Can an authoritarian state be tolerant?

In the opinion piece, “Azerbaijan and Israel-genuine Muslim-Jewish relations”, Alexander Murinson made a series of contradictory and erroneous conclusions regarding my article entitled “What Azerbaijan wants from Israel?” Mr. Murinson either carelessly read my article, or specifically misrepresented its gist using emotional expressions, accusations and labeling.

He omits an important passage of my article as it is dedicated to the geopolitical configuration in the region and explains the pragmatic political alliance between Israel and Azerbaijan. Then Mr. Murinson, while agreeing with my conclusion about close relations between Israel and Azerbaijan, says that the dialogue of Tel Aviv and Baku covers not only military and energy sectors. Undoubtedly, the author is right. However, in my article, there is not a single line saying that the Israeli-Azerbaijani relations are exclusively fixated on oil and arms, although Mr. Murinson himself puts the emphasis on the energy and arms. In particular, he mentions that Israel buys 40 percent of its oil from Azerbaijan, while Azerbaijan has bought Israel’s air defense system called “Iron Dome”.

Moreover, I don’t use the term “American Jews” nor do I talk about “occupied territories”. In my text, there is only one formulation – the pro-Israel lobby. Pro-Israel lobby and American Jews are completely different notions. Thus, a significant number of American Jews support neither Israel’s policy, nor the activity of pro-Israeli lobby groups.

Similarly, not all American Armenians support the policy of Armenia and are members of the Armenian grassroots organizations. Incidentally, in Mr. Murinson’s work entitled “Turkey’s Entente with Israel and Azerbaijan: State Identity and Security in the Middle East and Caucasus” (page 140), my colleague once again confirms my thesis that the Azerbaijani government has sought the support of pro-Israeli lobby in the struggle for the abolition of section 907 to the Freedom Support Act.

In addition, there are serious doubts about the fact that the relations of Israel and Azerbaijan can serve as an example of sincere friendship. Official Baku repeatedly voted for the adoption of the UN resolutions condemning Tel Aviv’s policy. Thus, at the ninth special emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council in 2009, a resolution was approved that strongly condemned the Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip, which led to massive violations of human rights.

In total, 34 countries, including Azerbaijan, voted for the adoption of that resolution. In 2010, when the Israeli Navy stopped the “Freedom Flotilla” initiated by Turkey, the President Ilham Aliyev said that “Azerbaijan supported Turkey and condemned killing of civilians by Israel as well as Israel’s attack on the Turkish ship that was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.”  In 2011, not only Azerbaijan voted for Palestine becoming a permanent observer at the UN, but also actively lobbied that resolution. It was stated by Nasir Abdul Kerim – the Ambassador of Palestine in Israel in that period of time.

It is quite questionable whether Azerbaijan is a country that is really oriented towards Western values. The international community was shocked by the fact that the Azerbaijani government claimed Ramil Safarov to be a national hero though he was an officer that hacked the sleeping Armenian Army Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan to death during a training seminar in Budapest in the framework of NATO program “Partnership for Peace”. Moreover, the European Parliament delivered a harsh criticism of President Ilham Aliyev, who not only pardoned the murderer that was sentenced to life imprisonment, but also promoted him to the rank of major and gave an apartment. This act of the President of Azerbaijan was a signal that killing an Armenian person is a heroic act for Azerbaijan followed by a reward. This fact means a lot, but it definitely does not say about the commitment of Azerbaijan to the Western values.

It is important to stress that there are a large number of legislators of Jewish origin in the list of members of the Armenian Caucus in Congress. For a long time, Reps. Brad Sherman, Adam Schiff and Sander Levin and Sen. Charles Schumer have been friends of Armenia. There is no doubt that the Armenian people treat the citizens of Israel in general and American Jews in particular with respect. As the people that survived the Genocide in Ottoman Turkey and passed through the ethnic cleansing in Azerbaijan, Armenians are able to distinguish the people and policy. It is strange that Mr. Murinson purports that there is widespread anti-Semitism in Armenia.

Had he looked into data from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) he would have found anti-Semites in Azerbaijan account for 34% of the adult population while in Turkey this figure is 69% (34,000,000 people out of 49.101, 089). Secondly, according to an authoritative report of  Freedom House, in 2016 Armenia gets the status of a “partly free country”, while for many years, Azerbaijan, founded by Heydar Aliev, the KGB general with anti-Israel portfolio in Soviet days, has been claimed to be an “authoritarian dictatorship”, where systematic violations of human rights take place. Sensible people are able to independently find the answer to a simple question: “Can the authoritarian state where the human rights are violated be as tolerant as it is presented?”

Areg Galstyan, PhD, is a regular contributor to The National Interest and Forbes. The head of the American Studies Research Centre.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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