By the decree of President of Azerbaijan of 14 November 2012, D.Harris was awarded with the order Dostlug for contribution to development of friendly ties between the peoples of Azerbaijan and America.
First of all, my congratulations with award. What is it for you? How would you assess the Presidential decree?
I was honored to learn about the award. The announcement came as a total surprise to me.
How would you assess cooperation between Azerbaijan and the US and Jewish community in particular?
The cooperation between Azerbaijan and the United States is good in many spheres, but, of course, there is room for growth. With all the challenges currently surfacing around the world, it can be difficult at times to concentrate attention on one country or one relationship, but we believe that America’s interests are best served, precisely at this time, by deepening ties with Azerbaijan. Within the American Jewish community, there appears to be growing understanding and appreciation of Azerbaijan’s importance to the United States and Israel, and of the long-standing Jewish presence in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s enemy wants to represent Azerbaijan as a country where national minorities live under fear and oppression. How would you comment on that on the example of the Jewish community?
From several visits and many conversations, our impression is that Jews live in Azerbaijan without any sense of fear or discrimination. Indeed, I’ve been struck by the deep connection Jews from Azerbaijan feel for their country, whether they continue to live there or have moved to the United States or Israel.
Iranian leadership is not happy with close cooperation of Azerbaijan with Israel and the US. How real is the Iranian threat for secular Azerbaijan?
The Iranian threat is real. We have seen repeated examples of Iran’s efforts to interfere in the internal affairs of neighboring Azerbaijan, including attempted terrorist attacks. Iran is not happy that a prospering and secular Azerbaijan is just next door, and offers an alternative model of development in the region.
With the Iranian people suffering from high unemployment, the diminishing value of their currency, international sanctions, and stifling religious decrees, of course, Iran’s leaders worry that Azerbaijan looks far more attractive and alluring. And Azerbaijan’s leaders cannot sleep easily knowing that this Iranian regime seeks to acquire nuclear-weapons capability, which, if successful, could dramatically change for the worse the nature of relations between Iran and its immediate neighbors. Iran would then become the regional hegemon, exerting still greater influence than it does today.