Научная статья на тему 'Azerbaijani-jewish relations: Realpolitik embedded in history'

Azerbaijani-jewish relations: Realpolitik embedded in history Текст научной статьи по специальности «История и археология»

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Текст научной работы на тему «Azerbaijani-jewish relations: Realpolitik embedded in history»


by late May 1918, three independent states—Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia—appeared in the Transcaucasus.

On 29 May, 1918, the National Council of Azerbaijan passed a decision on ceding Irevan to the Armenians: “To set up a state the Armenians need a political center; Erivan is the only option since Alexandropol now belongs to Turkey.”23 Azeri historians offer all sorts of explanations of this obviously erroneous decision by the ADR National Council. All details apart, one thing is clear: in contemporary history, the Armenian state emerged on historical Azeri territory with its capital in Irevan, an ancient Azeri city.

C o n c l u s i o n

The Transcaucasian Seym proved unable to govern the very specific and turbulent area living amid ethnic clashes and in a state of war with Turkey. Anarchy and chaos were mounting. An eyewitness wrote: “The Seym, the representative body, was nearly inactive, it was stalling. What was happening inside had nothing to do with the outside events during the stormy and most painful period of Transcaucasian developments... One could not but feel that everything that took place in the Seym had no meaning and that the Seym itself was not prepared to discuss the main and most disturbing issues; that the main developments were unfolding in the wings of each party and each group separately, and that there was no chance they could act together.”24

This structure was doomed. Its self-disbandment on 26 May, 1918 was a logical outcome of the regional political processes and another confirmation of the fact that the three Transcaucasian republics could not coexist within one state.

23 SARA, rec. gr. 970, , inv. 1, f. 1, sheets 51-52.

24 A. Stavrovskiy, Zakavkazie posle Oktiabria, Moscow, Leningrad, 1925, p. 49.

Alexander MURINSON

Ms.Sc. (LSE),

D.Phil. candidate (SOAS), University of London

(London, U.K.).




he long-standing tradition of tolerance and historical cross-pollination between the paths of the Azerbaijani and Jew-

ish peoples also creates a fertile milieu for strategic cooperation between the two countries. The mutual tolerance and amity


of Azerbaijani and Jewish peoples affects not only diplomatic and public discourse, but penetrates the deeper realms of the

national psyche of both of the Azerbaijani and Israeli peoples and policy makers as well as the Jewish Diaspora.

I n t r o d u c t i o n

The common respect, trust and historical amity between the Azerbaijani and Jewish peoples contrast sharply with their perceptions of distrust and suspicion regarding their Arab neighbors, Persians and Armenians. The Jews suffered historical persecutions in the neighboring Iran and Armenia, a Russian Mountain province of Daghestan. Even though Persian Jewry was the oldest Diaspora community, having an uninterrupted existence of 2,700 years, it faced many forced relocations to the territory of present-day Azerbaijan and other areas, in particular to Central Asia. In this context, the collective memory of shared existence between Azerbaijanis and Jews for many centuries reinforces rational “realpolitik” calculations and geopolitical perceptions of Azerbaijani-Israeli common interest.

Historical Background of the Interrelations

The first such resettlement was recorded during the rule of Sasanid Shah Yiezdigerd II (435 CE-459 CE).1 In the Talmudic period, between the 4th and 9th centuries, the Jewish community in Persia prospered and developed a high culture. By the 12 century the Persian Jews created a corpus of Judeo-Persian literature. The contemporary vernacular of the Mountain Jews preserved a form of Judeo-Persian, which is spoken today by the Jews of Azerbaijan and Daghestan. But Persian Jewry was constantly exposed to waves of persecution by the host community.2 Throughout its millennial history, the Persian Jewish community suffered from mass slaughter, expulsions, forced conversions and the destruction of sacred books. These sufferings made one observer to comment, “Yet in no other country of [Eastern] Diaspora have the Jews suffered from so many centuries of unrelenting oppression and mortifying legal restrictions as did the Jews of Persia.”3

In the Hellenistic period, Jews were known to live in Armenia, but no continuous Jewish presence persisted into the modern era. Despite the Armenian claims that their royal family descends from the Herod of Judea, Jews were banned from settling in Armenian urban centers beginning with the adoption of Christianity circa 301 CE.4 According to the Abridged Jewish Encyclopedia, antiSemitism was endemic among Armenians throughout history, and Jewish sources often identify Armenians as “descendents of Amalek,” i.e. the enemies of Jewish people.5 Due to this historic animos-

1 See: R. Musabekov, Stanovleniye nezavisimogo azerbaidzhanskogo gosudarstva i etnicheskie menshinstva, available at [http://www.sakharov-center.ru/publications/azrus/az_012.htm].

