Azerbaijan is one of the rare countries where there is no any anti-Semitism, xenophobia and Islamophobia have been experienced throughout history. As a land of three Abrahamic religions, followers of Islam, Judaism and Christianity are enjoying right to freedom of religion and conscience.
Mr. Mubariz Gurbanli, chairman of the State Committee on Religious Associations of the Republic of Azerbaijan (SCRA) gave an interview to share a good example of religious harmony in Azerbaijan. SCRA is a state body in charge of implementing public policy on state-religion relations in the country.
Rafi Gurbanov: Which factors make the religious solidarity necessary today?
Mubariz Gurbanli: Today the social-political tensions in the world have reached the highest level as a result of sectarian and civil wars. Intolerance and xenophobia in its various forms in the world paved the way for horrific manifestations of radicalism and extremism. Today, the culturally diversified world is facing with many challenges to be dealt with and is in need of more unity and solidarity than ever before. From this point of view, the declaration of 2016 as a “Year of Multiculturalism” and 2017 as a “Year of Islamic Solidarity” in the Republic of Azerbaijan carry great social and political significance. It also makes economic, scientific and cultural cooperation urgent among people and countries in the world, and serves as a medium to draw attention to the ideas of equality, justice, morality, humanism and peace embodied in the Abrahamic religions.
Rafi Gurbanov: The declaration of 2017 as the “Year of Islamic Solidarity” in Azerbaijan is considered as a very important social and political step. What had been done by the SCRA in 2017?
Mubariz Gurbanli: First of all, I would like to highlight that the activities carried out by the State Committee on Religious Associations of the Republic of Azerbaijan within the “Year of Islamic Solidarity” were multidimensional. The idea of Islamic solidarity was not only about Islamic religion, it was also about solidarity among non-Islamic religions represented in Azerbaijan, namely Judaism and Christianity. We tried to bring different faiths together for the sake of peace, mutual understanding and solidarity. Thus, international conference on “2017-Year of Islamic Solidarity: Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue” were held in Baku on December 21, 2017 was a concluding remark of Azerbaijan about the works done in regard with religious solidarity in the country.
The SCRA also, published literatures about religious solidarity and history of religions under 80 different names. In addition, the essay contests on "National-moral values and modernity" among media representatives and journalists had also been organized. Three-day seminar-trainings on "Relations between religion and media: current situation and international experience" was held in Guba region, which is a historical land of mountain Jews where they have been living for many centuries, for media representatives.
In 2017, documentaries on religious awareness were produced by SCRA too. For instance, the film called “Martyrdom” which bears a preventive character against religious fanaticism, radicalism and extremism while documentaries called “Wahdat" (Solidarity) and "Future in the horizon" are planning to be presented to the audience in 2018. Also, establishment of Moral Values Promotion Foundation MVPF under the State Committee was among the initiatives forwarded by the state in 2017.
Rafi Gurbanov: As you mentioned before about the establishment of MVPF, what is the idea of establishing the MVPF under State Committee on Religious Associations?
Mubariz Gurbanli: Azerbaijani government is implementing state policy to protect and promote national - spiritual values, which includes among others, tolerance and respect among different religions and ethnicities. Establishment of MVPF under the State Committee on Religious Associations by the decree dated October 10, 2017 of the president Mr. Ilham Aliyev is considered as a contribution to the propagation of our values and true history of Azerbaijan in the world and a will of state to support these types of activities.
The aim of this Foundation is to preserve Azerbaijani people`s history old moral heritages and to save an idea to distribute genetic memory, national identity to the future generations. Also, MVPF will support activities of religious associations operating in the country regardless of their religious belonging while it will provide state assistance to their projects. One of the main duties of the MVPF is to give recommendations for the training of experts in the field of religions, drafting curriculums for teaching religion, and will provide financial support to advance religious schools` technical capacities, establish mosques and other religious monuments.
It has responsibilities to carry out activities in the social sphere, too. Thus, works on rehabilitation of people affected by the religious radicalism, substance and drug abuse, to provide with scholarship of Azerbaijani citizens who are in need of social protection, funeral costs of families in hardship, to provide financial aids for ensuring living expenditures of martyrs’ families of Karabakh and black January, persons with disability or old aged are among duties of MVPF.
Rafi Gurbanov: As you noted, tolerance and respect are the characteristic features of all religious communities existing in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is a multi-confessional country and it has good example of peaceful coexistence of different religions and cultures which are deep seated in the history and tradition of the country. What has Azerbaijan achieved by transforming these historical traditions into governmental policy?
Mr. Mubariz Gurbanli: Despite the fact that Azerbaijan is a Muslim majority country, there are Jewish, Christian and other religious communities operating in Azerbaijan. From 2009 to January 17, 2018, 793 religious communities have been registered with the State Committee on Religious Associations. 765 of which are Islamic, 17 Christian and 8 Jewish, 2 Bahai and 1 Krishna denominations. Islam, Christian and Jewish religious educational institutions, such as Baku Islamic University, the faculty of theology in Baku State University, Sunday schools at Orthodox churches, bible courses of protestant communities, as well as courses teaching Hebrew language, religion and culture and etc. are functioning in the country. All these achievements done by successful implementation of state policy on development of state-religion relations.
On the other hand, Azerbaijani government is providing financial aids to religious communities in the country. 2.5 million manats (about 1,250 million euros) was allocated to the State Committee from the President's Reserve Fund envisaged in the 2014 state budget in order to further strengthen religious enlightenment and promote national and spiritual values in the country according to the Order of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, dated November 27, 2014. This amount of money has been spent on supporting projects on strengthening religious tolerance among communities, fighting against religious radicalism and violent extremism conducted by the religious communities of Azerbaijan.
The successful policy of the government on state-religion relationship helped Azerbaijan to be known as a land of tolerance in the world. Now, we have the words to say that cultural and religious diversity is our asset.