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Former Soviet States Weigh Israel Ties Vs. Popular Anger

Demonstration in Nardaran denouncing Israeli military strikes on the Gaza Strip
Demonstration in Nardaran denouncing Israeli military strikes on the Gaza Strip
By Antoine Blua
In Azerbaijan, Islamic activists have rallied several times since the beginning of the year against Israel's military operations in Gaza.

In one of the latest unsanctioned demonstrations, several hundred people gathered for the second time on January 5 in the village of Nardaran near Baku.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, one participant, Mustafayev Abdulla, condemned the "genocide of Palestinians by Israel. We demand that they stop this action and express our solidarity with the Palestinians."

On January 2, police broke up a demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in Baku, arresting about 20 people who later received two-week jail sentences.

Interestingly, the Azerbaijani government has yet to react to the Gaza crisis officially, much like the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, which is sticking to its foreign-policy principle of "positive neutrality." Meanwhile, the other Central Asian states, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, have issued cautious statements on the violence.

These countries' Foreign Ministries have said there was no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and called for both sides to agree to a cease-fire.

The governments of these majority Muslim states appear to be caught in a dilemma. Their governments have had close relations with Israel since their independence in 1991 that in some cases have expanded to include security cooperation.

And the last thing those governments now want is to fan domestic anti-Israeli sentiments and be seen in the West as part of an anti-Israeli coalition along with countries like Iran and Syria that are facing growing international isolation.

Muslim Fraternity

The Azerbaijani government, however, is not the only one to face domestic pressures.

Tajikistan's opposition Islamic Rebirth Party has condemned Israel's actions in Gaza. And at a meeting of about 2,000 supporters in Dushanbe on December 31, deputy party leader Muhiddin Kabiri demanded the government also condemn Israel, and allow the party to hold public protests.

"This not only the voice of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, this is voice of all Tajiks, perhaps all Central Asians, and the continuation of what our mujahid brothers in Palestine are doing," Kabiri said.

Israel's military operation in Gaza has sparked protests across the Muslim world.
In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, independent political observer Mars Sariev expresses concern over what he calls the politicization of Islam. "The more strongly the situation in Palestine aggravates, the more strongly Islam is politicized," he says. "There are some politicians who use Islam for their purposes. The position of [moderate] Muslims has suffered, and radical Islam grows. And this factor cannot be stopped with weapons. It is wrong."

The country's Union of Muslims is planning to rally in Bishkek on January 12. The new, unregistered, nongovernmental organization has threatened to hold "wide-scale actions" in support of the Palestinians if the international community does not stop what it calls Israel's "aggression."

"Israel, without taking into consideration [other's opinion], has sent troops into Gaza and killed some 500 innocent citizens, Arabs," union co-Chairman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu, who is also the leader of the Free Kyrgyzstan Democratic Party, tells RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

"Therefore we appealed to the UN, United States, Russia, China, and the presidents of other powers. The war must be stopped immediately and Israel must pull out its troops."

Strategic Considerations

Meanwhile, Russia's Council of Muftis has condemned Israel's military operations and expressed support for the Kremlin's policy in the Middle East.

Russia, which is home to a large Muslim population and has sought closer relations with the Islamic world, has described Israel's ground offensive as a "dangerous escalation."

Moscow also dispatched its Middle East envoy, Aleksandr Saltanov, to the region to secure a cease-fire.

But Russia, too, faces a balancing act.

Russian-Israeli relations are complex. In 1947, Soviet leader Josef Stalin backed the founding of the state of Israel. During the Six-Day War in 1967, the Soviet Union broke off relations and subsequently supplied weapons to the Arab states that fought Israel.

Many say Moscow's current approach in the Middle East is based on a pragmatic quest for opportunities. Russian-Israeli relations have improved steadily over the past 15 years, as have business and cultural ties, as the Russian-speaking segment of Israel's population has exploded to 20 percent.

Meanwhile the Chechen wars and terrorist attacks in Russia have led to a strengthening of sympathy on the part of many ordinary Russians for Israel.

This improvement in relations has occurred despite Russia's continued ties with Iran and Syria and contacts with Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Friend Of My Enemy

In Georgia, meanwhile, the public's sympathies appear to be even clearer.

Dozens of students held a pro-Israel rally in Tbilisi on January 5, waving Israeli flags and banners reading "Israel has the right to defense" and "Stop terrorism."

Georgia's pro-Western government has expressed "concern" over the "deteriorating" humanitarian situation in Gaza. But it said such situation had been triggered by rocket attacks launched by Hamas against "innocent Israeli civilians."

