Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Israeli-Azerbaijani Alliance and Iran

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Israeli-Azerbaijani Alliance and Iran

Article excerpt

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Historic sources and research confirm that Jews of both Persian (also known as Caucasian Mountain Jews) as well as Ashkenazi origin have lived in Azerbaijan for centuries.1 The presence of Persian Jews in Azerbaijan can be traced back over 2,000 years, to even before the fifth century. Historically, Azerbaijan has been very welcoming toward the Jews. During the periods of both the Russian and Soviet empires Azerbaijan had no antisemitic traditions. In the nineteenth century, under the Russian Empire, Jews of Ashkenazi descent began to settle in Azerbaijan. Others arrived during World War II to escape the Nazis.2 . Many famous Jews were born and have studied in Azerbaijan, including scientist of modern physics and Nobel Prize Laureate Lev Landau. Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1908, he enrolled in Baku State University in 1922.3

During the nineteenth century, Baku became a center for the Zionist movement in the Russian Empire. The first branch of Hovevei Zion ("Lovers of Zion") was established in Baku in 1891, and in 1910, the first choir synagogue opened in the city.4 Even earlier, in 1883, oil companies owned by the Rothschild family (of Jewish origin) entered the scene in Baku, followed by Rockefeller's gigantic Standard Oil Company.5 Thus, the Jews lived in peace and friendship with local Azeris and had successful businesses in the country.

During the period of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR, 1918-1920)-which formulated key ideological, political, and security priorities for independent Azerbaijan-the Jewish Popular University was established (1919) and Yiddish- and Hebrew-language periodicals were published. Moreover, Dr. Yevsey Gindes, an Ashkenazi Jew, served as Minister of Health in ADR's cabinet under the first prime minister, Fatali Khan Khoyski.

Jews continued to arrive and settle in Azerbaijan during the Soviet period as well. The Jews in Soviet Azerbaijan were not exposed to the widespread discrimination that was typical in other parts of the USSR. Thus, the Ashkenazi Jews formed a significant part of the intellectual and technocratic elites in Soviet Azerbaijan.6

POLITICAL DYNAMICS IN THE SOUTH CAUCASUS AND IRAN'S PRIORITIES IN THE REGION

The Russo-Georgian War of 2008 shifted South Caucasus politics significantly and created a new political atmosphere in this part of the world. As a result of the war, a completely new strategic situation has emerged in the region.7 Prior to the war, since 1994, when Azerbaijan signed the "Contract of the Century" (agreement with a consortium of international oil companies for the exploration and exploitation of three offshore oil fields in the country), the strategic situation in the South Caucasus could be characterized as a period of large-scale Western penetration. The United States, the European Union, and Turkey, began to play a significant role in South Caucasian affairs, which had traditionally been orchestrated by Iran and Russia.

Moreover, several strategic programs were launched by the Clinton administration (and continued under the Bush administration) and the EU. These included Partnership for Peace, the Silk Road Strategy Act, Caspian Watch, the EU's Eastern Partnership, and others. The goal of these programs was to strengthen the Western presence and minimize both Iranian and Russian influence in this very sensitive part of the world. Unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia slowly began to drifttoward NATO membership. In addition, South Caucasian countries, particularly Azerbaijan and Georgia, started to develop strong ties with the State of Israel.

In the meantime, Iran, as a key regional player, reacted very concerned about the West's "aggressive advance" into the traditionally Iranian and Russian sphere of influence. Iran's hostility toward the United States and Israel pushed Tehran to stop or limit Western penetration as well as Israel's cooperation with Azerbaijan and Georgia. Iran welcomed the Russo-Georgian war of 2008, which it saw as a brilliant opportunity to reverse the region's strategic atmosphere from pro-Western to a much more pro-Russian atmosphere -hence a more pro-Iranian one also. …

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