Today Azerbaijan is one of the rare countries with a combination of mosques, churches and synagogues and does not demonstrate discrimination towards different faiths. Foreigners who are shown mosques, churches and synagogues located side by side in the distance of 150 meters in Guba, Azerbaijan cannot hide their surprise. The Azerbaijanis have always differed for their tolerance – not only in the Orient, but all over the world.
It was Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who signed the decree on state aid to the protection of the rights and freedoms of national minorities and ethnic groups also to the development of their language and culture, the first-ever document of this type in post-Soviet territory.
As the tolerance is the true moral value of our nation, the Azerbaijani government has always supported and paid attention to this matter. According to President Ilham Aliyev, representatives of different nations and religions have lived in peace and tranquility in Azerbaijan throughout centuries: “Never ever was there any discrimination in the national or religious ground in Azerbaijan; there will never be so. All people living in Azerbaijan are our dear citizens. I am confident that the reigning religious endurance, religious tolerance can be studied elsewhere.”
It should be noted that the country’s leadership frequently meets with the leaders of religious communities and is interested in their needs and problems. President Ilham Aliyev also transforms the historically formed tolerance and endurance to a wonderful tradition that characterizes our society, by regularly congratulating Christian and Jewish communities of the country on the occasion of major religious holidays. A unique experience of Azerbaijan in the field of inter-religious dialogue and cooperation has been highly recognized and appreciated by foreign politicians, diplomats and officials of international organizations. An obvious example of this was the historical visit of the former head of the Roman Catholic Church John Paul II in May 2002. While being in Baku, the Pontiff especially noted the historical tradition of tolerance in Azerbaijan.
It is the historical fact that, once persecuted by Roman authorities Christians found a refuge in Azerbaijan. Rabii Marc Dworkin, the head of American-Jewish Committee (AJC) of Orange Earldom of State of California considers that Azerbaijan can play an important role in the Jewish-Muslim dialogue and in the establishment of the cooperation in the Middle East. “We need the moderate voices to crack down on those who are interested in its disintegrating more than the maintenance of the harmony and cooperation of nations. As an example of tolerance, Azerbaijan can help to create pattern for cooperation in Jewish-Muslim dialogue and the Middle East, as well as in the whole world”. David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee said that the world is a model of tolerance. The Director of AJC who said that “Azerbaijan is a very good example of tolerance for the world”, expressed his satisfaction with the relationship with the Jewish community. Protection of ethnic and cultural diversity, interethnic and inter-state relations in the country are regulated on the basis of civilized norms. Numerous measures are taken in the field of further strengthen of tolerance as well.
Azerbaijan has paid a special attention to historical and religious monuments and to construction of new worship houses and supported this work as much as possible. This process is also of great importance for the construction and restoration covers not only mosques but also temples of other religions. The construction of the Catholic Church, the reconstruction and restoration of Russian-Orthodox Head Cathedral Church, as well as the Saint Mary Catholic Church, the thorough restoration of Kish temple, which belongs to cultural and historical heritage of Caucasian Albania, opening of one of the region’s largest synagogues resonated both in Azerbaijan and abroad.
The serious and sensible approach of the Azerbaijani people and authorities to tolerance proceeds in fact not only from the previous respect but also by a desire to build a healthy future. A society with principles of tolerance, with religion and intercultural dialogue, most importantly with protection of political and social stability, can demonstrate rapid development. It should also be noted that the continuation of the Armenian aggressive policy, occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory, the existence of over one million refugees and internally displaced persons, destruction of occupied historical and religious monuments generate serious problems for establishment of peace and stability, as well as for the strengthening of the traditions of tolerance, formation of inter-religious formation not only in Azerbaijan, but also in the whole region. However, the historically established tradition of tolerance is continuing at the state level and the traditions are enriched by new qualities over time. Thus, the religious monuments of the nation that carried out the occupation in Azerbaijan are protected. The Armenian Church in Baku “Grigori Lusarovich” has been taken to the state’s protection. Currently, books and manuscripts in the Armenian language are preserved there. While our religious monuments were vandalized by the Armenians, the Armenian Church in Baku was restored and protected by Azerbaijani authorities in a civilized manner. Demonstrating tolerance in the European arena is extremely important. The Azerbaijani tolerance is quite interesting for elite of old religious and national traditions of other countries.
Dr Vugar Shahbazli, Founder of ADDIM youth union and economic researcher of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences Institute of Economy