Suleymanov was the guest speaker at a lunch meeting of the Jewish Community
Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago on Nov. 21.
Azerbaijan, which gained
independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, is a secular-run country
bordering Iran and Russia with a majority population of Shia Muslims. It has
also supported a longstanding Jewish community, today numbering about 20,000.
Suleymanov said that Ashkenazi Jews live in major urban centers such as the
capital, Baku, and a Sephardic community has existed in Quba since before
Executive Vice President of B’nai B’rith, which has long worked closely with Suleymanov
and Azerbaijan, introduced the ambassador and later said that the American
Jewish community has long seen the country as a potential friend in the Middle
East, as it was one of few safe havens for Soviet Jews.
“Looking at a region in
which Israel could have normal relations with secular Islamic countries to
improve the climate of relationships and acceptance in that part of the world …
there’s no question that Azerbaijan was at the center of that objective,”
Azerbaijan has been a
key ally of the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing both military
assistance and vital supply routes. Suleymanov also spoke about Azerbaijan’s
commitment to regional energy security. Rich in oil and gas reserves, the
country is part of a growing network of pipelines transporting oil from the Caucasus
to Southern Europe and Israel.
on his country’s ongoing conflict with Armenia, he expressed frustration with
the international response.“Without
addressing that problem, the full potential of our region will never be
fulfilled,” he said.
Suleymanov’s message to
attendees about his country was that its direction, positions on issues and
even its diversity is all a matter of choice, including its connection to the
Jewish community at large.
“This relationship is
not a coincidence,” he said, “it’s a reflection of a longstanding friendship
among our people, and it’s also a reflection of a personal choice by the
leaders of Azerbaijan.”