Azerbaijan, Baku, 21 February /corr. Trend E.Huseynli / Trend interview with Elchin Askerov, Deputy Chairman of State Committee on Work with Religious Organizations of Azerbaijan.
Question: How do you assess the situation with religious tolerance in the Caucasus countries?
Answer: There is tolerance, inter-religious indulgence and religious rights of all citizens are protected in Azerbaijan. Historically several religions have formed in the country. The history of Judaism has been continuing in Azerbaijan for nearly 2000 years and the Christianity appeared in the Country from the first days of its creation. All religions have been present in the Country on equal conditions for millenniums. No contradictions have taken place in this regard. Despite that 96% of the Azerbaijani population is adherents of Islam, the Christians and Jews could easily preserve and keep their traditions. It testifies historically formed tolerant traditions of Azeri people. On the other hand, it is the result of the policy of Azerbaijan Statehood directed towards ensuring tolerance. The freedom of religion has always been in existence since Azerbaijan's independence. A Law on Religion was adopted in the Country and several amendments and additions were made to improve the law.
The religious tolerance is at higher level in Azerbaijan as compared to other countries of South Caucasus, especially Armenia. The experts of international organizations, who have visited Azerbaijan, have repeatedly recognized it, and this fact has also been confirmed in the reports of the international organizations.
Question: Recent report of the International Crisis Group says that the spread of Vahabism has reached to a dangerous level in Azerbaijan. Do you agree with this opinion? What sources did ICG referred while making such a conclusion?
Answer: The International Crisis Group devised the report on religious situation in Azerbaijan on the basis of opinions of various public organizations and experts. None refutes existence of Salafism in Azerbaijan. After re-gaining its independence, Azerbaijan provided the possibility for equal existence of various religions. However, the opinion that Salafists are capable to present threats to basis of Azerbaijan's Statehood is groundless. There are not so many Salafists in Azerbaijan. The defense of religious stability is at higher level in Azerbaijan as compared to other countries of the region. Even if extremist groups would appear, they would be made harmless.
Question: The report by the European Union says that the rights of national minorities are insufficiently protected in Azerbaijan. What is your view on this issue?
Answer: Protection of the rights of national minorities in Azerbaijan can be an example for other countries. Despite that the majority of population in Azerbaijan is Muslims, the bishops of Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches independently function in the Country. Church of the Udins was reconstructed and put into operation. The biggest Jewish synagogue in South Caucasus was built and functions in Baku. A Catholic Church was opened in the center of Baku irrespective of small number of its adherents. All these testify protection of the rights of national minorities in Azerbaijan.
Question: What measures are taken to prevent spread of prohibited religious books in Azerbaijan?
Answer: The ban has been imposed in Azerbaijan on the religious books urging for religious confrontation and intolerance. Keeping such books has been prohibited irrespective of their source of production. There is no ban on spread of other religious books in the Country.
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