Vol. 1, No. 9 (June 1, 2008)

Diaspora plays key role in promoting Azerbaijan-Israel relations

Arye Gut
Director General
Congress of Azerbaijanis in Israel

The Congress of Azerbaijanis in Israel was established on August 27, 2007 in the Rishon Le Zion in order to present in a professional and dignified way the national interests of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis to the people of Israel.  Given the absence of an Azerbaijani diplomatic mission, the Congress has the challenge of doing more than many diaspora organizations, and its members believe that it can play a growing role in the rapidly expanding ties between our two countries.  

After only nine months in operation, the Congress of Azerbaijanis of Israel is already playing a key role both in providing assistance to Azerbaijanis living in the Jewish state and in promoting closer ties between Azerbaijan and Israel.  We work with members of the Knesset, the political establishment more generally, and Israel's business elite not only to familiarize them with the history and current situation of our homeland but also to contribute to the work toward a strategic partnership between our two countries.  

Under the leadership of Alexander Shapiro Suliman, the congress has established an Azerbaijani Cultural Center in Israel, which plays a special role because Azerbaijan does not yet have an embassy there.  The center works with Azerbaijanis and the descendants of Azerbaijanis who live in Israel to retain and develop their national language and traditions.  Now, the center is working to create an Azerbaijani national library there.  

Our congress brings together people from all walks of life, of all generations, and of all political views, a diversity which we believe is a source of strength, an advertisement if you will of the way in which Azerbaijan has been developing over the last 15 years and a reason that the congress has been able to play the role in Israeli society and government that it has.  
One example of the effectiveness of the congress occurred in March this year.  At that time, one Israeli party, Merez, sought to put the question of the "Armenian genocide" on the Knesset's agenda.  The Congress of Azerbaijanis of Israel worked with other deputies, the government and the media to ensure that everyone involved knew the facts of the case and not just the tendentious position of the Armenians. 
Leaders of the congress spoke with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Knesset speaker Daliya Itzik, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as well as other officials and media leaders, provided information to them about this issue, and secured Peres's acknowledgement that this is a subject for historians rather than for politicians. 
In doing so, we worked closely with Turkey's ambassador to Israel, Namik Tan, who has frequently said that our congress represents the real lobby of the Turkic world in Israel.  He has supported us in all our undertakings, including hosting our meeting on the 16th anniversary of the Khojali massacre.  That meeting attracted a broad swath of Israel's business elite, the media, and the government, as well as many members of our organization.  
Today there are swiftly developing strategic interactions in the political, economic and business spheres between Israel and Azerbaijan.  It is my strong belief that in the very near future Azerbaijan will become the strong economic power of South Caucasus region.  Azerbaijan and Israel have very many common strategic interests.  And consequently, anything the Congress can do to help promote the strategic partnership between our two countries is important not only for Azerbaijan but for Israel as well.