Azerbaijan Launches Crackdown On Growing Church Movement Of Ex-Muslims
Written by Webmaster
Monday, 05 February 2007
By BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar reporting from the Netherlands with BosNewsLifeï¿½s Stefan J. Bos in Budapest
BAKU/BUDAPEST/AMSTERDAM (BosNewsLife) -- Authorities in Azerbaijan have
launched a crackdown on a church movement of ex-Muslims which grew from
40 to 18,000 members since the former Soviet republic gained
independence in 1991, an organization supporting the reportedly
persecuted Christian converts said Thursday, February 1.
"Even if you just show a little bit interest in Christianity the
government and your family will take action," said Jeno Sebok,
spokesman of the Netherlands' based Open Doors group which investigated
the situation of former Muslims-turned-Christians.
In in a statement to BosNewsLife from Open Doors' headquarters in the
Dutch town of Ermelo. Sebok said his organization has established that
authorities try to prevent "potential conversions" as "Christianity is
seen as the religion of Azerbaijan's archenemy, Armenia." After
becoming independent sixteen years ago, predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan
fought against mainly Christian Armenia in a bloody war over the
disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Although a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, tensions remained, analysts
say. Sebok stressed that therefore someone "who becomes a Christian is
immediately seen as a traitor," in Azerbaijan. A reverend, he said,
reported that a television network "aired one month, five times a day,
slander about him." Because of the media pressure, about 200 church
members left his congregation, Sebok claimed.
In addition authorities have begun to put known Christians under police
surveillance or to harass them, Open Doors said. Several new believers
have been arrested or dismissed from jobs under pressure from the
government and state-controlled media, Christian investigators said.
Family members and employees reportedly also pressure converts to
return to Islam.
Besides, it has become almost impossible for churches to be officially
recognized while even "officially registered" denominations are often
raided by security forces, Open Doors' investigators established. It is
reportedly also difficult to obtain permission to distribute Bibles and
other Christian literature.
There are also other practical difficulties as the Bible's Old
Testament is only available in the local Azeri language since 2004.
"The Christians are very enthusiastic about Gods Word and to spread the
Gospel. But there is not much knowledge about the Bible," Sebok
explained, adding that Open Doors is involved in Bible and Christian
The latest developments resemble the era till 1991 when all Christian
activities were forbidden, Christian observers said. Despite these
limitations, Russian Christians apparently managed to spread the Gospel
in limited areas, which formed the basis for a rapidly growing church
movement in the 1990's and this century.
Azerbaijan is a relative small nation sandwiched between Russia and
Iran with roughly eight million people. For centuries it was occupied
by different nations. Despite its independence and oil wealth, nearly
half of the population live below the poverty line, adding to
difficulties of Christians. Sebok said that Open Doors is therefore
involved in "social-economic programs to help believers facing
The country has been ruled by Ilham Aliyev who took over as president
from his father, Heydar, in 2003. When his father died, Ilham was
already prime minister, vice chairman of the state oil company and
deputy leader of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (NAP).
Although he won the 2003 presidential elections by a landslide, Western
observers said the campaign was overshadowed by voter intimidation,
violence and media bias. Opposition demonstrations were met with police
violence and there were many reported arrests.
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