2 See: K. Blady, Jewish Communities in Exotic Places, Jason Aronson Inc., Northvale, N.J., 2000, p. 56.

3 Ibidem.

4 See: “Armenia,” in: Kratkaya evreyskaya entsiklopedia (hereinafter—KEE), Vol. 1, Keter, Jeruslaem, 1976, col. 202.

5 See: Ibid., col. 203.


ity only in the 19th century Persian and Ottoman Jews as well as some Ashkenazi Jewish refugees, settled on the territory of the modern-day Armenia. From the medieval times the Persian Empire supported the Armenian Apostolic Church, a largest Monophysite splinter branch of the Orthodox Christianity. The support of Armenians during the medieval period in the Caucasus by Iranians, as today, is caused primarily by geopolitical calculations of Iran. It is noteworthy that Armenians constitute the largest Christian community of the Islamic Republic of Iran.6 As a result the Jewish population of Armenia is minuscule, estimated in 1970 to consist of 1,048 persons, half of whom were in mixed marriages with Armenians.

In neighboring Daghestan, the history of the persecution of Jews has deep historic roots. In particular, these persecutions increased in modern times. Since the suppression of the Shamil mutiny (1834-1859), the Mountain Jews of Daghestan have been perceived as agents of Russian government by local population. This notion was caused by a petition, which called on Tsar Nicholas I to resettle the Jews from mountainous enclaves in “possession of Tatars (the rebellious Muslims) to large urban settlements,” i.e. “settle in Russian-controlled and stable zone.”7 During the Civil War of the 1920s in Russia, Mountain Jews joined the Red Army, i.e. the Soviet armed forces, which came to sovietize “the unruly highlanders” of the Caucasus. The Daghestani Mountain Jews perceived the local antiBolshevik rebellion as a replay of the Shamil mutiny during which so many of their ancestors were killed. This only increased the antagonism of Daghestani population toward the Jews. There were pogroms in Daghestan in 1926 and 1929. In the ensuing decades, anti-Semitism has remained a distinct feature of Daghestani society. As late as 1960, the Soviet Kumyk newspaper Communist made Blood Libel allegations against the Jews.8

As a result of the conjuncture of history and its geographic position at the crossroads of many trade and strategic routes, ancient peoples, who confessed different religions, coexisted for centuries on the territory of the modern Azerbaijan. The majority of the current population of Azerbaijan belongs to the Sh‘a branch of Islam. But throughout its multi-faceted history, Azerbaijani society experienced the influences of different religious movements such as Zoroastrism, Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism. The history of multiple military conquests of the territory and religious pluralism led to a great popular tolerance toward peoples of other faiths and assimilation of different religious traditions. Due to its multi-ethnic character, the Azerbaijani society today inherits a legacy of tolerance and hospitality toward many ethnic groups and religious confessions. This tolerance led to the high level of multi-ethnic integration and political stability in the pre-nationalist period in the contemporary Republic of Azerbaijan. Jews, who experienced many waves of persecution in the Persian Empire and later in the imperial Russia as well as the Slavic regions of the Soviet Union, fled to this land of asylum at the imperial frontier. In particular, in the last three centuries, Azerbaijan provided a welcome place of refuge for Persian and Russian Jews. This atmosphere of prosperity and tolerance, which Jews throughout history experienced in Azerbaijan, should be contrasted with the intolerance of the societies to the north, Russia in general, and Daghestan in particular, and neighboring Armenia. The Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board Documentation Center report quotes a former Jewish resident of Baku stating in January 1992 that Azerbaijan, of the former Soviet republics, is “perhaps the best place for Jews to live.”9 The historical memory of amicable treatment, an absence of anti-Semitism and popular acceptance, even today, affects the perceptions and dispositions of foreign policy elites both in Israel and Azerbaijan

6 See: “Armenian Apostolic Church,” in: Wikipedia, available at [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_ Apostolic_Church].

7 “Gorskie evrei,” in: KEE, Vol. 2, 1982, col. 184.

8 See: Ibidem.

9 Arye Wasserman in: The Jerusalem Post, 4 January, 1992 (quoted from: CIS, Baltic States and Georgia: Situation of the Jews, Immigration and Refugee Board Documentation Centre, Ottawa, Canada, July 1992, p. 21).


toward each other. This perception is shared by the organized American Jewish community, which is influential in some aspects of American foreign policy.

