‘Religious Minority’ is an alien term for us  | Interview + VIDEO

  08 July 2024    Read: 625
 ‘Religious Minority’ is an alien term for us   | Interview + VIDEO

‘Using religion for political ambitions has always backfired’

We have recently been witnessing a lot of bias regarding the religious situation in Azerbaijan. Various sources in the west have been suggesting that this aspect of life in the country might be problematic. The reality shows otherwise. Then, where do these ideas stem from and what is the purpose behind them?

Jahandar Alifzada, head of the department for work with religious organizations under the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations shed some light on the issue in his interview to AzVision.az.

- How many religious minorities are there in Azerbaijan?

‘Religious minority is an alien term for us. All religious communities operating in Azerbaijan do so freely. I have never heard a religious community call itself a ‘minority’ in Azerbaijan in my 16 years at the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations. Regardless of their size, they all see themselves as a part of the religious environment in Azerbaijan, members of a harmonious society that perform a certain function.

Azerbaijan has been seeing positive trends in the field of religion. We have been moving a step forward each year and communicating this to the world. We do not have notions of ‘minority’ or ‘majority’ when it comes to religion. We have the concept of ‘equal rights’. All religious communities in the country see it that way. No one in our society calls them a ‘minority’ as well.’  

- How many institutions have the confessions outside Islam built in the country?

‘The State Committee for Work with Religious Institutions has registered 1002 communities, 995 out of which are currently operating. 7 communities have canceled their own registration. 37 were founded by communities outside Islam. These are 24 Christian, 8 Jew, 2 Bahai, and 1 Krishna congregations. The legislation includes enough conditions for everyone to operate freely. Equality of all confessions and freedom of religion have been established in our constitution.

The representatives of non-Muslim religious communities in Azerbaijan are active members of the society. They build houses of worship, organize events, perform religious ceremonies and promote their work. They have all the necessary conditions throughout the country for their activities.’

- What are the laws that regulate them?

‘There is a law on religious freedom in Azerbaijan. Other laws also contain provisions on the issue. The charters of these communities act as a regulator, too. The laws are not different from Muslims and non-Muslims; all religious communities enjoy equal rights.

Although the western standards seem to blow the ‘religious minority’ concept out of proportions, it is not even a topic of discussion for us, because it does not play a role in building relationships in society.’

- The state is quite tolerant in this matter. How about the society?

‘The relations in our society go beyond the concept of tolerance. We are not talking of merely tolerating an opposing view, we are talking of acceptance and friendliness. The society is harmonious. Internationally speaking, we are indeed a tolerant nation, but the reality shows higher qualities than mere tolerance. Have you ever seen any serious conflicts on religious grounds in Azerbaijan? We won’t see any even if we look back a hundred years. Azerbaijan has only seen examples of mutual benevolence. All meritorious people in the history of Azerbaijan have always asked this of the people.’

- Do you ever receive any complaints of violation of rights by non-Islamic communities?

‘Very rarely so. I can say confidently that we have not had a single one in the last 3-4 years. Those we received before that were not on violation of rights but conducts of misunderstanding. Say, a representative of a religious community goes to a remote village and starts preaching their religion, and the locals might complain. At the same time, we had no complaints about violation of people’s freedom of religion in 2021, 2022, or 2023.’

- Meanwhile, the US Department of State thinks otherwise for some reason. The report they released in January paints the religious freedom in Azerbaijan negatively. We wonder why.

‘We can assess the technical, political, and other parameters of the report. We stay in contact with the US institutions and communicate our ideas while they prepare the report. The main problem arises from the sources in Azerbaijan that the authors of the report choose to receive their information from. They say, for example, that people over 65 in Azerbaijan are restricted to make the Hajj pilgrimage. Whereas this restriction has nothing to do with Azerbaijan. It was imposed by Saudi Arabia, the organizers of the Hajj, with consideration for people’s health.

Or else, they are saying that Azerbaijan does not allow protestants or evangelists to create religious communities. We have not received any applications in recent years. I can confidently say that this is not the case. It is quite the contrary. We help the Christian communities in the country to register. After all, we cannot force them to do so! Registration of a religious community should be voluntary.

The report by the State Department also comments on religious monuments in the liberated territories. Allegations on their destruction are completely absurd and groundless because they are the Albanian-Christian monuments, a part of our history. Most of them are on the heritage list, safeguarded by the Cabinet of Ministers. How can Azerbaijan want to destroy its historical and cultural heritage?

At the same time, they are unwilling to see the huge damage inflicted on those monuments during the 30 years of occupation. We are currently restoring them. It suffices to show the restoration works we are carrying out at the church in Shusha.

Such reports certainly stem from political factors. As an ordinary citizen I can say that using religion for political motives has always produced adverse consequences. They are now trying to intervene in the processes in Azerbaijan through religion. All our actions are aimed at protecting people’s religious freedom and we promote this idea both inside the country and at our events abroad.

 

Vusal Mammadov

AzVision.az


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