Jews Are Caught in the Middle of Ethnic Unrest in Azerbaijan

There were conflicting reports Tuesday on whether Jews are among the casualties in the bloody unrest that has plunged the Soviet republic of Azerbaijan into a virtual civil war.

Reports from the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews and on Israel Radio said Jews had died in the bitter fighting between the predominantly Shi’ite Moslem Azerbaijanis and their mainly Christian Armenian neighbors.

But accounts from the National Conference on Soviet Jewry stated that, so far, Jews have been spared.

In most instances, the reports were based on telephone conversations with Jews in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

The one point on which all reports agreed was that fear runs deep among Jews in the Soviet Asian republic.

Jews, who have lived in Azerbaijan for some 2,000 years, now find themselves uncomfortably in the middle, torn between their warm relations with both the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis.

A reassuring report was made by the National Conference, which spoke by phone Tuesday to Yegev Sukholutsky, a leading member of Club Aleph, the Jewish cultural association of Baku.

Sukholutsky said he was not aware of any Jewish casualties in Baku, said Martin Wenick, national director of the National Conference.

But Sukholutsky confirmed that the situation is tense and that everyone is nervous. Despite this, Hebrew classes continued Tuesday as normal.

AT LEAST ONE DEATH REPORTED

However, another Jewish activist in Baku, identified as Leonid Mishne, said he knew of at least one Jewish death, though he said it did not appear to have been the result of anti-Semitism.

Mishne reported the news in a conversation with Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils. His report corroborated information the Union of Councils obtained through Armenian sources in the United States, who were in turn in contact with Armenians in Yerevan.

Mishne said the Azerbaijanis were looting Armenian apartments and that an unknown number of people, mostly Armenians, were being killed.

But Naftalin said that according to the information he has received, “they are leaving Jews alone. If they show them a Jewish passport, they just walk away.”

Misha Dworkin, another Hebrew teacher in Baku, told Israel Radio on Tuesday there were an unknown number of Jews among some 56 dead and 160 wounded to date.

He said that Jews had been targeted by the Azerbaijanis, because they “have the same faces” as Armenians.

The Armenian sources in Yerevan, providing a somewhat lower overall number of casualties, said there was one known Jew dead and five other non-Armenians whose nationalities were unidentified.

(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)

NEXT STORY