Jews by some accounts lived in the territory of Azerbaijan from 5th century BCE. The traditional view of indigenous Jews is that their ancestors arrived in the territory of Azerbaijan following the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, in 586 BCE. Nebuchadnezzar deported the great number of population of the ancient Judean kingdom to his northern possessions, which included the territory of Azerbaijan. King Cyrus, the great founder of Achaemeni-an Empire (580-529 BCE), brought Jewish settlers into his new empire. After the Persian Emperor captured the Babylonian possessions in 539 BCE, he decreed the return of the Jews to Jerusalem, but a sizable community of Jewish settlers remained.10 As a result, a significant Jewish Diaspora formed within the boundaries of the Persian King. At the same time, Persians extensively utilized the cultural, legal and administrative traditions of the conquered nations in their empire building measures. Some Jewish subjects joined the bureaucratic and economic elites of Persia, which included Media (653-625) (modern southern Azerbaijan) as its northern frontier. An important historical source, the Murashu family documents from Babylonia (the present-day Iraq), which back to 6th century BCE, describes the activities of Jews in the region. These documents contain evidence that Jews were active in renting agricultural lands and other possessions which belonged to the Achaemenid throne and members of the Persian royal family.11 Under Shapur I (241-272) Jews were allowed by Sassanid authorities to establish their communal institutions and adopt formal leadership by an Exillarch or Rosh Ha Gola (“The Head of the Diaspora”). Jewish population centers were also found in the provinces of Shirvan and Derbent of Persian Empire. An important archeological proof of the Jewish presence in historical Azerbaijan was provided by the discovery of a 6th-century synagogue during excavations of Shabran township.12 Other Jewish centers in early medieval Azerbaijan were located in Hoy, Salmas and Tabriz. Islam came to the Azerbaijan society with the Arab conquests of Persia and the Caucasus in the middle of 7th century. In Azerbaijan, the pace of conversion to Islam was uneven. The southern Azerbaijan became a part of Umar Caliphate in 639. In the northern Azerbaijan, the Albanian kingdom at first became a vassal state of the Caliphate, where the predominantly Zoroastrian, Christian and Jewish populations, as Ahli-Kitaba (the Peoples of the Book), were forced to pay non-Muslim Jizya tax, locally known as haraj. Albanian kingdom rebelled against the Arab imposition, so new caliph Usman (644-656) send Arab armies to convert the local population by force.

In the Islamic tradition, conversion by force is undesirable and thus a converted population always remains suspect and not “pure” in the eyes of Ulema, Muslim religious authorities. According to this tradition, Azerbaijanis are considered as “impure” Muslims. However, Jews found the stability provided by the Caliphates appealing. During the Abbasid Caliphate (750-803) Jewish settlements were found in the region of Zargelan (the modern day aul Kubachi) and Semender (the modern day aul Turki) in Daghestan. After the collapse of the Caliphate, Quba-Khacmaz province became a part of the Shirvanshah Emirate (799-1063) with its capital in Shabran, a town with significant Jewish population.

But the medieval Jewish community reached the zenith of its influence during the rule of Il-khanides over Azerbaijan. Mongolian Ilkhans ruled an empire that extended from the Caucasus to the Persian Gulf from the 13th through the 15th century. It included the present-day Iraq, Iran,

10 See: M. Bekker, Evrei Azerbadzhjana: istoria i sovremennost, Ozan, Baku, 2000, p. 10.

11 See: M. Price, A Brief History of Iranian Jews, September 2001, available at [http://www.iranchamber.com/reli-gions/history_of_iranian_jews1.php].

12 See: M. Bekker, op. cit., p. 13 (for more detail, see an Interview with Shirin Manafov, “Pechalnaia uchast drevnego Shabrana,” available at [http://www.azerros.ru/modules.php?op=modload&name=PagEd&file=index&topic_ id=28&page_id=121].


Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan. Hulegu Khan (1256-1265) chose Azerbaijan to be the center of his empire in the second half of 13th century. During Ilkhanide dynasty Azerbaijan included the region of Gilan, cities Urmiya, Hoy, Salmasa, Maraga and Ushnia, and Sheki region, including Derbent. All these areas had significant Jewish populations in the twelfth century. Under the dynasty, early rulers of which professed Buddhism, Azerbaijan experienced a period of great religious tolerance and revival of economic activity.13 Buddhist Ilkhans attracted Jews into their higher echelons of civil service and bureaucracy. The Jewish ad-Dawla dynasty dominated the political sphere during the rule of Ilkhanide Argun Khan (1284-1291). His first vizier was Saad ad-Dawla. Saad ad-Dawla controlled both domestic and foreign policy of the empire. His relative, Muhaziim ad-Dawla, was a governor of one of Ilkhanide capital cities, Tabriz. Later, a Jewish potentate Labid en Abi-I-Rabi ruled the whole province of Azerbaijan.14 After the conversion to Islam of Khan Mahmud Ghazan (1295-1304), an anti-Jewish faction rose to power in the Illkhanide Empire. At the instigation of this faction Saad ad-Dawla was arrested. At the time, a series of Jewish massacres occurred in Tabriz and Hamadan. As a result many Jewish courtiers converted to Islam, including Rashid al-Din Tabib. He was the first vizier in 1298 and served as a court historian and geographer under Khan Mahmud Ghazan.15 Tabib authored Jamiat Tavarih (The Collection of Chronicles), a compendium of history and geography. His chronicle is one of the most comprehensive sources of Oriental historiography in Persian language. He was killed on the orders of a Shari‘a court in 1318.

