23 May, Wednesday


“We can say with pride that unlike so-called civilized countries of Europe, Azerbaijanis never betrayed Jews" - Arye Gut

Interviews

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On 1 November 2005, during the 42nd plenary meeting, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution, marked January 27 as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. More than 90 countries, including Israel, Canada, Australia, Russia, Ukraine and the United States, acted as initiators for this document adoption. January 27 was not randomly selected as the Memorial Day. On the January of 27, 1945, the Soviet Army liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland. Approximately 1.5 million people had been killed in this camp. The exact number of those killed in Auschwitz concentration camp has not been estimated yet, as most of the documents had been destroyed.
 
According to the documents of the Nuremberg Tribunal, a total of 2.8 million people were killed in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp and 90 per cent of them were Jews.  The term holocaust comes from the Greek ὁλόκαυστος holókaustos: hólos, "whole" and kaustós, "burnt offering,” that is 'consumed by fire'.
 
On this remarkable day, the Head of Baku International Centre for Multiculturalism, head of the Israeli non-governmental organization "International Society Projects", expert on international relations Arye Gut gave an interview to Eurasia Diary. He said the Holocaust was a terrible tragedy that had not been erased from the memory of the Jewish people.
 
What should we learn from this part of the history?
 
Arye Gut: The Holocaust is a terrible and unbearable tragedy in the memory of the Jewish people. It is a pain, anguishes, humiliation, offence, brutality, barbarity, extermination of the Jewish people by the brutal and frantic fascist regime. For the first time I learned about the Holocaust from my grandfather who had lost all his family and all his relatives in the territory of present day Ukraine during this genocide. He survived only because he had been on the front at that time. Defending his homeland and making his way from Kiev to Berlin, he could not defend his loved ones. And probably it hurts so much when you come back victorious, but find your home empty because everyone is killed and there is no one to meet you. Approximately six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, the catastrophe of the European Jewry. By the end of the World War II, the Nazis destroyed even traces of death camps. There is plenty of evidence pointing that the Nazis removed or destroyed already buried remains of people before the arrival of the Soviet troops.
 
The war scattered people, and the survivors refused to report their relatives as dead, hoping to meet with them. Why is it necessary to distinguish the Jews among other victims, although in fact Nazism killed many nations? The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, prisoner of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz Eliezer Wiesel explained it briefly and correctly: "Not all the victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims of the Nazis".
 
The extermination of Jews was encoded by the German bureaucracy as "the final solution to the Jewish question”. The European Jewry perished in the ghettos, concentration camps, during "death marches" and as a result of mass executions.
 
Different countries all around the world as well as Azerbaijan commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day and remember victims of genocide. What could you tell us about the current daily life of Jews as well as about Semitism in Azerbaijan?
 
Arye Gut: And there were little places where Jews could hide, fleeing from this horror, barbarity and cruelty. One of such places was Azerbaijan, where the people always differed in their humane attitude to other peoples.
 
On January 27 each year, the United Nations remembers the Holocaust that affected many people of Jewish origin during the World War II. This day is called the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It also commemorates when the Soviet troops liberated the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland on January 27, 1945
 
Today is the day when we honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, remembering the Allied powers, whose troops defeated Nazism and those brave men who risked, and sometimes sacrificed their lives to save others. We should not ignore the cases of revival of anti-Semitism and must be ready to act against its new forms
 
Jews have lived in Azerbaijan since ancient times and they have never felt excluded. “We can say with pride that unlike many so-called civilized countries and peoples of Europe, Azerbaijanis never betrayed Jews, and Jews never betrayed Azerbaijanis. I am the grandson of Boris Stoyanovsky, an officer in the Soviet Army whose family was murdered by the Nazis in Ukraine, and as such participated before three years in an International Holocaust Remembrance Day conference in Baku. What made this a unique endeavor is that I traveled to a Muslim-majority nation, the Republic of Azerbaijan, for the conference, co-organized by the Baku International Multiculturalism Center and Baku Slavic University.
 
