Friday, November 29, 2013


Azerbaijan is among world’s top five tolerant nations

By Nazrin Gadimova
Azerbaijan is among the top five tolerant countries in the world according to the website's rating.

The list was prepared to mark the International Day of Tolerance (November 16).
"Azerbaijan, which is ahead of not only Asian, but most European countries by the level of tolerance, can be considered as an example of religious tolerance. The country, in which Muslims account for 95 percent of the population, was able to secure a peaceful and comfortable accommodation for people of other faiths and nationalities and earned praise from the vice-president of the European Parliament," the report said.
According to the website, today model of tolerance in Azerbaijan is considered a model for theMuslim world and is actively being discussed at many international conferences and forums.
"The country's leadership thinks: the people, no matter of their religion, are obliged to respect all other cultures, religions, and moral values. The people are also obliged to be tolerant in regards to all traditions, whether they are acceptable to them or not," said the report.
Canada, Sweden, Argentina and Australia are also on top of the list.
Azerbaijan was historically known as a country of tolerance. Respect for multiculturalism, ethnic and religious minorities is a national characteristic of the Azerbaijani people. Major international events conducted by Azerbaijan, as well as at the initiative of President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, UNESCO and ISESCO Goodwill Ambassador Mehriban Aliyeva in recent years have turned Azerbaijan into a recognized international center of inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.

Religious Tolerance in Azerbaijan: Jews, Germans, Molokans, and the Udi of Nij

When we think about religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence between members of different religions, we usually think of wealthy and prosperous countries such as Canada, Australia, or Sweden, where immense religious diversity and high level of care for citizens’ rights prevent tensions between religious groups from arising. However, the latest report presented at the European Parliament has revealed that Azerbaijan, a much smaller and younger nation, has achieved such a high level of religious tolerance, so much so that it surpasses most advanced and wealthy countries in both the East and the West. According to some, Azerbaijan is among five of the most religiously tolerant countries in the world. 

On November 13, 2013, three days before the International Day of Tolerance, the European Parliament presented a report on “Religious Minorities in Azerbaijan: From History to Independence,” which was prepared by the international organization known as “Human Rights Without Frontiers.” According to the chairman of Human Rights Without Frontiers International, Willy Fautre, who presented the report, it was based on studies conducted during the visits that the members of his organization have paid to Azerbaijan. The report studied the living conditions and treatment of Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, Protestant and Udi communities in Azerbaijan. Representatives of all these communities participated in the studies and unanimously agreed that the Azerbaijani government, as well as people, have demonstrated the highest level of friendliness, support, and tolerance towards their religious affiliations, and that their communities have always felt welcome and safe in Azerbaijan. In response to the report, Laszlo Surjan, the Vice President of the European Parliament, said that he is deeply impressed by Azerbaijan’s religious tolerance towards the non-Muslim minorities, which sets an impressive example of peaceful co-existence: "It is my greatest pleasure to be able to praise the country for the very promising developments in accommodating non-Muslim minorities in the 96% Islamic Azerbaijan. I believe that their model constitutes a role model for the Muslim world, therefore it is most important to make the added value of such peaceful co-existence visible for all of us. This might be helpful for the problematic countries of the Arab Spring and might also contribute to fight Islamophobia in Western countries."
Though 96% of Azerbaijani population is Muslim, Azerbaijan is a secular republic where the state is entirely separated from religion. The Azerbaijani Constitution outlaws any type of political, racial, ethnic, national, cultural, religious, or sexual persecution in Article 109, and in 1992, a specific amendment of “Freedom of Faith and Religion” was passed to reinforce the concept of religious tolerance. Today, Azerbaijan is home to many ethnic and religious groups.
One of the most numerous religious minorities in Azerbaijan are Jews, who have considered Azerbaijan a welcoming home for a long time. The biggest Jewish groups in Azerbaijan are currently Juhuro, Ashkenazi, and Gurjim, and there are also small Jewish populations throughout the country. The first synagogue was built in Azerbaijan in 1862, and the number of Jewish temples is rapidly growing since then. In 1919, soon after the creation of Azerbaijani Democratic Republic in 1918, the Jewish National University opened in Azerbaijan and offered classes in Yiddish, Juhuri, and Ibrani, the most popular languages spoken by Azerbaijani Jews at that time. According to the population census conducted in Azerbaijan in 2002, 8,900 Jews currently live in Azerbaijan as citizens.
Another interesting religious minority group in Azerbaijan is the Udis, who live in a village of Nij near the city of Qabala. The Udis are an ancient ethnic group that has dwelled in the Caucasus Mountains since 5 BC. There are only a few thousand Udis in the world today, and the majority, approximately 4,000 of them, live in Azerbaijan. The Udis practice Eastern Orthodox Christianity and have preserved their language and their unique calendar. According to Paul Steele, a British researcher who has visited the village, the Udis are proud to have been able to preserve their community and are grateful and happy that the Azerbaijani authorities and people have treated them with tolerance, friendliness, and assisted them in preserving their language, religion, and ethnic identity.
Besides being home to the Udis, Azerbaijan also hosts seven towns that were founded by 194 Swabian German families primarily from Reutlingen, who fled Napoleon’s invasion and moved to Azerbaijan in 1818 and 1819. Almost two centuries later, the Swabian Germans still live in those towns, have their own churches, and remain closely attached to their German and Protestant identities.
 Similarly, Molokan Russians, who belong to a rare branch of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, were persecuted in Russia and fled to religiously tolerant Azerbaijan in the 1820s . Free from Russian persecution, they are able to enjoy their religious freedom in Azerbaijan up to today, with their own towns and churches, and with their faith, language, and traditions highly valued and respected by the Muslim Azerbaijani majority. Today, about 500 Molokans call Azerbaijan their home.
 Although the population of Azerbaijan is just nine million people, and the country itself is only 86.6 thousands square kilometers, it has an impressive, kaleidoscopic diversity of religions and nationalities coexisting in peace with the Muslim Azerbaijani majority. Praised for its tolerance by the European Parliament, Azerbaijan doubtlessly sets a positive example of multi-culturalism, friendliness, and hospitality to the world.

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