January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Designated on 1 November 2005 by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7, in a U.N. session that marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust; each year the world is ‘obligated’ to remember to ‘NEVER AGAIN.’
Azerbaijan is a model for tolerant society, constantly striving for cohesiveness
Azerbaijan is a model for interculturalism-multiculturalism, a country where they almost religiously practice the intercultural-multicultural, a behavior between people of different cultures, including different religious groups or people of different ethnic origins.
In Azerbaijan, a majority Shi’ite Muslim country, they believe that the Holocaust against the Jewish People was “really a crime against the entire humanity.” In Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital city, in order to reaffirm the country’s solidarity with the Jewish people, some memorial events take place on each International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
This year, to show the sentiments of solidarity, a well-attended event, organized by Israel’s Embassy and UN Office in Baku, was held at the country’s top university – ADA University – affiliated with Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry.
More so and beyond the designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in order to keep in mind and remember, all year round, the ‘Holocaust-Genocide against the Jewish people program’ was introduced into Azerbaijan’s school books. In Azerbaijan, with the hope to help humanity to save itself from such crimes to happen again, they teach future generations about the Holocaust in order for them to continue carrying the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ torch.
World War II and Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan’s oil fields helped the Soviets to defeat Hitler.
Azerbaijan borders with Russia to the north-east. World War II broke out rather unexpectedly in the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, and while Azerbaijan never became a combat zone during the years that followed, the republic suffered tremendous losses. Between 1940 and 1946, the population decreased from 3.27 million to 2.73 million, a loss of at least 534,000 people. In other words, one out of every six Azerbaijanis became a victim of this war. Over 400,000 of 700,000 Azerbaijanis, who went to fight the Nazi Wehrmacht, were killed in the war.
Baku became the major supplier of crude oil and oil products, so critically needed for the war machine. For example, during 1940 year, 22.2 million tons of oil were extracted from Baku, which comprised nearly 72% of all the oil extracted in the entire USSR. During that first year of WWII, Azerbaijan produced 25.4 million tons of oil, a historical record for its oil industry that was never be repeated. Consequently, the war could barely have been won had it not been for Baku’s oil supply and the fine quality of fuel that this city continuously supplied to the war front between the years 1941-1945.
In order to weaken the Soviet war front and strengthen his territorial conquests, Hitler was determined to capture the oil fields of the Caucasus, mostly the ones in Baku. Hitler was obsessed with oil, which the main element for his war machine. He was convinced that if he captures the Caucasus oil fields, then the German empire would be self-sufficient within its own borders and thus invulnerable.
The approved “Operation Edelweiss” (name of a tiny white flower growth on alpine mountainous slopes), an assault on the Caucasus, would have given Hitler Baku. To reach Baku, the German Führer would have to cross the Great Caucasus Mountain Range, and thus the symbolism. Hitler had no plans to bomb Baku and destroy the oilfields there, rather to be able to utilize them for his military’s consumption.
At the same time, Great Britain and France, the most active European nations attempting to counter Hitler’s attack, seriously considered bombing Azerbaijan’s oil fields to prevent Hitler from reaching them.
By late July 1942, Hitler’s quest to reach Baku appeared to be well on its way. On August 9, the German army reached Maikop, the most westerly of the Caucasian oil centers, which turned out to be quite a small oil source for the Germans. Under normal conditions, Maikop’s oil production was only one tenth that of Baku’s. However, the Russians, before withdrawing from the city had thoroughly destroyed the oil fields and supplies and equipment, right down to the small incidental tools of the workshops, leaving the Germans with the reality of being able to extract no more than 70 barrels per day from the oil wells there.
The Germans did not give up; they drove on, now thousands of miles away from their homeland and supply centers. Hitler’s determination to capture Baku was incessant. The date for the final attack and the capture of Baku was September 25, 1942. So sure for their success, few days earlier Hitler’s generals presented him with a large decorated cake which depicted the Caspian Sea and Baku. Fortunately, for Azerbaijan and the Allies, Hitler did not get the chance to “have his cake and eat it, too.”
Hitler’s fighting on two fronts’ strategy – Stalingrad (Volgograd) and the Caucasus – spread his resources way too thin and was proven disastrous. The Dictator’s mind was set, “Unless we get Baku’s oil, the war is lost.” Because of Hitler’s misjudgment, Stalingrad became German’s first major defeat in Europe and Baku was never reached nor captured.
This month, January 2018, Azerbaijan’s Los Angeles Consulate General screened a documentary on the subject, titled “Objective Baku: Hitler’s War on Oil,” at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The film was produced with the support of Azerbaijan’s Heydar Aliyev Foundation and was aired on National Geographic channel in several languages.
WWII implications and humanitarianism
During the WWII Azerbaijan accommodated some 440,000 wounded soldiers and sheltered an estimated number of 500,000 refugees from the Soviet Union’s occupied territories. This number included thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi persecutions. War time difficulties did not allow the Soviet Government to provide dedicated refugee camp or housing for them. The Azerbaijani people solved this matter by simply opening their homes to give shelter to these war refugees. Regardless of size of the local families, the refugees were distributed among local Azerbaijani families. The flow of refugees was massive and due to wartime pressure and priorities, these facts were not well documented. But the collective memory of the Azerbaijanis attests well to what transpired. The Azerbaijani movie, Bizim Jabish Muallim (Our Professor Jabish) tells a WWII story about Azerbaijani families sheltering war refugees and the social difficulties of the time.
Holocaust education in Azerbaijan
In Azerbaijan, teaching about the Holocaust is part of mandatory public school curriculum.
Hayat Bilgisi/World Vision or Understanding the world, is an Azerbaijan mandatory public school book containing sections about the absolute necessity to respect and understand other cultures and religions. Page 83 of the book specifically deals with the Holocaust perpetrated against the Jewish people, teaching Azerbaijani youth that “the Holocaust against the Jewish people was the largest ever genocide committed against a people, solely because of their ethnicity.” Additionally, it deals with negative phenomenon, such as racism and intolerance. In that section of the book, Judaism, along with other religions and cultures, is explained to young Azerbaijani school going children.
On the eve of the International Holocaust Memorial Day, Azerbaijani 5th graders (11-year-old) partake in a special elective seminar. On this particular day they invite a member of the local Azerbaijan’s Jewish community, in total 30,000 Jews now live in Azerbaijan; 20,000 named ‘Mountain Jews’ and 10,000 Ashkenazi Jew. Sometimes some schools also invite Israel’s Ambassador to Azerbaijan to attend the Holocaust commemoration ceremony.
Learning about the Holocaust and other tragic stories of humanity illuminates the danger when racism and xenophobia surface. The result is a call for Azerbaijani students to possess the moral obligation to respect others and promote the understanding of multiculturalism.
I said it and will say it again and again, there is no other country that can match Azerbaijan for intercultural-multicultural coexistence and tolerance, considering there are some 28 ethnic groups living peacefully under the country’s roof, and where all religions are freely practiced.
Writer’s footnote: Ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) has launched a global campaign encouraging millions of people to speak out on social media, to raise awareness about the Holocaust. The campaign calls on people in every country to hold up a sign with the words “We Remember,” and post it to social media with the hashtag #WeRemember. The campaign took off on Monday, January 9, 2018 and has already garnered thousands of positive responses.
In continuous solidarity, I recommend that Azerbaijan joins the #WeRemember world’s largest Holocaust Remembrance Event campaign.