An Ode to Azerbaijan’s Secular Governance from a Pakistani

Azerbaijan has never been like the majority of predominantly Muslim countries today from Iran to Afghanistan where there are countless restrictions on civil liberties in the name of religion and there are despotic Mullahs who thrive on religious sectarianism. Instead of following all the above mentioned rubbish like espousing fanatic Mullahs, Azerbaijan has established new paradigms and paragons in Muslim world regarding how a country can be progressive and secular while at the same time having Islam as the dominant religion of populace. Azerbaijan has now become the only stronghold of secularism in Muslim world as Turkey which was once a champion of secular and liberal values in Muslim world has now drifted towards Islamism under the rule of the religiously conservative AKP of Mr.Erdoğan who is the current Turkish 
president. Azerbaijan is now supplanting its Turkic Qardaş (Brother) Turkey 


with an alternative secular model of governance.

Erdoğan’s Islamist Turkey has turned its back on the secular vision of Ataturk. Surprisingly; even though Azerbaijan is more prone to radical Islam due to its close proximity to Iran (An anti-Western and anti-Israeli theocracy since 1979) with whom it shares the same Islamic Shiite sect and there is also a substantial Azeri populace in Iran and even the current Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is also an Azeri Shiite, it would be more welcoming to Ataturk today than Ataturk’s very own Turkiye as Azerbaijan is more immune from all sorts of religious radicalism than today’s Turkey of Erdoğan. Azerbaijani government has also ensured that their country shall remain immune from Saudi Wahabism, Iranian style theocracy with autocratic Ayatollahs and also from Egyptian style Muslim brotherhood with an experimental marriage between Islamism and Politics. Azerbaijan is now not just renowned globally for its Western leaning secular government in the Muslim world but also for its almost zero levels of Anti-Semitism which is quite rare when it comes to a predominantly Muslim country as Anti-Semitism has soared to high peaks in many Muslim countries especially after the creation of Israel in 1948 and the consequent Arab-Israeli conflict. Many Muslim countries including my country Pakistan has not even recognized the existence of Jewish state but Azerbaijan has again made a remarkable difference in a highly Anti-Semitic Muslim world by defying all sorts of Anti-Semitic venom and establishing strong bilateral relations with Israel which have benefited both countries. Trade between Israel and Azerbaijan has grown exponentially over the past few years. In recent years, Azerbaijan has come out of the closet as Israel’s largest supplier of oil much to the disdain of its anti-Israel neighbor Iran— in 2012 it supplied over 40 per cent of Israel’s oil imports. Israel has been deprived of significant access to the Arab oil market since its creation in 1948 so it has been forced to ship oil in the past from even far flung places like Mexico but now Azerbaijan which is relatively close to Israel (as its located in the South Caucasus near Middle East) has become a strategic asset to Israel. The oil is pumped through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline to Turkish Mediterranean shore.

Israel is also a major exporter to Azerbaijan. That includes a huge arms deal, reported to be worth over £1 billion, signed in around 2012 for the supply of radars, anti-aircraft systems and drones.Dr Asim Mollazade, a former Azerbaijani diplomat and an opposition member of Azerbaijani parliament said: “Our trade with Israel is twice the size of our trade with Russia, which doesn’t have any hi-tech to sell us.” Israeli companies are also very active in supplying Azerbaijan with telecommunication equipment and advising farmers on growing organic vegetables.



Azerbaijan has also allowed its Jewish community to flourish in a Muslim majority country and coexist peacefully with Azerbaijani Muslims who are tolerant of religious diversity in their country. Mountain Jews from Qırmızı Qəsəbə (Red Town) in Azerbaijani district of Quba are also experiencing a religious revival. Qırmızı Qəsəbə with a population of 3,598 is believed to be the world’s only all Jewish town outside of Israel and that too in a predominantly Muslim country right next to Iran. The red town itself was founded as a safe haven for Jews in 1742 by Fatah Ali Khan, the Muslim emir of the town of Quba, located in a relatively flat area just south of the modern day border with the Russian province of Dagestan. Christians too from different denominations and sects like Georgian and Russian Orthodox Christians and some Protestant and Catholic Christians peacefully coexist with Azeri Muslims. Churches and Synagogues are as much protected by the Azerbaijani government as Mosques are and even Azerbaijani government also renovated in 2000 two important synagogues from 1880’s in the town of Qırmızı Qəsəbə to facilitate the local Jewish populace. Jews have always been an integral part of Azerbaijani society and there are not just Jewish members of Azerbaijani parliament like Yevda Abramov (A Mountain Jew) but Jewish community has also been very consistent in giving Azerbaijan great writers, philanthropists, scientists and soldiers.

 Even Pope Francis during his visit to Azerbaijan in 2016 couldn’t hesitate from praising the religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Jews and Christians in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s secular values infatuate me more with this beautiful country apart from the beautiful landscape and culture this great Caucasian nation has got.

Pakistan out of its brotherly infatuation with Azerbaijan has always been very steadfast in its succor of Azerbaijan. I have been acquainted with the same pro-Azerbaijani narrative since my childhood through school textbooks and through Pakistani media and I feel proud that my country is friends with the only secular Muslim country which as I have mentioned earlier has boldly defied rigid norms of the Muslim world such as Anti-Semitism and Religious fundamentalism. I have always seen Azerbaijan as a model for Pakistan to follow with no religious extremism and no consequent terrorism with a largely religious color. Azerbaijan has embraced religious diversity at a time when terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram are massacring non-Muslims in the name of a religion which was founded as a religion of peace for everyone. Azerbaijani Muslims have shown to the whole global community that not all Muslims are ISIS jihadis or plane hijackers or the ones responsible for massacring innocent civilians on the streets of Paris and New York.