Jewish attack rumors anger Azerbaijan rabbi


MOSCOW (JTA) — The head Chabad rabbi of Azerbaijan denounced reports of orchestrated attacks on Jews.

Rabbi Meir Bruk called the reports by the PanArmenian news agency a concerted campaign to drive a wedge between Israel and Azerbaijan.

On Tuesday, the news agency reported that several apartments where Jewish families live in the coastal town of Sumgait had been robbed and their residents attacked.

The article, the most viewed on the agency’s site, quoted the city’s head imam denouncing the attacks and attributed the quote to AzerTopNews, a news portal that has since ceased to function. JTA also reported Tuesday that the attacks had occurred and cited the imam’s comments, which are now being called into question.

The imam could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

In subsequent statements, the Interior Ministry of Azerbaijan and the local police in Sumgait denied reports by the Armenian news agency, saying there were no organized efforts to attack Jews in the country. A spokesman for the Jewish community in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, confirmed their assertions.

The original report on the PanArmenian Web site carried the provocative title, "Are the Jewish pogroms beginning again in Sumgait?"

Azerbaijan and Armenia have a history of tense relations, which are most evident in the tumultuous Nagorno-Karabakh region where both countries still maintain an armed presence. A predominantly Muslim country, Azerbaijan is home to thousands of Jews, mostly in Baku. Armenia, a majority Christian country, is home to some 200 Jews.

Bruk said that Iran and Armenia had tried to stoke conflict between Azerbaijan and Israel by playing up Azerbaijani sympathies for the Palestinian cause.

"For the Jews in Azerbaijan, there is no problem. We are loved and respected," Bruk said. "The spread of such information is intended to damage our relationship. No one should yield to provocations of their enemies."

Marina Ananykyan, the head editor of PanArmenian, told JTA that political provocation was not the agency’s intention, though she said they had not been able to confirm any more details of the Sumgait attacks.

Ananykyan said her agency had never used AzerTopNews as a source for stories and did not know why the site closed down the day after the attacks.

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