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Azerbaijan pushes for increased Israeli tourism

The wartime tourism push by the predominantly Shi'ite Muslim country is the latest sign of the burgeoning ties between the two countries.

Azerbaijan Tourism Board CEO Florian Sangeschmidt at the Israeli Tourism Expo in Tel Aviv, April 3, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.
Azerbaijan Tourism Board CEO Florian Sangeschmidt at the Israeli Tourism Expo in Tel Aviv, April 3, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.

Azerbaijan is working to boost Israeli tourism, with the flight schedule between Tel Aviv and Baku returning to pre-war levels this month, the head of Azerbaijani tourism bureau said Thursday in Tel Aviv.

The wartime tourism push by the predominantly Shi’ite Muslim country is the latest sign of the burgeoning ties between the two countries, at a time of growing antisemitism around the world and isolation of Israel amid its six-month old war with Hamas.

“Azerbaijan continues to be open and safe for Israeli tourists,” Florian Sangeschmidt, CEO of the Azerbaijain Tourism Board, told JNS during an official visit for the annual Israeli Tourism expo. “It is an important message that we are here.”

Only 12 countries, including Azerbaijain, sent representatives to Tel Aviv Tourism Exhibition on April 3-4, which focused on promoting tourism to Israel after the war, while some two dozen other nations other participated in the event last year were notably absent. The additional countries participating in the event were France, Czech Republic, Cyprus, El Salvador, Taiwan, India, Greece, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Romania and Ethiopia.

Defying external pressures, the state-run Azerbaijan Airlines resumed direct flights from Baku to Tel Aviv last month, and is now operating nine weekly flights between the two cities. Together with the three flights that Israir is also relaunching at the end of the month, the number of flights between the two countries is now returning to pre-war levels, Azerbaijaini tourism officials said.

“There is this perception of Azerbaijain as Muslim nation, but it is really a colorful tapestry and destination showcasing a multi-ethnic society,” he added. He noted that many Israelis had thanked him for coming to the tourism expo during wartime.

Thirty thousand Israelis visited Azerbaijan last year, which remained a safe haven for Israelis as antisemitism surged in European capitals and around the globe following the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre.

Last year, Azerbaijan made history by becoming the first Shi’ite country to open an embassy in Israel.

For Israel, ties with Azerbaijan—which shares a 428-mile border with Iran and supplies and estimated 30% of the Jewish state’s oil—are of strategic importance. At the same time, Azerbaijan is a leading purchaser of Israeli military hardware, which helped lift Baku to victory in its 2020 war with archrival Armenia.

About 25,000-30,000 Jews live in Azerbaijan today, while tens of thousands of Jews from Azerbaijan immigrated to Israel and maintain strong ties with the Caucasus nation.

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