Appeal of the Consultative Council of Religious Confessions in Azerbaijan to the US Department of State

We, the Members of the Consultative Council of Religious Confessions in Azerbaijan, strongly condemn the decision of the US State Department to put our country to a special "watchlist" on religious freedom in 2023, based on the recommendations of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and consider it clearly as subjective and biased. With this protest statement we aim to show an objective position based on the realities of Azerbaijan.
We believe that at a time when we expect from the international community humanitarian and moral support to reconstruction and restoration of Karabakh and Eastern Zangezur liberated from occupation in Azerbaijan, as well as to the return of internally displaced persons to their homes, it unjust to encounter such biased decisions arising from unfair, false and slanderous allegations of revanchist Armenian circles.
Unfortunately, following the US Congress decision related to re-application of Article 907 against Azerbaijan, when it restored according to the International Law its territorial integrity recognized by the World Community, this time the biased report and the watchlist has put on agenda. It is noteworthy, why it became important to put Azerbaijan on that suspicious watchlist in 2023, while positive trends about Azerbaijan were acknowledged in the similar report of 2022 just a year ago? It seems here that the Azerbaijan`s victories, the raising of our national flag in Khankendi, and the independent policy of our country are causing concern of certain circles.
We unequivocally declare we have no problems in the religious and spiritual life or state-religion relations in Azerbaijan. In refutation of the claims reported in the above-mentioned recommendations, Azerbaijan, being a secular state that respects legal, democratic, national and spiritual values, provides every condition for the religious communities to carry out their activities in a normal way.
In Azerbaijan, multiculturalism is implemented as a State policy, so we are represented and participate in the public life of the society with no any distinctions or national, religious and ethnic discrimination. All the religious denominations and communities in the country annually receive appropriate financial support from the State, and freely perform their religious worship and rites. The Head of our State pays particular attention to our Holy days and Ceremonies. Our representatives participate together in the local and international events. As for our religious worship cites, churches and synagogues were renovated along with the historical mosques and shrines, and new ones were built during the independence age in our country. Within the framework of Heydar Aliyev Foundation's project "Azerbaijan - Address of Tolerance", dozens of historical and religious monuments have been restored and reconstructed in the regions of our country and abroad.
It should be noted that in 2022 the International Religious Freedom Commission Report of the USA has confirmed that there are 403 historical and religious monuments in the territories that were once occupied by Armenia, and that 63 out of 67 mosques have been completely destroyed, while four others have been partially destroyed and become unusable. Along with the mosques, Christian and ancient Caucasian Albanian churches in other regions were usurped, their origin was falsified and Gregorianized in the territories of Azerbaijan occupied for almost 30 years, while the Khojavand Christian Orthodox Church was destroyed. It is disappointing that the State Department did not express any condemnation of Armenia for commitment of those cases of vandalism, for 30-years-long occupation of the ancestral Azerbaijani lands and did not put it in its "blacklist". It was noted in the 2022 Report that Azerbaijan has repeatedly called on the international level, including in the UN General Assembly, to provide legal assessment of the acts of vandalism committed by Armenia in Azerbaijan for decades, to support the independent transparent UNESCO mission for the assessment and consultations of cultural heritage protection issues in the region. But neither UNESCO, nor the International Commission on Religious Freedom has yet responded to those proposals.
Another issue of our concern in the 2023 Report is the expression of doubts about the protection of Armenian religious monuments. However, the Armenian church located in the central square of Baku was under protection of the State during the the period of occupation of our territories by Armenia, then during the war, and it is protected today. For the sake of objectivity, we would advise US officials to investigate the facts of destruction of religious monuments that historically belong to Azerbaijanis in Armenia. A State which is pretending to be a mediator in the conclusion of a peace agreement should approach issues impartially.
  We would like to draw the attention of the report compilers that it is necessary to participate in the daily events carried out to monitor the interreligious environment and religious situation of Azerbaijan, to get acquainted with the life and activities of religious denominations, and to visit our territories liberated from occupation. Surely, if the American diplomats had joined numerous visits of other representatives of the diplomatic corps to the liberated Shusha and other cities, they would have witnessed how carefully the Christian and other religious temples are restored along with the mosques, so these facts would have been reflected in the certain reports of the US diplomats. Observing Azerbaijan not from space satellites, but through friendly visits, would ensure an objective approach, free from the influence of false and insidious Armenian smears.
The statement of the US Secretary of State is the result of anti-Azerbaijani lobbyists interested in discreditation of Azerbaijan and creation of its negative image at the international political and social level. It is a consequence of Armenian revanchist propaganda, and it undermines the peace process in the Region.
Obviously, after liberation of the Azerbaijani ancestral lands from occupation in 2020 and total restoration of Azerbaijan`s sovereignty over its legal territories in 2023, now the leaders of the Armenian Church are on the forefront of revanchism, actively promoting ethnic intolerance, calling to hatred and supporting aggressive separatism. Instead of calling their people to peace, Armenian religious leaders are calling for new wars and seizure of foreign territories. All this is contrary to fundamental human rights, freedoms, the International Law and Religious values.
We consider the baseless claims of sectarian discrimination in the religious sector of our country, and the insidious inclusion of false "statistics" that do not reflect the reality to the reports of some foreign countries and international institutions, as unethical and provocative. We strongly condemn the recent targeting of Azerbaijan, known for its interreligious harmony environment, multicultural lifestyle, and values of tolerance, by forces acting from a one-sided Armenian position and circles actively using the religious factor, and we call on to put an end to these cases of manipulation. We unequivocally reject the US State Department`s decision to put Azerbaijan on the 2024 special watchlist of countries with violated religious freedom.
Sheikh-ul-islam Allahshukur PASHAZADEH
Chairman of the Caucasian Muslims Board
Head of the Mountain Jewish Community in Azerbaijan
Archimandrite ALEXIY
Secretary of the Russian Orthodox Diocese
of Baku and Azerbaijan
Head of the European Jews` Community in Baku
Head of the Albanian-Udi Christian Religious Community in Azerbaijan
Baku, January ___, 2024.
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