By the 17th century Jewish auls (villages) formed a band of settlements from Derbent to Quba. Western travelers attest to a substantial Jewish presence in the eastern Caucasus during that period.16 During the Shirvanshah rule, the majority of the Jewish population of Azerbaijan concentrated in Quba-Khacmaz Khanate. After several waves of anti-Jewish persecutions and forced conversions of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Jewish population of the Persian Empire dwindled. Fear of persecution led a large group of Persian Jews to resettle in Quba-Khacmaz Khanate in the 17th century. These Jewish settlers came from Gilan and Tehran. During a struggle over the possession of northern Azerbaijan between the Ottoman and Persian Empires, indigenous Jews experienced persecution and destruction of their property by the invading armies. Shortly thereafter, a significant portion of Persian-speaking Jews migrated to the Khanate of Quba during the rule of Huseyn Ali Khan. Jews also fled from Daghestan and other Azerbaijani khanates to seek protection of the benevolent Huseyn Ali Khan (1711-1712). Particularly harsh reprisals against Jews were unleashed by the Persian Nadir Shah (circa 1736-1747). At this period the Jews established a new Jewish settlement near the Quba khanate’s capital. Qizil Qasbasi (“Red Colony” or Krasnaia Slo-boda as it was known in Russian) was founded on the place of the destroyed Jewish town of Kul-gat.17 In 1797 Surhay Khan of Kazikumyks (from Daghestan) also destroyed another Jewish township, Aba-Saba, in 1797. The Jewish community experienced a true renaissance under benign rule of Fatali-Khan of Quba (1758-1789). Fatali-Khan provided protection to the Jewish community and attracted numerous Jews from outlying regions of Daghestan, Baku and Gilan. Jewish artisans, silk weavers, gardeners and merchants contributed significantly to the economy of the khanate under his rule. Fatali-Khan left an indelible mark of gratitude in the memory of Azerbaijani Jews so that his name is commemorated in the name of the main street of Evreyskakia Sloboda (the former Krasnaia Sloboda), which has survived the Soviet period.18 The Jews settled in Qizil Qasbasi and

13 See: “Azerbaijan,” in: KEE, Vol. 1, col. 57.

14 See: M. Bekker, op. cit., p. 14.

15 See: “Azerbaijan,” in: KEE, Vol. 1, col. 58.

16 See: “Gorskie Evrei,” in: KEE, Vol. 2, col. 183.

17 See: M. Bekker, op. cit., p. 21.

18 See: Ibidem.


formed particular quarters on the basis of their place of their origin, e.g. Gilan, Tehran, Turkey and Daghestan.19

All these waves of Jewish migration formed a nucleus of the Gorskie Evrei or the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan and Daghestan. Their self-name is Juhur. They are speakers of the Tat language, a dialect of Persian language. As mentioned above, the internecine wars between Persia, Turkey and Russia over possession of the northern Azerbaijan khanates in the first half of 18th century, had reduced the plight of Mountain Jews in this period. In 1806 northern Azerbaijan was annexed to the Russian Empire (the status that was officially confirmed by the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813). The colonial Russian rule marked a new chapter in the history of Azerbaijan and its Jewish population. This period was characterized by development of capitalism, westernized (“Russified”) education and the integration of the local economy into international market system. The strong non-Muslim colonial ruler elicited strong reactions from the traditional Muslim religious elites in the Caucasus. The Russian settlement in Daghestan exacerbated popular perceptions of foreign invasion and occupation stirred by more radical interpretation of Islam among Naqshbandi-yya, a Sufi tariqate, led by Shayh Shamil. Shamil raised a rebellion of the Murides, his followers, in Daghestan and Chechnya. During the anti-Russian Shamil mutiny, which enveloped some regions of northern Azerbaijan, there were numerous bloody attacks on the Jewish population. Shamil practiced forced conversion as a part of the jihad and thus whole Jewish auls were converted to Islam.

The main economic activity of Mountain Jews was agriculture. The population primarily was involved in wine-making, forbidden to Muslims, fisheries; and medium scale madder cultivation. Madder was the main source of textile dyes in the region. The first Jewish millionaires in Azerbaijan, the Hanukaevs, were major producers and exporters of wine to Russian and Western markets. Another family of local Jewish tycoons, the Dadashevs, also owned wineries and fisheries on the Caspian. During the first oil boom of 1880s, they owned shipping and dock facilities in Baku.20 As a result of the development and penetration of Western industrially-produced aniline dyes, the madder growers became pauperized or turned to small-scale trade or became seasonal workers in Baku and Derbent. The Jews of Azerbaijan excelled in wine growing even during the Soviet period, when they were organized in kolhozs, the Soviet collective farms.

In the 1820s-1830s the Gorskie Evrei (Mountain Jews) established the first contacts with Russian-speaking Ashkenazi Jews and started sending their young to Russian centers of education. In the late 19th century, the Gorskie Evrei became active in the process of the Jewish settlement of Palestine. A delegation of Mountain Jews took part in the Second Zionist Congress in Basel in 1898. Assaf Pinkhasov translated from Russian to Judeo-Persian a book by Dr. Yoseph Sapira Zionism in 1903. This book, published in Vilno, was the first book published in Tat language.21 Zionist political and Jewish cultural activities flourished in Azerbaijan for a short period between the two world wars. In the 1920s, 200 Jewish families moved to Palestine, while Jewish publications in the Tat language appeared such as a Baku newspaper Tobushi Sabahi (The Dawn). By 1922, all Zionist activities were suppressed by the Soviet authorities and most Mountain Jews were collectivized. They formed several kolkhozs based on viniculture. By 1927, 250 families of Gorskie Evrei became members of collective farms. In 1922 a first Soviet-style newspaper Kor-soh (The Worker) appeared. In 1948-1953 as the result of anti-religious and anti-Semitic campaigns, Tat education in schools was banned and publication in Judeo-Persian was suppressed. The sovietization and Russification of the local population denigrated the role of the Tat language

Personal Communication with a Mountain Jew elder in Krasnaia or “Evreyskaia” Sloboda, 6 August, 2004.

