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Azerbaijan is not the ally it pretends to be

Armenian refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh are seen in the center of the town of Goris on October 1, 2023, before being evacuated in various Armenian cities. A United Nations mission arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh on October 1, 2023, Azerbaijan said, after almost the entire ethnic-Armenian population fled since Baku recaptured the breakaway enclave. Armenians, who had controlled the region for three decades, agreed to disarm, dissolve their government and reintegrate with Baku following a one-day Azerbaijani offensive last week. | DIEGO HERRERA CARCEDO/AFP via Getty Images

As Azerbaijan engages in an ethnic cleansing campaign once again in Nagorno-Karabakh against 120,000 Christian Armenians, Israel’s increasingly close ties with Azerbaijan are becoming all the more problematic, and it’s not just at the government level. Israel’s position is focused first and foremost on combating the existential threat of the Islamic Republic of Iran — understandably so. Yet in doing so, Israel is aligning itself with President Ilham Aliyev’s dictatorship in Azerbaijan in order to get access to the border with Iran.

The trade off? Armenian lives.

Massive sales of Israeli weapons to Azerbaijan have been used in the last two devastating wars against innocent Armenians in a land grab and a wave of ethnic cleansing following months of incitement to violence and demonization of ethnic Armenians within Azerbaijan. The most alarming part for me as an Israeli journalist however, is that most Israelis aren’t even aware of how problematic Aliyev’s dictatorship is, or the nonsense bill of goods they’ve been sold by Azeri lobbying efforts throughout the state of Israel in both the public and private sector.  

I’ve refrained from speaking about this issue for quite some time due to pressure as a journalist, as have others I know, but we cannot be silent in the face of this appalling attempted genocide that’s taking place against an indigenous Christian population and an enemy that seeks to wipe them off the face of the earth. This is no different than the existential threats made by the Islamic Republic of Iran against the state of Israel.

Azerbaijan has heavily invested in lobbying in Israel at a government and PR level. They even established a tourist center in the heart of the beach in Tel Aviv — where millions of Israelis and tourists go every year. This exorbitant lobbying effort is a known tactic of Aliyev, who is an anti-democratic dictator, whether or not he “supports” Israel.

One of the most unpleasant tactics I’ve seen is the attempted intimidation of Israeli journalists who speak out against Azerbaijan. I myself have been the target of Azeri bot campaigns on social media, simply for writing the truth.

In a social media post from this month, the Azeri Times itself responded to my coverage in an attempt to defend Aliyev’s regime with the excuse that “we have a large Jewish population” as if that relates in any capacity to the fact that Azerbaijan is committing ethnic cleansing against Christian Armenians. This is not the behavior of an “ally” certainly not of a democratic nation which respects free press.

As a journalist myself, I’ve been invited on “educational tours” sponsored by the Azeri government more than once (which I refused). Many of my peers have both been invited and have gone themselves. I know of cases in which “important people” were literally given gifts of gold jewelry by the Azeri government during their visit. This is a strategic approach, pandering to key journalists and public figures and then bombarding them with false or out of context information. Azerbaijan preys on the sensitivities of the Israeli public by claiming that they are the victims of Armenian “terror” similar to what Israel faces from the Palestinians. But Azerbaijan doesn’t have a democracy, unlike Israel, they don't have basic protections for civil rights, unlike Israel, nor does their military operate with the same ethics in combat like the Israel Defense Forces. Reality simply doesn’t support the false narrative that Azerbaijan is promoting.

Azerbaijan has an aggressive global political agenda and spends an incredible amount of money lobbying Israel (and others) to promote it — money that Armenia simply doesn’t have.

For months, the Azeri regime has been promoting the false and fabricated narrative that the Azeris are Israel in this scenario with Armenia and they are merely “defending themselves” against “terrorists.” This lie is rooted in pan-Turkic ideology that seeks the complete destruction of the first Christian nation in the world (Armenia).

It is a lie used to justify ethnic cleansing from the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, an area of 120,000 ethnic Armenians, historically Armenian for thousands of years, that’s surrounded by Azeris. This territory is surrounded by Azerbaijan not because it’s historically Azeri, but because of how the Soviets drew the boundaries after the fall of the USSR. Yet the world has been largely silent as Azerbaijan has launched multiple wars and a blockade to drive our Armenians from their land, and they are much more powerful thanks to Israeli weapons.

The Armenians have been trying to warn the world for months this would happen, and no one believed them. How can the world, and even more so how can Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people who survived the Holocaust, be silent in the face of such a shocking crime against humanity? In particular, when Israel is urging the world to pay attention to the threat of the exact same thing from the Islamic republic of Iran against Israel?

After the 2020 war, despite the risks, Armenia had offered to give up territorial claims in exchange for the guarantee that the Armenians in the territory will be protected — as Azerbaijan has previously committed massacres of Armenian cities. In Nakhichevan, another territory which was historically Armenian but drawn into modern Azerbaijan’s borders, the Azeris destroyed 98% of the historical and religious sites of Armenians, attempting to erase their connection to the land, after a shameful campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Instead of agreeing to protect the human rights of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh today, Azerbaijan launched another war against Armenians including attacking civilian targets. This comes after months of incitement to violence and dehumanization of Armenians by the Azeri government and media.

The truth is Azerbaijan doesn’t want to live in peace with Armenia or Armenians, unlike Israel with its Arab neighbors. Azerbaijan wants to eliminate the first Christian nation in the world, entirely, and their officials have said it explicitly. Just as the Islamic Republic of Iran pledges to wipe Israel off the map.

The Israeli public is being hoodwinked, and while there are some Israelis waking up, many are unaware of the true nature of Aliyev’s regime. Remember that for many Israelis “supporting” Azerbaijan, it is most likely the result of an ugly, organized, premeditated lobbying campaign by Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan does not have shared values with the state of Israel, it is not a democracy — it’s a dictatorship, and dictatorships are not true allies.

Emily Schrader is an Israeli journalist focused on Iran-Israel relations and global antisemitism.

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