"We have thousands of Georgian Jews living in Israel. Because of that we have a very close relationship. Then we bought arms from Israel and they helped us in preparing our army. And we understand that Israel is defending itself," says Aleksandre Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi.

"And also Hamas is not popular here, especially because it's an extremist organization and also because [during] the Georgian-Russian war [in August], the Hamas leadership took very seriously the Russian side," he adds.

In the Moscow-backed Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia, the Spiritual Board of Muslims condemned Israel's "new aggression" and its support for Tbilisi.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani, Georgian, Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Tatar-Bashkir services contributed to this report
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Sergey from: USA
January 07, 2009 19:36
&quot;In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, independent political observer Mars Sariev expresses concern over what he calls the politicization of Islam. &quot;The more strongly the situation in Palestine aggravates, the more strongly Islam is politicized,&quot; he says. &quot;There are some politicians who use Islam for their purposes. The position of [moderate] Muslims has suffered, and radical Islam grows. And this factor cannot be stopped with weapons. It is wrong.&quot;<br /><br />And what exactly Mars Sariev proposes ? Should Israel let Hamas continue to fire the rockets from Gaza ? Should Israel disband itself, so Hamas and other Islamists would be satisfied ?<br /><br />I think all this liberal gibberish about &quot;politicization of Islam&quot; is nonsense. Classical Islam is not merely a religion--it is also a totalitarian, political, imperialist and expansionist ideology seeking to impose Islam with its Sharia laws all over the world. Until non-Islamic world and especially radically liberalized Western establishments stop hiding from this tough fact and start acting accordingly, Islamists have a great chance of reaching their goal of the worldwide Islamic caliphate with all the terrible consequences for Human Rights, Women Rights, freedom of religion (i.e. death for converting from Islam for apostasy), stoning for adultery, amputation of limbs for petty theft and so on and on.

by: Samantha from: USA
January 08, 2009 15:57
The current conflict in Gaza, I don't believe reveals the politicization of Islam. I believe it reveals the aggressiveness of Israel and how comfortable much of the international community is with Israel's actions in Palestine and in Gaza. Much of the pro-Western countries' stances are pathetic. There is nothing wrong with choosing sides in a conflict, but to echo the same platitudes as the U.S. does shows that a particular country cannot think for itself and it is reliant on the foreign policy of another country to make decisions for them. This makes a country weak and open to influence. I wish everyone would just think for themselves.<br /><br />With many of the more populous Islamic states taking a stance of &quot;positive neutrality&quot; shows that many don't want to get involved. Involvement would result in the politicization of Islam since you are forcing people of a particular religion to choose sides in a political conflict where religion is one of the focal points.<br /><br />And for the record Sergey, I am not a Muslim, but NOT all Muslims seek to establish and impose Shariah law upon all. Regarding your comments about Islam being imperialist, totalitarian, and political--couldn't the same thing be said about Christianity?<br />

by: Sergey from: USA
January 08, 2009 18:57
&quot;The current conflict in Gaza, I don't believe reveals the politicization of Islam. I believe it reveals the aggressiveness of Israel and how comfortable much of the international community is with Israel's actions in Palestine and in Gaza.&quot;<br /><br />Samantha, Israel is living under siege since its rebirth in 1948 from its Islamist and Islamo-Nazi neighbors who sought repeatedly to wipe it off the map, first through wars, now through terror groups, like Hamas and Hezbollah. The only way to survive is to be firm and agressive in the best sense of the word. Islam was never merely a religion--it was also a totalitarian political ideology seeking to impose itself all over the world by all means, including wars and violence. I will recommend to visit websites like www.jihadwatch.org to read critical analysis of Islam instead of listening to mantras that &quot;Islam is religion of peace&quot; and the like. Time to see darker side of Islam instead of pretending the historical tragedies associated with Islamic beliefs and attitudes do not exists.

by: Martin from: USA
January 08, 2009 20:24
Unfortunately most Central Asians are not well informed about world affairs because their governments do not allow a free press. One result is that the small Islamist factions can spread a one-sided view of the Arab-Israeli conflict.<br />The real cause of the current conflict is Israel's unwillingness to commit suicide to satisfy the desires of the pro-Iranian Hamas, which refuses to recognize the right of Israel (a member of the U.N.) to live in peace IN ANY BORDERS at all. No state can allow a neighbor to rain missiles onto its citizens, as Hamas and other radical groups have done from Gaza.