See: “Gorskie Evrei,” in: KEE, Vol. 2, col. 184; M. Bekker, op. cit., p. 21.

See: “Gorskie Evrei,” in: KEE, Vol. 2, col. 187.


in the social life of Gorskie Evrei, but some of them preserved it and still use it as vernacular in the family circle.22

As Western and Russian industrialists began intensive exploration and development of oil resources of northern Azerbaijan in 1870s, a significant number of European Jews came to Azerbaijan. Jewish financiers and bankers formed one of the pillars of international trade, which brought Baku from its relative obscurity to the attention of world capitals. During the period of this infusion of international capital, Baku became the focus of national aspirations of Azerbaijani intellectuals. The migration of (European) Ashkenazi Jews into Azerbaijan positively affected the economic and intellectual life in Azerbaijan’s modern capital, Baku. The first Ashkenazi Jews, who were Tsarist Kan-tonist soldiers, settled in Baku, then a military and prison fortress, in 1832. At the time, the total population of Baku was 2,154.23 After oil was found in 1864, an economic and social boom followed. Many upwardly-mobile Jews saw advantages of settling in a more liberal Southern periphery of the otherwise restrictive Russian Empire. They were mostly representatives of the professional class: engineers, scientists, accounts and doctors. By 1898 Azerbaijani oil production reached 8 million tons, exceeding oil production in the United States. By 1901 the Baku oil industry supplied more than half of the world’s oil (11 million tons), and 95 percent of all Russian oil.24 International oil barons made substantial investments into the early Azerbaijani oil exploitation including the Nobel Brothers, the Rothschilds, and Vishau. The Western oil magnates were by joined indigenous oil tycoons such as Zeinalabdin Tagiev, Musa Naghiyev and Shamsi Asadullayev, who settled primarily in Baku and its environs. The Jewish professionals formed a part of the burgeoning middle class. The flight of Ashkenazi Jews to Baku had increased after the Kishinev (1903) and Kiev (1904) pogroms. The Jewish population, dominated by Ashkenazis, reached 9,689, or 4.5% of the city’s population in 1913. Among them a number of Jewish prominent oil venture capitalists came to explore the potential of Baku oil.

Baron Alphonse Rothschild (1827-1905) came to play a seminal role in the first Caspian oil boom of the threshold of the 20th century. After his death, ownership of his company was passed to his younger brother Edmond. Alphonse Rothschild, the largest magnate of banking capital in France, provided a loan for construction of the Transcaucasian railroad that connected Baku and the Black Sea port of Batum. The railroad was completed in 1883. This transportation corridor provided access to the landlocked Caspian sea and spurred a rush of international and Russian investments. As of 1 January, 1916, the four main companies, which led the Baku oil industry, included the Nobel Brothers; the Russian General Oil Corporation; the Transnational Trust Royal Dutch Shell, and the financial oil corporation Neft.25 In 1883 Alphonse Rothschild founded the Caspian-Black Sea Company (CBSC), which became the leading company of the Baku Oil Council (or the Cartel). The Baku Oil Council was a syndicate of private companies, which were involved in mining, refining and processing of oil. As the result of mergers and acquisition of smaller refineries, the Rothschild firm in 1888 supplied 64 million gallons of kerosene, which corresponded to 58.6% of all Russian exports.26 Jews occupied prominent positions in the Rothschild’s oil concern. Alphonse Rothschild nominated George Aron, a Jewish engineer and a former engineer of the Parisian Rothschild Brothers House, to be the chief technical officer of CBSC. Of the three directors of the company was Moris Efrusy (A. Rothschild’s son-in-law). The others were Prince G.A. Gruz-

22 See: Ibid., col. 184.

23 See: M. Bekker, op. cit., p. 23.

24 See: Mir Yusif Mir-Babayev, “Baku Baron Days: Foreign Investment in Azerbaijan’s Oil,” Azerbaijan International, Summer 2004 (12.2).

