Marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, this grandson of Boris Stoyanovsky, an officer in the Soviet Army, whose family was murdered by the Nazis in Ukraine, participated in an International Holocaust Remembrance Day conference. 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.
What was I doing attending an International Holocaust Remembrance Day conference in a Muslim-majority nation when I live in Israel of all places? What was a Muslim-majority country doing hosting an event of this sort, you may ask?
During the conference, my Azerbaijani friends expressed their pain and condemnation of the cruel actions and genocide perpetrated by the Nazi fascist regime against my people, the Jewish people. As they pointed out, in 1933 the Jewish population in Europe stood at over nine million. By 1945, the Germans and their collaborators killed nearly two out of every three European Jews as part of the “Final Solution,” the Nazi policy to murder the Jews of Europe.
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, bears my perceptions true), 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. Further, it is evident and clear that Jews and Muslims in Azerbaijan peacefully coexisted as brothers — and have become forever linked through common history and destiny.
Journalist, Parvin Ismayilova commented: “humanity should never again suffer atrocities like the ones of the Holocaust. The ability of feeling suffering of others is what makes us human. The still ongoing focus on ethnicity is a dangerous one, and no less in this region. Let us remember the crimes of the past in order to avoid us from repeating them.”
Each year, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev addresses the Jewish community regarding the enormity of the tragedy and urges all Azerbaijanis to recognize and remember the Holocaust as a lesson of what one man can do to another. This year, Mr. Aliyev stated, “Hearts still hurt for the broken fates of millions of innocent people suffered from the horrors of the tragedy, which remained as a black page in history. Unfortunately, similar crimes have repeated even nowadays. The Armenian military aggression against Azerbaijan in the end of the 20th century, bloody terror and mass violence, and the unprecedented Khojaly tragedy happened before the very eyes of the international community.”
What does the Holocaust and Khojaly have in common? Although very different, it is important to note that Israeli President Rubi Rivlin touched upon the Khojaly in his speech to the UN General Assembly at the event dedicated to the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Khojaly, a town in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, still occupied today by the now quasi-independent Armenia, was home to nearly 25,000 Azerbaijanis. On a February day in 1992, the roads from Khojaly to surrounding Azerbaijan were cut off and blockaded by Armenian forces and troops of the former USSR intent on the ethnic cleaning of the Azerbaijani population. The only option for the Khojaly population was to flee the town on foot, a treacherous journey.
On the eve of February 25th, Armenian armed forces began the final takeover of the area. Khojaly residents were told that if they evacuated they would be granted safe passage – they were soon to discover that this was a horrific act of deception. As the entire town’s population began to flee Khojaly, Armenian armed forces and members of the No. 366 Soviet motorized rifle regiment confronted the townspeople with fierce gunfire. The terrified and unarmed population, including woman and children, were slaughtered.
As a result of the atrocities of the Armenian armed forces, 613 people were killed and 487 people were crippled. The elderly, children and women who were captured were subjected to unprecedented torture, abuse and humiliation…incidentally atrocities similar to that of ISIS today.
Khojaly was not only directed against the Azerbaijani people. It is, in no uncertain terms, a crime against humanity. Today high ranking posts in Armenia are occupied by perpetrators of the atrocities of Khojaly and many others – current Armenian defense minister Seyran Ohanyan, current Armenian President Serj Sargsyan and former Armenian President Robert Kocharyan and others. Said Serj Sarqsyan to British journalist Thomas de Waal 23 years ago, “Before Khojali, the Azerbaijanis thought that they were joking with us, they thought that the Armenians were people who could not raise their hand against the civilian population. We were able to break that stereotype.”
It is impossible to imagine international acceptance of prominent Nazi war criminals, especially those, who bragged about their crimes as respectable politicians. Shouldn’t the perpetrators of Khojaly be held to the same standard?