Although the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the border region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lasted from 1988 to 1994, is little remembered in the West, it remains an open wound for Azerbaijan, which effectively lost most of the territory. In September, a monument was erected in the Azeri capital of Baku to Albert Agarunov, a Jew whose courage in the fighting made him a national hero. Diana Cohen Altman writes:
Azerbaijan’s population is more than 90 percent Muslim. Agarunov was a member of the community known as Mountain Jews in the region of Quba in northern Azerbaijan. On December 8, 1991, he and a fellow soldier, Agababa Huseynov, disabled several Armenian tanks and armored trucks.
Armenia set a bounty on Agarunov’s head. In May 1992, Agarunov, then twenty-three, was killed while trying to save his fellow soldiers as they defended the Azerbaijani town of Shusha, [considered by Azeris to be the] historic cultural capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Decades later, . . . many Azerbaijanis are quick to bring up Agarunov’s Jewishness as an example of “two great nations working together.” . . . Regularly, the discussion leads to remarks about the [relative] absence of anti-Semitism in Azerbaijan, often backed up by affirmations such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that Israel-Azerbaijan ties represent “something that we can show the world.”