Unlikely Allies

“The Palestinians have unalienable rights, and I do believe they need to be respected. The Palestinians do have the right to have a state. At the same time,” said Suleymanov, “so do the Israelis. The Jewish state should not come into question.”

The two countries collaborate on more than one would think. According to Suleymanov, Azerbaijan supplies Israel with 40 percent of its oil — “and it’s very good quality oil,” he said. “We are very proud of our product.”

Israel each year exports to Azerbaijan more than four-billion-dollars’ worth of defense technologies, high-tech equipment and agricultural technologies.

“We have very good relations with Israel in terms of defense because it’s good for Israel, they make money, and it’s good for us because we need to upgrade our abilities. … An Israeli company was one of the first cellphone companies. Israel has the technologies, so why not? People ask me, ‘Why do you get the Israeli agriculture technology?’ I say, ‘We don’t get the Israeli agriculture technology, we get something that works.’ If they can irrigate the desert way better than anyone else, why not buy the technology?” he said.

In recent months, the Azerbaijani government has come into question; media critics began questioning the country’s historic openness and claiming new intimidation tactics, arrests and force against journalists. Suleymanov said he does not believe the reports to be accurate. He said that leaks like that make their way to the mainstream media are signs of an open society, and he said that just as one might watch the presidential debates in the U.S. and think that there is little the U.S. population agrees upon and that it is on the verge of collapse, so, too, is it when you examine his country from the outside.

He told the JT that the people of Azerbaijan are better off today than they were 20 years ago, and they think they will be better off tomorrow. For that, he said, there is a lot of government support. With Azerbaijan elections in October, Suleymanov said he thinks the incumbent president, Ilham Aliyev, will remain in office.

A main message? Focus on similarities, said Suleymanov.

“There is very little difference between Judaism and Islam,” he said. “You can focus on our differences all of your life or you can choose to focus on what unites us. … Our Jewish friends should not hesitate to talk to their Muslim friends [in Azerbaijan] and have a conversation. Azerbaijan can be a model of what could be done.”

Also read, “The Circle of Friendship: Azerbaijan and Israel.”

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chiefmjaffe@jewishtimes.com

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