by Gil Shefler, jpost.com
|photo by: Tal Rabina|
BAKU, Azerbaijan – About 200 people, including Azerbaijani President Ilhem Aliyev, Israel’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and businessman Lev Leviev, gathered in the capital of this moderate Muslim country just north of Iran on Monday for the inauguration of the new campus of a Jewish school.
The Chabad Or Avner school, which was built at a cost of $10 million donated by Leviev and other philanthropists, is spread out over 15 dunams of land overlooking the Caspian Sea and has about 400 students. The premises also include a Jewish community center and a sports facility, which will cater to the country’s estimated 12,000 Jews.
Jews have lived in Azerbaijan for a long time, and for generations they have shown how well they get along with other people,” Aliyev said, addressing the crowd at the ceremony. “We call on all other nations to treat minorities, like we do, with respect.”
The ceremony illustrated the importance that the government of this strategically located country sees in its ties with Israel and the Jewish people.
Azerbaijan is more than Iran’s next-door neighbor. For centuries it was part of greater Persia, until it was conquered by Russia 200 years ago. There are currently more ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Iran, where they make up 25 percent of the population, than in Azerbaijan.
However, two centuries of separation have led to significant differences between the two groups, which both speak Azerbaijani and adhere to Shia Islam.
Israel was one of the first countries to recognize Azerbaijan when it declared independence in 1991, and the two have had diplomatic ties ever since.
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