State Department Exposes Azerbaijan’s False Image of ‘Religious Tolerance’

Harut Sassounian
Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN

The government of Azerbaijan spends a large fortune each year trying to convince the world that Azeris are tolerant people who respect the human rights of all minorities living in the country.

However, no matter how many fake ecumenical services Azerbaijan’s lobbyists in Europe and the United States organize by bribing Christian and Jewish leaders, the truth about Azeri intolerance is impossible to cover up.

Azerbaijan’s 10 million population is 96 percent Muslim, of which approximately 65 percent is Shia and 35 percent Sunni. Between 15,000 and 20,000 Jews live in Baku, while there are hardly any Armenians left after they were massacred or deported during the Artsakh war.

The U.S. State Department’s latest annual report (2017) on International Religious Freedom around the world indicates that Azerbaijan discriminates against certain religious groups, even though its laws prohibit the government from interfering in their activities.

Azerbaijan’s laws specify that “the government may dissolve religious organizations if they cause racial, national, religious, or social animosity; proselytize in a way that ‘degrades human dignity;’ and hinder secular education….” The State Dept. reports that “local human rights groups and others stated that the government continued to physically abuse, arrest, and imprison religious activists. The reported total incarcerated at the end of the year was 80…. In January and December courts sentenced leaders of the Muslim Unity Movement and others arrested in a 2015 police operation in Nardaran to long prison terms on charges many activists considered fabricated, including inciting religious hatred and terrorism. In July authorities sentenced a theologian to three years in prison for performing a religious ceremony after studying Islam abroad. Authorities detained, fined, or warned numerous individuals for holding unauthorized religious meetings. According to religious groups, the government continued to deny or delay registration to minority religious groups it considered ‘nontraditional,’ disrupting their religious services and fining participants. Groups previously registered but which authorities required to reregister continued to face obstacles in doing so. Authorities permitted some of these groups to operate freely, but others reported difficulties in trying to practice their faith.”

Furthermore, according to the State Department, “local religious experts stated the government continued to close mosques on the pretext of repairing them but said the actual reason was government concerns the mosques served as places for the propagation of extremist views. The government continued to control the importation, distribution, and sale of religious materials. The courts fined numerous individuals for the unauthorized sale or distribution of religious materials, although some individuals had their fines revoked on appeal. The government sponsored training sessions throughout the country to promote religious tolerance and combat what it considered religious extremism.”

The State Department also reported that “the punishment for the illegal production, distribution, or importation of religious literature can include fines ranging from $2,900 to $4,100 or up to two years’ imprisonment for first offenses, and fines of $4,100 to $5,300 or imprisonment of between two and five years for subsequent offenses.”

Despite the fact that Azerbaijan’s constitution “allows alternative service ‘in some cases’ when military service conflicts with personal beliefs, there is no legislation permitting alternative service, including on religious grounds, and refusal to perform military service is punishable under the criminal code with imprisonment of up to two years or forced conscription,” according to the State Department.

“On September 30, authorities detained 30 men who, in violation of local edict, were marching towards the Imamzadeh Mosque in Ganja to commemorate Ashura. Police charged four individuals with hooliganism and for resisting the police and placed them in pretrial detention. Human rights lawyers reported the police severely beat many of the detainees in custody,” the State Department reported.

There were also reports of illegal and bizarre actions by the Azeri government against opposition groups and individuals perceived to be radical Muslims. For example, on May 31, 2017, “the Sheki Court of Appeals upheld a fine of $880 imposed on Sunni Muslim Shahin Ahmadov for holding an ‘illegal’ religious meeting. Police had detained him for reading aloud from the works of theologian Said Nursi to three friends while picnicking on April 18,” as reported by the State Department.

Finally, “local religious experts stated the government continued to close mosques under the pretext of repairing or renovating them; they said the government’s real motivation was countering perceived religious extremism. Once closed, they said, the mosques remained closed. For example, after the Ashurbey Mosque in the Old City of Baku became popular with Salafis as a place of worship, authorities announced it needed renovation and closed it in July 2016.” The mosque was still closed by the end of 2017, according to the State Department.

The much-publicized ‘tolerant’ Azerbaijan turns out to be not so ‘tolerant’ after all. Its ‘lenient’ laws remain on paper and are often ignored by the police and the judges.

Discussion Policy

Comments are welcomed and encouraged. Though you are fully responsible for the content you post, comments that include profanity, personal attacks or other inappropriate material will not be permitted. Asbarez reserves the right to block users who violate any of our posting standards and policies.

5 Comments

  1. Hagop said:

    GREAT TO SEE YOU DIDN’T USE THE WORD “SLAM” AGAIN (“STATE DEPARTMENT SLAMS AZERBAIJIAN’S…..”)!!!

    AGAIN, BIG DEAL. THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT RELEASES A PAPER REPORT ABOUT HOW CRAPPY AZERBAIJIAN’S HUMAN RIGHTS IS. AND?????????? ANYTHING ELSE???? ANY ACTION BY THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT TO BACK THAT UP AND ACTUALLY PUNISH THEM WITH SANCTIONS??? GENEVA COURT??? RECALL US AMBASSADOR???

    I GET SICK AND TIRED OF THESE “FEEL GOOD” ARTICLES REPORTED BY YOU, HAROUT, AND PRINTED BY ASBAREZ!!!! WHO CARES!! WHAT IS THE U.S. ACTUALLY DOING TO ((((PUNISH)))) TURKEY??? ((((PUNISH)))) AZERBAIJIAN??? NOTHING!!!! YOU AND THE ASBAREZ CREW JUST PRINT THESE ARTICLES FOR WHAT??? TO MAKE ARMENIANS FEEL GOOD THAT PAPA BEAR U.S.A. IS MAD AT HIS LITTLE CUBS TURKEY AND AZERBAIJAN?? THAT DOES NOTHING TO ARMENIA AND ARMENIANS!!! UNLESS THE U.S.A. ACTUALLY ((((DOES SOMETHING-TAKE ACTION)))), WORDS, REPORTS, PAPER, MEAN NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHING.

    HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN KHRIMIAN HAYRIG AND HIS PAPER LADEL?? NOTHING I TELL YOU!!! UNLESS ARMENIA IS A MILITARILY AND ECONOMICALLY POWERFUL COUNTRY, NOBODY WILL GIVE A DAMN ABOUT IT AND WE WILL CONTINUE BEGGING WORLD POWERS TO HELP US, PROTECT US, WATCH OVER US!!!!

  2. Harut Sassounian said:

    I am informing Armenians and others about Azerbaijan’s violations, according to the State Department. You criticize me, while you do nothing except for criticizing those who are doing something. Why don’t you do something so we can all learn from your “genius” ideas! It is easy to do nothing while you hide behind a fake name!

    • State of Emergency said:

      Why jump to an unverified conclusion. How do we know you’re real name is Harout? On the other hand, your immature attack and conspiracy theory is self telling.

  3. Harut Sassounian said:

    I have been writing a weekly column for the past 35 years, reprinted in many Armenian newspapers worldwide, in several languages. If you don’t know my real name is Harut (not Harout) Sassounian by now, I feel sorry for you. With a fake name like “State of Emergency,” I see why you are so touchy about fake names!

  4. hye said:

    Mr. Sassounian, keep up the good work. Your articles are always informative.

*

Top