How Israeli-Palestinian fighting has divided the Azerbaijani public
The recent escalation in hostilities between Israel and Palestine has unexpectedly become a bone of contention in Azerbaijani society. The local social media platforms are filled with messages of support for both sides, even though the conflict seems geographically far from Azerbaijan.
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Friends vs brothers
Azerbaijan considers Israel to be one of its friends and main allies. The Jewish state openly supported Azerbaijan in the second Karabakh war and, to this day, acts as one of the main suppliers of weapons to the country, namely Harop drones.
On top of that, there is a drone production plant in Baku that was built in cooperation with Israeli defense enterprises.
On the other hand, Palestine is a Muslim country and the absolute majority of Muslim Azerbaijanis consider Palestinians to be their brothers in religion. The fact that Shiite Iran openly supports Palestine also acts as an important factor.
However, what has truly exacerbated the situation is Turkey’s reposnse.
Following the clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately reiterated Turkey’s traditional support for Palestinians.
A day later, the rhetoric of the head of the Turkish state became even harsher.
“I call on the whole world, led by Muslim countries, to take decisive action against Israel’s aggression against the Al-Aqsa mosque, Jerusalem and the Palestinians”, Erdogan posted on his Twitter page on May 9.
Almost simultaneously, Selchuk Bayraktar, one of the most revered Turks in Azerbaijan after the second Karabakh war, expressed his attitude to what is happening in Israel. Bayraktar, who also happens to be President Erdogan’s son-in-law, is the founder and head of the plant for the production of drones which played a decisive role in the war in Karabakh in the fall of 2020.
“Israel is a racist and fascist state. Where else in the world can they dance in honor of the murder of 16 children under bombs and the burning of a sacred temple? This fire that you have burned will turn towards you. Allah is just and great in his decisions”, Bayraktar posted on Twitter.
What stance should Azerbaijan take?
“The situation is not easy: Palestine is not our greatest friend, but Israel is. But Turkey sided with Palestine. How can Azerbaijan act in such a situation?”, asks one of the users on Azerbaijani social media.
Some well-known sites and pages on Facebook ask their readers the same question.
But not everyone is aware of the reasons behind the poor relationship between Azerbaijan and Palestine.
What are the underlying tensions between Azerbaijan and Palestine?
Since the beginning of the 1990s, the feeling towards foreign states in Azerbaijani society has been based on that country’s attitude towards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The motto “friend of my enemy is my enemy” formed the opinion of the people of Azerbaijan towards many foreign countries.
In Azerbaijan, Palestine is perceived as one of the friends of Armenia. This was facilitated by the opening in 2020 in Palestine of a street in honor of Armenia and the waving flag of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as part of that celebration.
Also, the dictum of the former leader of Palestine Yasser Arafat, in which he calls the struggle of Armenians in Karabakh “just”, is actively discussed on social media.
Official silence from Baku
Finding itself in such a difficult situation, when the closest ally – Turkey – openly supported the enemy of another ally, Baku did not express its attitude to what is happening in Israel.
“Many of our people are prohibited from writing about foreign policy. In particular, about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”, journalist and blogger and head of several pro-government news outlets, Hamid Hamidov wrote on his Telegram channel.
One may conclude that currently, Baku has decided to remain silent and abstain from openly supporting either of the sides of the conflict.
For some reason, many decided that Azerbaijan unequivocally supports Israel’s policy in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, political observer Agshin Kerimov said.
“Azerbaijan has a completely different position and it is based on international law.
The efforts of some to support Israel in any situation, and others to attack the very same Israel with the vocabulary of Iranian politicians, are conditioned by personal sympathies and are very far from objective assessments.
Israel is a partner of Azerbaijan, an ally even, but Baku has never made statements in support of an unjust policy and will never do so.
President Ilham Aliyev once opposed the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He also stressed that Azerbaijan supports the peaceful solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the principle of coexistence of two states and the declaration of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.
Azerbaijan recognized the issue of East Jerusalem as an act of annexation and opposed restrictions on those wishing to pray in the Al-Aqsa mosque”, Kerimov said in an interview with JAMnews.