November 19, 2018

Pittsburgh Tragedy: Azerbaijan Extends Solidarity and Hope

Signs of support are being shown throughout Pittsburgh following last week’s deadly synagogue shooting. Photo by Alan Freed/Reuters

When I learned about the tragedy in Pittsburgh, I felt profoundly sad. Eleven Jews had just been murdered by a depraved anti-Semite; their lives ripped away in a sacred space, a synagogue, on the Jewish day of rest and prayer. For those lives taken, and for the mourners reeling from this tragedy, that Shabbat is truly eternal, and one man’s act of hateful violence is unconscionable and unforgivable. 

In my homeland of Azerbaijan, messages and sentiments of solidarity and prayers for the victims and their loved ones have been pouring out from every corner. In a letter addressed to President Donald Trump, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev wrote: “I was deeply saddened by the news of casualties as a result of an armed attack at a synagogue in the city of Pittsburgh. On the occasion of this tragic event, on my own behalf and on behalf of the people of Azerbaijan, I extend my deepest condolences to you, the families and loved ones of those who died, and all the people of the United States.”

As consul general of Azerbaijan to the Western United States, I join my nation — a majority-Muslim country with thriving Jewish and Christian communities — in an outcry of support, solidarity and the most heartfelt condolences. As someone who has made Los Angeles a new home and has been privileged to become close friends with many Jewish leaders and organizations across California and throughout the United States, I reach out in total devastation as a friend and as a neighbor. To all of my Jewish brothers and sisters, my heart breaks for your loss and pain. I think of the many synagogues across Los Angeles where I have enjoyed celebrating Shabbat, and I think of the pain everyone is in, of how this tragedy is far too close to home.

“What happened in Pittsburgh is truly an assault on all people who believe in peace, because our values and our hopes are undeniably intertwined. “

Over the past six years, I have spoken to many shuls and organizations about the concept of multifaith harmony and respect, how it works in Azerbaijan, and how critical it is for communities across the United States and beyond; and how so many of us have shared this vision of peace that we know is possible. Clearly, our work is far from complete. We have so much yet to achieve together. 

My thoughts go out to my Jewish friends, colleagues and neighbors in Azerbaijan. I think of the synagogues and the hundreds of children of the Orthodox Jewish day school in our capital city of Baku, and I am thankful knowing that they are safe, that our national values and policies guarantee that safety every day. I am grateful that educating every child about the evil of anti-Semitism is part of the mandatory curriculum in Azerbaijan’s public schools, and that our society shuns it in its many forms. I think of the all-Jewish Red Town of Quba, where Jewish children walk proudly wearing kippahs, attending daily minyan and studying at one of the several shuls. 

I think of Jews across the world, and really all people of every religion, ethnicity or creed, and the blessing of each day that we walk safely through this tumultuous world. What happened in Pittsburgh is truly an assault on all people who believe in peace, because our values and our hopes are undeniably intertwined. 

The hatred of Jews hurts everyone, just as the hatred of any group of people is a sickness that affects our entire world; a revolving phenomenon of bigotry, racism and xenophobia that comes in many forms and leaves the same lasting mark wherever it exists. My condolences also extend to every victim of terror, to the many Muslims and Christians who were murdered by terrorists because of their faith. I think of the hundreds of lives lost in Khojaly in Azerbaijan, and how Jews and Muslims were killed side by side by invading forces in Karabakh, simply for being Azerbaijani. 

The loss of 11 precious lives on Oct. 27 signifies the same prejudice that has plagued our world for millennia. Whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian or a member of any other group found under the sun, we all deserve a world that is free from such destructive and inhumane tendencies. We all deserve a world that is free from anti-Semitism or any other version of hatred.

I hope that with our collective perseverance and an ever-increasing measure of time, the movements of hope, peace, respect and love for each and every fellow human being will outshine and overwhelm the forces of hatred and evil. And I believe we must do more than hope. We must act boldly and exhaustively in our policy, our schools, our daily practice and in how we treat one another. We must unambiguously stand against all forces of prejudice in the world, so that we can one day know a world without hate. A world that truly embodies “never again.”


Nasimi Aghayev, based in Los Angeles, is consul general of Azerbaijan to the Western United States and dean of the Los Angeles Consular Corps.