25 See: The Review of the Baku Oil Industry for 1915, Vol. 2, Baku, 1916, pp. 235-331.

26 See: Mir-Yusif Mir-Babayev, “Bakinskaia neft i Rotshildy,” Neftegazovaia promyshlennost, January 2002 (see also detailed account in: V.A. Nardova, Nachalo Monopolizatsii Neftyannoy Promyshlennosty v Rossii, 1880-1890, Nau-ka Pubkishers, Leningrad, 1974).


inskii, and Arnold Feigl, Esq.27 Such engineers as Kazimir Bardski, Adolph Gukhman, David Landau, M.Fin, I. Pilkevich held management positions in CBSC. Other prominent Jewish oilmen were G. Polyakov of Polyakov and Sons, A. Dembo and H. Kogan of Dembo & Kogan; and Baron Horatio Ginzburg, a member of the Russian Duma until 1892, and a major patron of arts.28 By 1913-1914 Jewish oilmen controlled 44% of production of kerosene in Baku oil concessions. Kerosene was a principal source of lighting and heating in the first half of the twentieth century. In the described period, an important technological breakthrough in oil refining technology was made in Baku by a Jewish chemical engineer A. Beilin.29

Ashkenazi Jews quickly integrated into the cosmopolitan atmosphere offin-de-siecle Baku.30 Many members of the secularized Jewish community joined the local elite. As an illustration of the prominent status that Ashkenazi Jews attained in Baku, the case of the Landau family deserves some attention. David Landau , a gifted engineer, who fled the Kiev pogrom, was promoted by the Rothshchilds to represent CBSC at the Baku Oil Council. Landau produced a number of technical patents in oil refining technology. His wife Lyubov (nee Harkaby) was a medical doctor and had a popular practice. Their son, Lev Landau, born in Baku on 22 January, 1908, was a precocious student and was admitted to the Baku Gymnasium. The admission of Jews into the gymnasium was regulated by a Tsarist anti-Jewish 5 percent quota. This gymnasium had on the Board of Directors, among others, Zeinalabdin Tagiev and the student’s father, David Landau. After graduating from the Physical Department of the Leningrad University at the age of 19, he pursued his scientific career in Ukraine, Germany, Switzerland, England and, especially, in Copenhagen under Niels Bohr. For his contributions to nuclear physics, Lev Landau was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.31

In the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution of 25 October, 1917, the Transcaucasian Federation was formed in February of 1918. It united three Transcaucasian republics. The first independent Azerbaijan Republic was proclaimed on 28 May, 1918. Jews participated in the political life of the young republic as members of Zionist and other movements. During this short-lived Azerbaijani republic, a Jewish member of Milli Mejlis was Moisey Gukhman, the son of a CBSC engineer. Some Jews became ministers in the government of the first democratic republic in Asia. K. Lisgar was a minister for Food Provisions, R. Kaplan was a minister of Religion, E. Gin-des, was a minister of Health, and M. Abesgauz was a deputy minister of Treasury. A Zionist activist A. Bushman was an elected member of Mejlis. Three Jewish Russian language publications Kavkazsky Evreisky Vestnik, Palestina and Molodezh Siona were widely circulated in Azer-baijan.32

During the Russian Civil War (1918-1920) many Jewish refugees from Ukraine and Be-lorussia came to Baku. They were forced to flee by the massacres of the Jews instigated by the Ukrainian nationalist Simon Petlura and the Russian General Denikin. By the time the Red Army entered Baku in April of 1920, its Jewish population reached 137,000.33 During the Soviet period

27 See: Mir-Yusif Mir-Babayev, “Bakinskaia neft i Rotshildy.”

28 See: M. Bekker, op. cit., p. 31.

29 See: “Baku,” in: KEE, Vol. 1, col. 283.

30 See discussion of the growth of Baku in: R. Badalov, Baku: Gorod i Strana, available at [http://www.sakharov-center.ru/publications/azrus/az_008.htm].

31 See Lev Landau’s Nobel Prize Winner biography, available at [http://nobelprize.org/physics/laureates/1962/land-au-bio.html]. Despite his arrest during the Stalinist purges, Lev Landau took an active part in the Soviet nuclear bomb project. For his work on the Soviet atomic and hydrogen bombs Landau was awarded two Stalin Prizes (1949 and 1953, respectively) and a Hero of Socialist Labor award (1954) (see: G. Gorelik, “Lev Landau, Prosocialist Prisoner of the Soviet State,” Physics Today, May 1995, pp. 11-15).

32 See: M. Bekker, op. cit., p. 37.

33 See: Ibid., p. 39.


that followed (1920-1991), Ashkenazi Jews actively pursued careers in science, medicine, culture and industry. Exposed to rapid process of assimilation, Ashkenazi Jews intermarried with Azerbaijanis. If before 1917, there were only eight cases of inter-marriage among ten thousand of Ashkenazi Jews, in the following period it became a common practice. 34 The Mountain Jews, who continued to live as a compact community in Quba, maintained a stronger Jewish identity. The Baku Jews were actively involved in development of Azerbaijani theater and music. As a Jewish Azerbaijani historian notes, “A very interesting symbiosis of cultures of different peoples was established in Baku. This led to appearance of such a unique phenomenon as a ‘nation’ of Bakinets (a resident of Baku.)”35 A Baku composer and musicologist G. Burshtein made an important contribution to the study of Azerbaijani folk melos (folklore). Jewish musicians taught in the Baku Conservatory. They educated a whole generation of such Azeri composers such as Tofiq Quliev, Gambar Guseynly, Farhad Badalbeyli and Zakir Bagirov. By 1959, 29,716 of European and 13,000 Mountain Jews lived in Azerbaijan.36 It is noteworthy that even under the Soviets, the Jews in the Soviet Azerbaijan were not exposed to the widespread discrimination in higher education that was typical in other Soviet republics, especially in the Russian Federation. As a result, the Ashkenazi Jews formed a significant part of intellectual and technocratic elites in the Soviet Azerbaijan.37

