American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA) hosted the 2nd “Looking in, Speaking Out: Commemorating Khojaly and Standing Against Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing”

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Gathering 28 years to the day when 613 Azerbaijanis were murdered on 25 February 1992, the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA) hosted the 2nd “Looking in, Speaking Out: Commemorating Khojaly and Standing Against Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing” event at the Center for Jewish History.

The event brought together a diverse audience to “remember to victims of ethnic violence, and to acknowledge that effects of genocide do not stay limited to where it was committed. As Martin Luther King, the visionary leader of American civil rights said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” according to MALA’s Founder and Chair Zainab Khan. “We stand in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters, and other victims and survivors everywhere, from Cambodia to Rwanda to Bosnia and beyond. It is imperative that public knowledge of such crimes expands if we are true to our ‘Never Again’ slogan. We need to be aware that without vigilance, such scenarios may not be just events of the past,” Khan added.

Speakers included Sami Steigmann, a Holocaust survivor from Romania, MALA Deputy Director Ahmed Flex Omar, a survivor of the Isaaq Genocide, and Agil Huseynov, a member of the Azerbaijani diaspora community.

Steigmann spoke about the intellectual and moral imperative to use terms “Holocaust,” “Genocide,” “Nazi,” and “Concentration Camp” properly, to reject emotionalism and embrace moderation, as well as to engage constantly in education and dialogue. While previously unaware, he promised to incorporate what he had learned about Khojaly in preparation for the event in his lectures throughout the year to increase awareness.

Huseynov said: “…the tragedy of Khojaly is not to be treated in isolation or perceived as a mere accident of the Nagorno-Karabakh war. It is a monstrous and alarming manifestation of intolerance, xenophobia, and aggression… Nothing can prevent this from happening again unless all of us join our efforts in commemorating this tragedy, honoring its victims, and standing up against xenophobia with a unified message of tolerance, coexistence, and peace.”

The ASF’s Executive Director Jason Guberman spoke about how this event is part of efforts that began in May, when, in observance of Yom HaShoah and during the United States Holocaust Remembrance Week, Sheikh Dr. Mohammad Abdulkarim Al-Issa announced the “It Stops Now” https://youtu.be/p_3lnYhQ_7g (See video).

Agreement against hate, bigotry, and fanaticism, signed by the Muslim World League and Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations with the American Sephardi Federation.

More recently, Sheikh Dr. Al-Issa went to Auschwitz, where he declared “‘…On behalf of Muslim scholars and in the name of Muslim peoples under the umbrella of the Muslim World League” that the “Holocaust is truly the most horrific crime in human history, in which six million Jews perished at the hands of Hitler’s Nazi regime…'”

Guberman concluded by speaking of the significance of the number 613 in Jewish tradition and paralleled the “Taryag” victims with the commandments: “If you investigate the writings of the Hakahmim (or Sephardic sages), the purpose of the mitzvot is to benefit humanity, to make people more sensitive to each other, and, in so doing, to serve God. It can be argued then that the atrocity we are commemorating today that extinguished 613 innocent lives did the opposite. It sowed discovered and dissent… Here we are of different religions and different ethnicities finding unity and common ground that the perpetrators of Khojaly sought to destroy and deny to this day.”

Photographs (Courtesy of Zak Siraj): https://www.facebook.com/pg/americansephardifederation/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1530636093755877

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