November 21, 2018

Azeri Jews: Centuries of coexistence in Azerbaijan

“This,” says the guide, a man in his 20s with a round face, a hint of a mustache, beard and very short hair — “this below us is the city of Quba.”

We are standing at the top of a cliff, overlooking an urban development that at first sight looks like any other in this country — bright tin roofs, low-slung buildings, a few cars covered in dust because of the wind, but no commercial signs or logos — and, surprisingly, few mosques for a Muslim Shiite country like Azerbaijan.

Then I see the river that runs through Quba, and in the distance I notice a cluster of distinctive houses. They are more attractive, much larger, and decidedly different compared to others in surrounding areas. None of these houses looks like any other.

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“I ran against 17 other candidates of my own party” (the ruling New Azeri Party), Abramov states. “I won over all of them, and an international agency was watching the election. This is a democracy.”

In Quba, Abramov was a teacher, a principal and a rural organizer. “Today Quba is not unlike any other Jewish community,” he tells my translator, who then speaks to me in Spanish. “Our rabbi, butcher, mohel, chazzan — all were educated in Israel.”

Since the Helsinki Accords of 1972, the Jews of Azerbaijan have been exiting the country in large numbers, mainly going to Israel, where they number more than 50,000. Since most of the emigrants were Ashkenazis from Baku, the Mountain Jews remained here, as the majority of the community in the country.