Fiyaz Mughal OBE FCMI FRSA, Founder and Director – Faith Matters – http://www.faith-matters.org/
When Azerbaijan was mentioned a decade ago, some people thought that it was a country in Africa or somewhere in the Middle East and many generally looked puzzled as to where the country was. Over the last 10 years, with innovation and a steely determination, Azerbaijan has become a major oil and gas supplier to a range of countries and is fast developing into a country which is investing into innovative IT infrastructure and into social entrepreneurism.
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Its infrastructure is one of the best in the region and its people are some of the most tolerant in the world and this did not come about by accident. In a region where tensions escalate, Azerbaijan’s President, (Ilham Aliyev), has provided a clear steer and direction to ensure that all communities have a space in Azeri society.
Azerbaijan has always been a gateway for new ideas, communities and even religions.
Azerbaijan has been the route through which many of these have passed through and Azeris have absorbed, transformed and developed themselves with a view to looking outwards rather than inwards. For example, the country has a historic Jewish community that has been in the country since the first century AD and which has developed and grown within a predominantly Muslim nation.
Azerbaijan also holds Zoroastrian roots, Shia and Sunni Muslim communities and a Christian Orthodox tradition and a range of other religious traditions, all of which co-exist together and who feel part of the country. Yet, this model has not come about by chance. It is something that Azerbaijan and its people have nurtured since they see diversity and different faiths as adding to the heritage and tradition of Azerbaijan.
Israel and Azerbaijan
Links between Azerbaijan and Israel also go back a decade and more.
In 1998, for example, a visit to Azerbaijan by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, led to closer ties and co-operation between Azerbaijan and Israel culminating in a statement by the Prime Minister on the fact that Azerbaijan has had a history where anti-Semitism has not taken root in any shape or form.
Azeris are proud of this fact that anti-Semitism does not exist within this Muslim majority country, and the country and its leadership believe that they set the example in creating an environment where anti-Semitism simply does not exist. The population believes that its Jewish communities are Azeri Jewish communities and have co-existed and lived peacefully in the country for over 2,000 years.
Any attack on our Jewish communities is regarded as an attack on all Azeris and the environment for hate, intolerance and bigotry towards minorities, simply does not exist. This is not to say that the country does not have its political difficulties, though this extends to the territory of Nagorno Karabakh and is a territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s co-operation with Israel also extends significantly in a range of areas and its leadership continues to develop stronger ties. Yet, what is clear is that Azerbaijan does not see its influence exerted in its region through the use of force and takes the position of quiet diplomacy and the use of the military is simply not an option for a country that values and cherishes its independence and its way of life in what has fast become a turbulent region due to strategic and resource based interests.
Azerbaijan and Israel have much in common. Both are states that have developed recently in history and who have a rich heritage. Both states have also been through conflict and are small geographically and in terms of their population. As an example of what can be achieved through bilateral relations, Azerbaijan is leading the way in ensuring Muslim and Jewish relations.
Let us hope that the future also brings peace to all, for all Palestinians, Israelis and neighbouring countries in the region.