While close ties between Israel and Azerbaijan flew under the radar until recently, the Shiite-majority nation appears to be leading a shift in the Muslim world toward warming relations with the Jewish state.
By: Barney Breen-Portnoy, The Algemeiner
Azerbaijan’s US envoy, Ambassador Elin Suleymanov, spoke to The Algemeiner on the sidelines of this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, explaining that the close ties between Israel and Azerbaija are “not a surprise.” Suleymanov added, “They’ve already heard about this. It’s a known entity. That’s good. It’s not a totally new frontier.”
Monday’s sit-down was a follow-up to a wide-ranging interview Suleymanov gave to The Algemeiner last year at the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington, DC.
Azerbaijan — led by President Ilham Aliyev — prides itself on being one of Israel’s closest allies in the Muslim world. Diplomatic ties were established in 1992, after Azerbaijan regained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the two countries now enjoy an extensive partnership, particularly in the economic and military realms.
A secular, Shiite Muslim-majority nation, Azerbaijan is strategically sandwiched in the Caucasus region between Russia, Iran, Georgia and Armenia, with the Caspian Sea to the east.
Suleymanov called Azerbaijan a “pioneer” regarding its relationship with Israel.
“We do openly what some other countries don’t do openly,” he said.
“Last year, you asked me about contacts between Israel and other Muslim nations,” Suleymanov recalled. “At that time, much of the talk about this sounded like wishful thinking. But today, these contacts have developed and we’re very happy to see that and be at the forefront of it.”
“Our vision of solidarity in the region is inclusive, not exclusive,” he noted.
As Azerbaijan seeks to further develop its economy, there is much it can learn from Israel’s renowned “start-up culture,” Suleymanov said.
Home to a small, but vibrant, Jewish community, Azerbaijan has also forged bonds with Jews in other parts of the world outside of Israel.
The Azerbaijani capital of Baku is a sister city of Houston, and Azerbaijan recently made a financial donation to help restore Congregation Beth Yeshurun — a synagogue which sustained severe damage when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas last summer.