Vol. 5, No. 10 (May 15, 2012)

Secular state is "Azerbaijanis’ choice"

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

The Scientific-Religious Council of the Administration of Muslims of the Caucasus has expressed concern about the appearance of statements and articles by Iranian religious leaders criticizing Azerbaijan, pointed to the rebirth of Islam in Azerbaijan since the end of Soviet times, but reaffirmed that “a secular state is the choice of [the Azerbaijani] people,” and insisted that Azerbaijan wants to live in peace and harmony with its neighbors and expects them to support rather than block Baku’s efforts to end Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijani territory.

In a 900-word declaration issued on May 12, the Council noted that “the Azerbaijani people, having joined itself 14 centuries ago to the Islamic world, has always been proud of its holy religious values and has operated on these values in forming itself into a nation” and pointed out that, “with the moment of acquiring independence,” Azerbaijan’s attachment to Islam has found expression in the country’s national flag and in the actions of both former President Heydar Aliyev and current President Ilham Aliyev. [1] 
Under their leadership, the declaration continues, Azerbaijan has achieved great success in all spheres of life, an “undoubted reflection” of the great role that “the preservation of [Azerbaijan’s] national-spiritual traditions and respectful relation to [its] religious values, which stand on the basis of these traditions and to those of representatives of all religions.”

If in Soviet times, the Council notes, there were only 18 mosques, today there are “about 2,000” of them.  More than 400 of these have been restored with assistance from the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, and that foundation, the Muslim group notes, have helped restore mosques abroad, including most recently in Serbia.  “This process is continuing,” the declaration continues, “thanks to the personal attention and concern of the chief of state,” something that “very much gratifies the Azerbaijani people.”

But “the choice of [that people] is a secular state,” the group says.  “The basic law of the contemporary Azerbaijani state strengthens the legal, democratic and secular state system and defends our freedom of belief.  As citizens of a state, which is devoted to our national-spiritual heritage, we, the leaders of science and religion of the Azerbaijani Republic, cannot remain indifferent to the denial of the services before our people and statehood of respected President Ilham Aliyev, who has been chosen by the people having won the trust of millions of people” and who has defended our national-spiritual values.” 

Consequently, the declaration goes on, Azerbaijanis cannot accept the kind of criticism of President Aliyev and the Azerbaijani state, which some religious leaders of Iran have lodged or the employment of ultimatums against our people and state or other threats to “our independent policy.”  Indeed, it says, “we consider this interference in our internal affairs.”

“The true cause of the provocations directed against our people and state,” the Baku Muslim Council says, “consists not so much in religious concern, Islamic solidarity, or the demonstration of brotherhood or concern about the feelings of our people, as such statements imply, but rather through the misuse of the Islamic religion an effort to harm our stability and to create conflicts within society.”

Given that President Ilham Aliyev and all Azerbaijani officials have made it clear that “no aggression of any kind will be allowed against neighboring Iran from the territory of Azerbaijan,” such Iranian statements are especially unfortunate.  “Our goal,” the Baku Muslim scholars say, “is to live in our region and in the world with all nations and states on the basis of peaceful relations and mutual cooperation.  As an independent state, we hope that our friends will be pleased by our successes, and that which we want for ourselves, we want for others.”

Moreover, the Council says, regarding the restoration of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan through the ending of the Armenian occupation, “we hope for the just position of the world community and the support of fraternal and friendly countries.”  Unfortunately, it adds, “the bitter truth is that when we really need a demonstration of Islamic solidarity and religious concern, we do not feel this support.”

“When in Soviet times, our religious values were under threat and when Armenian extremists committed acts of aggression against our people, the steps that should have been taken were not, but now it is impossible to understand the appearance of such unnecessary declarations” as those the Iranian Muslim leaders have made.  “We regret that we do not see fatwas of influential religious leaders of Iran in response to the occupation of the lands of Azerbaijan, the destruction of mosques in Shusha, Aghdam, and hundreds of other Islamic prayer plays, the driving out of a million Azerbaijani Muslims from their native hearths.  On the contrary, we have become witnesses of the consistent material and moral support [by Iran] of Armenia, which is an aggressor country.”

The Council concludes that, “with Allah’s help, the Azerbaijani people will never fall from provocations and shameful rumors and will overcome all obstacles on the path of the independence of our country.”  And “we call upon the religious leaders of neighboring Iran to put an end to the baseless slander and criticism and not to be subject to inventions, which show a lack of respect to our Islamic morality and national spiritual values.”


[1] See http://news.day.az/politics/332157.html (accessed 14 May 2012).