During the conference, my Azerbaijani friends expressed their condemnation of the cruel actions and genocide perpetrated by the Nazi fascist regime against my Jewish ancestors. During the conference’s discourse, I viscerally felt that Azerbaijanis perceived the pain and suffering of the Jewish people as their own. As a citizen of the State of Israel, it is clear to me (and the long anti-Semitic free history of Jews in Azerbaijan), that the leadership of Azerbaijan has not only incorporated attitudes toward Jews that transcends mere tolerance into its policies, but also into the fabric of its society.
 
Furthermore, it is evident and clear that Jews and Muslims in Azerbaijan have peacefully coexisted as brothers—and have become forever linked through common history and destiny. The ancient town of Krasnaya Sloboda (Quba) in northern Azerbaijan, said to be the only all-Jewish town outside of Israel, is the pride of Azerbaijan. The State of Israel, too, appreciates the role of the government of Azerbaijan vis a vis the Jewish community. Without this tradition of respect and partnership, the close bilateral relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel would not exist. Importantly, President Aliyev has earned the respect of a wide swath of Israeli society for his dedication in this realm and to the Jews of Azerbaijan. The relationships between Israel and Azerbaijan, as well as between Muslim Azerbaijanis and Jewish Azerbaijanis, cannot be explained away by simple mutual self-interest. Common values and a shared history permeate the modern relationship. Both countries are enriched by the human connections between them and a determination to live in diverse and religiously tolerant societies.
 
Azerbaijani and Jewish people have almost the same history. For example, both nations faced so many tragedies, genocides, massacres. Despite all brutality that they faced, they struggled and they are still struggling for their rights even today. I assume the history somehow played a decisive role to bring two nations closer to each other. It is not coincidence that during the Karabakh war, Jewish people also were fighting against Armenian occupants. Albert Agarunov, for example is not only a hero of Jewish nation, but also Azerbaijan's hero. In this regard, what would you like to add in terms of historical relations and mutual understandings between two nations?
 
Arye Gut: I agree with you concerning the same history. You said about Albert Agarunov, for example and I agree that he is not only a hero of Jewish nation, but also Azerbaijan's hero. In this connection, I would like to emphasize that Holocaust is a tragedy of my people, a tragedy that has long been a taboo subject. 
 
At the same time, we practically do not know about Hamza Sadigov-Azerbaijani hero who saved more 30 Jewish families and many Jewish children near Stalingrad. Believe me, Azerbaijan journalists, many historians do not know about this legendary man.
 
Hamza Sadigov, as part of the Soviet military intelligence service near Stalingrad, captured the closest associate of Hitler, General Johann von Roddenburg, who personally exterminated the Jews and was very cruel. This beast in the guise of a man was called “the father of the biological bomb" of Hitler, who conducted tests on Jewish children. It was Hamza Sadigov who became the savior of Jewish children. Thanks to his courage, dozens of Jewish families were saved.
 
During a special operation, the Azerbaijani “Sadygashvili" (Hamza Jumshudoglu Sadygov) destroyed a German concentration camp and ghetto called "Palace of Death", saved Jewish children from death, and was awarded with orders and medals. He was nominated for the "Golden Star" Hero of the Soviet Union for courage and heroism. There are a lot of documents about him and his valor. Hamza Jumshudoglu Sadygov returned to Azerbaijan, his native Aghdam region, as a hero. His grave is located in Azerbaijan’s territories, occupied by Armenian separatists and it is painful to realize that the hero, who had saved the Jewish children from the fascists, now lies under the feet of the Armenian fascists, who exterminated children both in the Azerbaijani city of Khojaly and in other occupied and nearby regions of Azerbaijan like German fascists. We should remember the name of hero of two peoples – colonel Hamza Sadigov…
 
Concerning historical relations and mutual understandings between two nations – Jews and Azerbaijanis my father and me decided to write the novel "The Pain". That is why, the bloody and barbaric act of genocide in the Azerbaijani town of Khojali is my personal pain, my personal tragedy. This tragedy is a crime against humanity.
 
