As the conflict rages between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno- Karabakh, the Chabad emissary to Azerbaijan, Shneur Segal, has been praying for the victory of the ‘motherland’. David Ian Klein in The Forward filed this report:
Azeri Jewish girls before marriage, 1950s (photo: Bet Hatefutsot)
Azeris consider Shusha, in the north of the region, to be a city of national and historical importance, as it was a center of Azeri culture before the area was conquered by the Russian Empire.
“I believe we’ll hold our next sermon at Shusha,” Segal said during his synagogue’s service, according to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency.
Though most countries haven’t taken a side in the current conflict, the international community has largely recognized Azerbaijan’s claim to the region since the 1990s.
The current conflict has led to the most intense fighting that Nagorno-Karabakh has seen since the early 1990s. Following a few clashes over the summer, it began in earnest in late September. Both sides claim the other struck first, both have seen heavy casualties, and both have seen their civilian populations, even outside of the conflict zone, targeted.
It’s further complicated by each side’s allies. Azerbaijan has received significant arm sales from Israel in recent years, as one of their few allied Muslim nations. Armenians have reported Israeli made-weapons being used on Armenian villages in Nagorno-Karabakh, prompting the country to recall its ambassador from Israel in early October.
However, far more troubling for Armenians is Azerbaijan’s biggest backer, Turkey. The memory of the Armenian genocide — perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, as it transitioned into the Turkish Republic — is fresh in the minds of Armenians, and war with Turkish backed enemy has led some Armenians to say that the conflict is an existential threat.
Armenia, on the other hand, is backed by both Russia and Iran.
When Rabbi Segal said he would give his next sermon in Shusha, he was speaking to the desire of Azeris to reconquer a region they feel was stolen from them 30 years ago.
“We prayed for every soldier and our army, which fights for our motherland,” he said at the service.
Across the battle lines though, in a Sukkah in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, Armenian Jews prayed too.
“I sat there with my mask on to protect against COVID-19, next to a Lubavitcher rabbi, praying that Israeli bombs won’t fall on Armenian lives,” an Armenian Jew named Rachel told Haaretz.
Unlike Armenia, which has only about 500 Jews,
Azerbaijan has a large and diverse Jewish community, estimated by its members at around 30,000.
Azerbaijan is the only place outside of Israel and New York state to contain an all-Jewish town. Qirimizi Qeseba, sometimes known by its Russian name, Krasnaya Sloboda, is an enclave of Azerbaijan’s “Mountain Jews,” who have been present in the Caucasus Mountains since as early as the 8th century BCE.