During the twilight years of the Soviet empire, Jewish activism increased in Azerbaijan. An Azerbaijan-Israel Friendship society was organized in 1990. Major cultural figures of Azerbaijani culture and academics became board members of this society. The society hosted an Israeli brigadier general Haim Bar-Lev and an Israeli minister of Energy and Science Yuval Neeman in 1992. Israel recognized the independence of the Azerbaijan Republic very shortly after the official dissolution of the Soviet Union. In December of 1991 Israel and Azerbaijan concluded aviation and technical agreements. This one was of the factors which prompted Turkey to raise bi-lateral representation to ambassadorial level.38

Azerbaijan Republic and the State of Israel: Modern Stage and Prospects of Interrelations

Israel established diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan on 17 April, 1992, following the diplomatic recognition by the Russian Federation. Turkey was the first state to recognize Azerbaijan and established diplomatic relations on 14 January, 1992. The Jewish community in Azerbaijan serves as an important factor in Azerbaijani bilateral economic and diplomatic relations with Israel and the United States. Currently 26,000 Jews live in Azerbaijan. The majority concentrates in Baku, while Quba is the second largest Jewish population center with a population of 4,000 persons. Over the last fifteen years due to the anomy and breakdown of society as well as a brief upsurge of xenophobia

34 See: Ibid., p. 40.

35 Ibid., p. 41.

36 See: Ibid., p. 46.

37 Personal Communication of Boris Trepnin, 12 February, 2004.

38 See: G. Gruen, “Turkey’s Relations to Israel,” in: Studies on Turkish-Jewish History, Sepher-Hermon Press,1996, New York, p. 124.


caused by an inter-ethnic war in the Nagorno-Karabakh, an estimated 40,000 persons left for Israel, the United States and Canada.39 The Azerbaijani authorities granted with a special provision a dual citizenship to Israeli citizens of Azerbaijani origin. The former Azerbaijani Mountain Jews live compactly in Israel. The largest Azerbaijani communities are in Haifa and Acco. These new Israelis carefully preserve their family and economic ties based on their deep-seated Azerbaijani identity and cen-turies-long history of extraordinary coexistence.40 According to Eitan Naeh, the Israeli ambassador in Baku, the Azerbaijani Jews in Israel, “could provide the basis for strong commercial ties.”41 As an Azerbaijani historian notes, “The majority of [Quba’s] Jews are involved in [international] trade, mastering anew ‘the Great Silk Road.’” 42 The local business community actively trades with Israel, China, Russia and other states of the CIS.

The establishment of diplomatic relations with Turkey and Israel is noted as having a special significance for the independence of Azerbaijan in 1992.43 The timing of this recognition was especially important for Azerbaijan since the state experienced diplomatic isolation imposed by the Russian Federation under influence of pro-Armenian Russian politicians. Both pro-Western Turkey and Israel, the key American ally in the Middle East, carry a significant weight in the strategic calculations of Azerbaijani policy-makers since the country gained its independence.44 Both Turkey and the State of Israel as American allies were capable of promoting Azerbaijani interests in the international arena. In 1990 only two countries, Israel and Turkey diplomatically supported the Azerbaijani position in its struggle against the Armenian secessionist forces in Nagorno-Kara-bakh.45 Israel and Turkey were the two out of only 18 states with representation at an ambassadorial level in Baku by 1997. This diplomatic breakthrough inaugurated an era of good feelings between the both countries. Israeli-Azerbaijani cooperation from 1992 through 1995 had a low-key and often informal character because both countries were in the “diplomatic vacuum.”46 During the period of the Nagorno-Karabakh war (1991-1993) Azerbaijan experienced a period of diplomatic isolation from the West. In this period in particular Azerbaijan sought allies which would counterbalance the military and diplomatic pressures of Russia and Iran. Israel proffered its military knowhow and diplomatic support to Azerbaijan. But Israeli diplomacy maintained a low profile during this period.47 Difficult regional situation in the Southern Caucasus makes Israeli diplomats sensitive to Azerbaijani strategic concerns. As Israeli ambassador in Baku, Eitan Naeh concludes, “dangerous neighbors and a history of being oppressed—make Azerbaijan and Israel logical allies.”48 Initially the official bi-lateral relations were limited to cooperation in the field of agriculture, as

39 See: “Israeli Ambassador Lauds Treatment of Jews in Azerbaijan,” available at [http://www.internationalspecialreports. com/ciscentralasia/01/azerbaijan/israeliambassador.html].

