Her name is Tatyana Goldman Alexander, she is Jewish and she is serving as one of seven women, among a total of 39 Supreme Court judges, on the Supreme Court bench of the majority Moslem country, Azerbaijan.
This is my second meeting with Madam Tatyana, an extremely friendly and hospitable lady, open to a heart-to-heart chat. I especially requested an interview with the Lady Judge because it is rare to see a woman serving in such a high position when Moslem countries are known for their oppression of women. And a Jewish woman on top of it? That is the ultimate. There are no Jews living in Moslem countries. But Azerbaijan, though a majority Moslem country, is a total different story, a story I wanted to tell.
Madam Tatyana’s roots are in the Ukraine. She comes from a long line of professionals, lawyers, doctors, architects.
Her mother’s grandfather was a lawyer. He was one of only five Jewish students in the entire Russian empire who were accepted to study at St. Pietersburg University. However, he could not get a job unless he changed his religion, gave up being a Jew.
Her father’s family, name Gusman, she thinks were originally expelled from Spain, moved to Baku from Ukraine in the early years of 20th century; her mother’s family moved to Baku from Ukraine in the 19th century. Why? Because both families had many children and suffered from intolerance.
During Stalin’s rule, life in Baku was difficult for everyone, especially for Jews. Stalin wanted to build a country for Jews north of Siberia where living conditions were intolerable. For instance, her grandmother’s sister who lived in the Koluma Region, Azerbaijan, was sent to that futuristic planned Jew region where she was held and was brain washed for 17 years. When Stalin died, she returned to Baku with a mission to build Communism in Azerbaijan.
During the Communism era, life for Jews in Baku was difficult.
In Baku, the Gusman family is well known. Her father, an architect built many buildings in Baku still standing today.
Madam Tatyana’s formal studies took place in Baku. She received elite education, earned a law degree and practiced law. “In Soviet times many Jews became lawyers” she states.
About the Azerbaijan Judicial System
The country has an irregular constitution.
There are three division of courts:
1/ Regional Courts
2/ Appeal Courts
3/ Supreme Court
The Supreme Court plenum is seasonal and takes place four times a year. It is open to the public.
Madam Tatyana practiced law before she was nominated a Supreme Court Judge.
In Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court, made of a total of 39 judges, there are seven women serving, “with equal rights, problems, issues” Madam Tatyana explains.
There is one woman serving in the court’s criminal division; 4 women are serving in the court’s civil division, one of them is Madam Tatyana; two women are serving in the economy administration division.
In the civil division, each judge, in total 17 of them, works on approximately 600 cases a year. Madam Tatyana has two assistants to help her with the load of work. With pride she tells me that there are not too many criminal cases the Supreme Court deals with.
A Jew in Baku, Assimilation on a Happy Note
Madam Tatyana proudly wears a Hamsa around her neck. (Hamsa, the Hand of Fatima and the Hand of Miriam, is a popular good luck symbol found throughout the Middle East and northern Africa, particularly within the Islamic and Jewish faiths). She is married to a non-Jew from Russia. “My motherland is Azerbaijan,” she emphasizes. “I am a Jew and I know it but I do not practice the religion. I recognize that Israel is the motherland of the Jews, but my heart and my roots are here in Baku,” she explains.
Madam Tatyana has visited Israel many times. She has close family living in Israel. Her mother’s sister lives in Ashdod, so does her cousin; others live in Netanya. She likes Israel, she likes her Jewish roots, but she does not like the catastrophes the Jewish people have been through.
Her son, a lawyer, married to an Azerbaijani Moslem woman, is an executive in a large construction company. “My daughter-in-law is a Moslem, my grandson a Moslem, they are happily married, so I am happy,” she smiles while telling me this.
I met several Azerbaijani Jews and yes, the assimilation rate is high among the small Jewish community.
“During my lifetime, as a Jew living in Azerbaijan neither my family nor I have ever encountered problems as Jews. Azerbaijani society is among the most tolerant societies. We are people, we are Azerbaijanis, nothing else,” she proudly explains.
In Azerbaijan, a Moslem majority country, there are 500,000 Christians and 30,000 Jews and several other rather small ethnic groups. Though the country is Moslem majority, it is a secular society. The government works tirelessly to keep the entire society, no matter their background or religion, solidified as one nation. The country’s social structure is based on civil identity and all ethnic and religious groups are equally protected. The government monitors the needs of all the small ethnic groups in order to make sure they are content and thus keep in line with the government’s society model of coexistence, which creates a safe society.
You may ask why this story? I am a Jewess. During my two visits to Azerbaijan I felt at home. It is because in Azerbaijan everyone practices his or her religion safely, that includes the Azerbaijani Jews. This exemplary country tells the world it can all be different. Unlike what we see in the world today and from time immemorial, a society made of different ethnic and religious groups can live in harmonious coexistence. It all stems from the right education and approach.
Mrs. Tatyana Goldman Alexander is a Jew, living in a Moslem country, yet, she enjoys the freedom and opportunities any human being on earth deserves. In Israel, like in Azerbaijan, Moslems, Moslem women, enjoy the very same rights and possibilities. Azerbaijan’s society model is a case to follow. The Moslem state majority, Azerbaijan, and the Jewish state, Israel, both enjoy excellent, all-around relations. These two countries, though different in many ways, are exemplary societies from which the entire world can learn a lesson of coexistence and valiant cooperation.