Jews Join Exodus From Azerbaijan : Soviet Union: Some tell tales of threats and violence by Muslims. Most want to emigrate to Israel or the U.S.
Azerbaijani Jews, fleeing by the thousands, are the latest refugees to arrive here from the troubled capital of Baku. Fearful of becoming the next target in the bloody ethnic warfare in the southern Soviet republics, they are desperately seeking permission to leave for Israel or the United States.
Some of the refugees report incidents of Jews being beaten or threatened by Muslim extremists. But most say they are worried about the future, afraid that bitter Azerbaijani militants will vent their anger on Jews because most of the Armenians from Baku have fled or gone into hiding.
Nathan V. Yeremeyev, a Jew who left Baku with his wife and son Sunday, told a reporter: “A friend of mine was approached by a gang of Azerbaijanis. He said he wasn’t Armenian, and they said, ‘But you are Jewish, right? So we will beat you for the Arabs.’ ”
Yeremeyev, who was hoping to talk with Israeli diplomats in Moscow, went on: “I myself was attacked and cut on the face when I tried to help an Armenian friend. That’s when we began to think seriously about emigrating.”
At least 72 Armenians in Baku have been killed by Azerbaijani militants this month, according to official figures. The Soviet army pushed its way into Baku on Jan. 20 in an effort to restore order and repress a nationalist uprising.
But officials say that isolated, spontaneous attacks against Armenians have continued despite the presence of the army.
Jews coming out of Baku report steady harassment, and they say it has increased in recent weeks.
Miron Gordon, an Israeli diplomat overseeing the issuance of visas to Jews at the Israeli Consulate, said that about 10,000 Jews live in Baku and that several thousand of them have approached Israeli officials this month.
The Israeli Consulate is in the Dutch Embassy. Israel has had no embassy here since the Soviet Union severed diplomatic relations after the 1967 Six-Day War.
Gordon said: “People are still letting out steam in Azerbaijan, and the Jews fear more of it will be directed at them.”
Israel is at odds with the Soviet Union again after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said last week that he hoped Azerbaijani Jews would help settle the occupied West Bank of the Jordan River.
According to the Soviet news agency Tass, Deputy Soviet Foreign Minister Yuli M. Vorontsov called in the head of the Israeli delegation, Arieh Levin, on Monday and complained that Shamir’s attitude could damage prospects for Middle East peace and make Jewish emigrants “tools in the implementation of unlawful plans.”
“We strongly declare against endangering Soviet emigres by using them to crowd Palestinians out of their own land,” Vorontsov was quoted as telling Levin.
Nevertheless, Gordon said, Israel is eager to welcome the Azerbaijani Jews, regardless of whether they settle in the occupied territories.
Gordon, who emigrated to Israel from Lithuania in 1959, said: “There is a feeling among many Soviet Jews that the time has come for exodus (the Biblical word for the escape of ancient Israelites from Egypt). Everywhere around the country, there have been warnings from extremists that pogroms of Jews are imminent. But for the moment, the threat to Jews from Baku seems most substantial, so we have made them our priority.”
Gordon said it will probably take several months for all the paper work to be completed so that the Jewish refugees from Azerbaijan can emigrate.
“We can do our part within several weeks,” he said. “But the Baku Ovir (emigration processing office) has been intermittently closed, and the Moscow office does not seem willing to process Jews from Azerbaijan.”
At the U.S. Embassy, the wait is even longer. Officials there say that Azerbaijani Jews or Armenians with close relatives in the United States can expect to wait about a year for permission to emigrate to the United States. Those without such relatives will have to wait much longer.
“In terms of getting out of an acute situation, the United States cannot offer anything to these people right now,” one U.S. official said.
The United States has received about 250,000 applications from would-be emigrants throughout the Soviet Union since October, and about 75,000 Soviets are expected to be given permission to leave in 1990, the official said.
“We have a tremendous backlog of applications,” he said. “In addition, it is our position that Armenians and Azerbaijanis seeking to emigrate have homelands that should be able to accommodate them.”
Melkum Janumov, a Jew from Baku, was standing in front of the U.S. Embassy on Monday as he does most days, smoking a cigarette and talking to acquaintances. Janumov, 38, a former technician, said he has no job in Moscow, no real life, and is waiting only for a chance to talk with U.S. officials.
“From childhood,” he said, “I considered the United States to be the most democratic of all nations. That’s why I want to go there.”
Others are urgently seeking any way out. Sveta Mahmudova, 50, waited with her daughter for hours Monday in front of the Dutch Embassy, hoping to show an Israeli diplomat written character references from Jewish friends.
She is an Armenian Christian, and her husband is an Azerbaijani. But she decided to appeal to the Israelis after hearing at the Armenian mission in Moscow, where she has been living for the last week, that Israel is issuing visas more quickly than any other country.
“I no longer feel I have a motherland,” she said. “I just want to live quietly, and there is nowhere to do that here. If the Israelis will take me, I’ll be a credit to their country, and so will my children.”