40 See: E. Wohlgelerner, “Jews Come Down the ‘Mountain’ in Tel Aviv to Preserve Culture,” Jerusalem Post Service, 21 February, 2003.

41 R.A. Greene, “Shared Feelings of Isolation May Make Israelis and Azeris into Friends,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 28 April, 2002.

42 Azerbaijan: The Status of Armenians, Russians, Jews and Other Minorities. U.S. Department of Justice,

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INS Resource Information Center, Washington, D.C., 1993, p. 17.

43 See: M. Bekker, op. cit., p. 67. In general, Abulfaz Elchibey, the first President of Azerbaijan viewed Turkey and Israel as models for building a modern Azerbaijani society. Both in Turkey and Israel, the young Azerbaijani leaders saw two successful nation states built on the basis of commonality of language, strong nationalist orientation and rapid westernization surrounded by the hostile neighbors.

44 Personal interview with an Azerbaijani diplomat Sultan Malikov, 15 February, 2005.

45 See: Khalg Gezeti (Baku), 16 January, 1992, p. 2.

46 A. Veliev, “Treugolnik Izrail-Turtsia-Azerbaijan: Realnost i Perspektivy,” Zerkalo, 3 September, 2004.

47 See for details of the cooperation in: “Good Relations between Azerbaijan and Israel: A Model for Other Muslim States in Eurasia?” Policy Watch #982, The Washington Institute for the Near East Policy (co-author Soner Cagaptay),

30 March, 2005.

48 R.A. Greene, op. cit.


Israeli private firms were involved in 1993/1994 in USAID-funded agricultural projects. But beginning from 1995, both Israel and Azerbaijan started to enhance their bilateral relations, because, as an Azerbaijani foreign policy expert pointed out, “both sides sympathize with each other.” According to Veliev, the mutual sympathy has a historical basis. It is known that Azerbaijani leadership always took a pre-eminent role in condemning any manifestation of anti-Semitism in the post-Soviet space. President Heydar Aliev stressed the historical nature of Azerbaijani-Israe-li amity in his diplomacy. In a speech addressed to Israeli diplomats, Heydar Aliev said, “The friendship between Azerbaijan and Israel has deep roots. For centuries Jews lived continuously in Azerbaijan as equal citizens. Azerbaijanis never consider them foreigners.”49 He stressed the special role which the Ashkenazi Jews came to play in the history of the modern Azerbaijani state: “Our people will never forget that the Jews, who came to settle in Azerbaijan in the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries and until today, have greatly contributed to the development in Azerbaijan of such sectors as science, culture, health, economics, industry, and left an indelible trace.”50

C o n c l u s i o n

The historical memory and continued amity of Azerbaijani society toward Jews, which was atypical in the European parts of the Soviet Union, continues to affect the “atmospherics” of Azerba-ijani-Israeli relations. An American diplomat, who worked in Baku in from 1992 through 1994, commented that the opening of an Israeli embassy was “the most natural thing because of the cosmopolitan elite which included many Jews ... that characterized Baku for more than hundred years.”51 Jews were part of this elite during the first Azerbaijani independence (1918-1920) and the Soviet era.” As an experienced statesman, Heydar Aliev realized the import of the good will shared by Azerbaijani Jews and such influential diasporic community as the American Jewry. As a result of the Azerbaijani diplomatic efforts, “.The [American] Jewish Diaspora, which is tightly linked with Israel, always reciprocates by lobbying for Azerbaijani interests in the United States.”52 The main focus of American Jewish community activism was placed on the annual suspension of the Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. This legal device prevented any U.S. government assistance being provided to the Azerbaijan Republic. In 1992 U.S. Congress enacted the Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act; this piece of legislation effectively prohibit assistance “to the Government of Azerbaijan until the President determines, and so reports to the Congress, that the Government of Azerbaijan is taking demonstrable steps to cease all blockages and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.”53 Obviously this is one of the priority issues in Azerbaijani-American relations and Azerbaijani foreign policy in general, because American assistance was very substantial (compared to European aid) in volume and had broader international repercussions for the former Soviet republic. By the same token, the American Jewish leadership saw in their support for Azerbaijani interests a powerful way to leverage its influence on Capitol Hill in not only maintaining good graces of the Azerbaijani government toward its Jewish residents but also to benefit the Turkish-Israeli

49 President Heydar Aliev’s speech at Israeli Embassy in Baku, 11 May, 2000.

50 Ibidem.


52 A. Veliev, op. cit.

Personal Interview with an American diplomat, Philip Remnik.

53 Quoted from: S.N. MacFarlane, L. Minear, “Humanitarian Action and Politics: The Case of Nagorno-Karabagh,” Occasional Paper #25, Thomas J. Watson Institute for International Studies, Providence, R.I., 1995, p. 52.


alignment. The Israeli and especially Turkish diplomats actively sought the assistance of the American Jewish community in defeating this discriminatory legislative measure against their new strategic partner, Azerbaijan.54

54 Personal interview with Barry Jacobs, the American Jewish Committee, 24 February, 2004.

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