Before some months, a novel entitled “PAIN” about the horrific events associated with the Khojaly massacre have been published in Israel. My father and me talk, in the book about the horrifying events associated with the genocide act committed by Armenian armed groups in Khojaly in 1992, and picture a romantic love history of two young people belonging to different religions, different nationalities, brought up in different environments, who had met each-other in the beautiful city of Baku, as fate willed. In the search of truth in the feature-documentary novel “PAIN”, we have talked about the mass killings committed in an Azerbaijani town. We have unmasked terrorist leaders of the contemporary Armenia, based on the testimonies of citizens of Khojaly who have been living witnesses of this bloody killing.We have pictured the sorrow and tragedy of the Azerbaijani peole with great heartache. We have sent a message of warning to the world about the nasty intentions of the Armenian terrorists who are disseminating death and horror, who have destroyed tangible and cultural heritage of the Azerbaijani history, but could not destroy the pure and bright feelings of the sons of the Homeland, which inspires them for a great mission – to protect their historical lands.
 
By the way, in a month, on February 25, 26 Azerbaijan will commemorate 26th anniversary of Khojaly genocide. Are there any similarities between Holocaust and Khojaly?
 
Arye Gut: During this auspicious International Holocaust Remembrance Day event, the Holocaust was discussed by scholars from around the world in the context of studying the proclivities of man and man’s ability to rationalize horror, such as the atrocities of the Nazis. The role of Azerbaijan as a haven for Jews escaping the Nazis was discussed in detail, but also discussed were the horrors to come, ones that befell Jewish and Muslim (and other) Azerbaijanis alike with the fall of the Soviet Union.
 
The names and geography of the towns and cities involved represent much more than a point on the map. In a historicalsense, they have evolved into symbols of cruelty and inhumanity—Babi Yar, Lidice, Oradour, Khatyn.In the early 1990s, for the Muslims, Christians, and Jews of Azerbaijan, another name was added to the list—Khojaly. The tragedy that transpired in the small Azerbaijani town of Khojaly was also a crime against humanity. Armenian armed forces, like the Nazis before them, committed unspeakable atrocities and barbaric acts. A total of 613 people were killed, 487 people were crippled, and 1,275 civilians—men, women, children, and the elderly—were captured, murdered, raped, and tortured in manners reminiscent of the Nazis. Most notably, the mass extermination of the civilian population of Khojaly was carried out for one reason—all were Azerbaijanis.
 
Unlike in the aftermath of World War II, the Nuremberg Trials, and the ongoing hunt for Nazis, the perpetrators of the extermination of Khojaly live freely in the modern-day Republic of Armenia. Many, eventoday, occupy high-level positions in government—SeyranOhanyan, SerzhSargsyan, and Robert Kocharyan, to name a few of the notables. Each participated in atrocities and like the Nazis, they must be brought before an international court to answer for their crimes. Like the Nazis, copious records exist attesting to their involvement and complicity. Unlike the Nazis, who were personally secretive about their crimes, several of these men gave interviews to the media lauding their criminal acts. Their reign, too, will end, as the Nazis did and as Armenia grows out of its warring infancy.
 
As was made clear during the aforementioned conference, we and our progeny must honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent atrocities like Khojaly. Wemusthonorthose like the Allied forces who fought and died to defeat Nazism. Further, we must not ignore contemporary anti-Semitism or Islamophobia and must act against it. This is a commitment not only to the Jewish people, but to all others who stand to suffer the same fate.The international community remembers the Holocaust, yet rampant anti-Semitism and xenophobia exists throughout Europe. Yet in independent and secular Azerbaijan, where multiculturalism is a way of life, fellow Azerbaijanis take upon the pain of the Jewish people with brotherly love.
 
Farid Hasanov

Eurasia Diary

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