by: Sinav from: Azerbaijan
January 08, 2009 21:19
I agree with Sergey.<br />The reason that most countries do not tend to take sides in this conflict is that they are fully aware of the fact that an Islamic country like Iran which is in fact one of the axis of Evil is fully backing Hamas. If Hamas is the dominant force in Gaza or any part of the region it means that Iran has got the upper hand there and as a result the pathetic rules of Sharia will challenge freedom and stability in the region. <br /><br />But about the protests in Nardaran I need to point this out that Iran has been educating and sending muftis to Nardaran for a long time. Nardaran not just is the recipient of religious educations but they are being exposed to Iranian policies via the books being distributed there and formerly operating TV channels that are originated in Iran. The intriguing point is that all this education is carried out in Azerbaijanis language while over 25 million Azerbaijanis in Iran are deprived of their right to study in their own Azerbaijanis mother tongue. <br />

by: Marc from: USA
January 09, 2009 00:01
Samantha writes &quot;NOT all Muslims seek to establish and impose Shariah law upon all. Regarding your comments about Islam being imperialist, totalitarian, and political--couldn't the same thing be said about Christianity?&quot;<br /><br />We should ask ourselves a question: What is a &quot;Muslim&quot; or a &quot;Christian&quot;? The fact of the matter is that a true Muslim takes his Koran seriously. I must remind you that when one does that, he or she inevitably will choose the way of violence, since the Koran's teachings (especially the later surras, which are considered to be most to be obeyed)are clear that true Muslims should &quot;kill Jews and Christians wherever they are found.&quot;<br /><br />A true Christian likewise will take his Bible seriously, leading to a life of compassion and forgiveness: &quot;For I tell you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.&quot; Christianity is anything but totalitarian or imperialist(it was the inspiration for the abolition of slavery, the establishment of the rights of the governed, fair and just laws, etc, etc, etc.). In fact, the very freedom and rights that allow you to write what you want, Samantha, were inspired by the faith of Christian thinkers.<br /><br />Now, that does not mean that people haven't used the name &quot;Christian&quot; as a cover to do evil. They have. But all that proves is that they were not followers of the Christian faith. Jesus put it plainly when He said that &quot;you will know them by their fruits.&quot; <br /><br />Conversely, it is the nominal Muslim, not the serious adherent of Islam, who is a peaceful and good citizen. Israel has many Muslim citizens who are not supporters of Hamas. I just can't understand your position. The hundreds of rockets that began this latest violence were fired by Hamas at Israeli civilians. What would you want your country to do if a neighboring people were trying to kill your children with suicide bombs and rockets, vowing to destroy your nation? Just sit there and not try to stop it? <br />

by: Yury from: Chicago
January 09, 2009 20:19
I think most of the conflicts we hear about today, be it energy-related (Ukraine-Russia) or the war in Palestine-Israel has both sides to blame... More or less, both sides are to blame for the escalation. It is too near-sighted a move to protest against one side and not the other. It would be so much better if everyone could just reach a compromise and get along, but, alas, that seems just simply too hard to do.

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
January 10, 2009 01:49
My last few comments were not posted on this site.<br />Why?<br /><br />I only mentioned that most of so-called Palestinians, like Hamas and Hisballa, were brought from Iraq by the British and later Russians, breeding into magority in Jordan, Palestine and Libanon, and that Russian Spetcnas might move after annexation of South Osetia and Abkhazia to Palestine - to do the same to Israel.<br /><br />Konstantin.<br />

by: Turgai Sangar
January 10, 2009 10:32
&quot;Russian Spetcnas might move after annexation of South Osetia and Abkhazia to Palestine - to do the same to Israel.&quot;<br /><br />Obezatelnoe!And then bite the dust like they did against the Afghan Mujahedin in the 1980s. :)lol<br /><br />&quot;I will recommend to visit websites like www.jihadwatch.org&quot;<br /><br />Yes do that. And see for yourselves to what extent bloggers and commentators on this sort of anti-Islamic sites are stuck in puberty and the anal level. <br />

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
January 10, 2009 23:23
The solidarity of brothers in faith exists<br />Not only among Muslims - if a war is just.<br />But just is not, you narrow it to Russist,<br />Who attempting World fight itself to dust<br />As Europe energy is cut from Russian East.<br /> <br />&quot;Muhe-Medi-Kurashi&quot; is a Median Oak Tree,<br />Media was Southern-Eastern Georgia once.<br />Muhamed sent Ali to North Western Iran:<br />&quot;Offer my ansestor's brothers my faith,<br />Rest of Georgia follows Crist's Allah.&quot;<br /><br />Arabs invaded Georgian South West 7 AD.<br />Guria reminded them what Muhamed said.<br />Arabs attended simposium - and agreed.<br />They left. Babilon mullas - sent away.<br />So will happen to lying Russian greed.<br /><br />Konstantin.

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