Letter to His Holiness Pope Francis from Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazadeh

Non-official translation
To His Holiness Pope Francis
In the Name of the One Creator!
Your Holiness!
I am honored to send my sincere greetings, and express my satisfaction with the high level of relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Azerbaijan. Your meetings with the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and the First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva in Baku and the Vatican became a solid foundation for comprehensive cooperation between the Holy See and Azerbaijan. This year, which marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Holy See, was significant for our relations. My visit to the Vatican in the beginning of this year at your supreme invitation, and the audience with Your Holiness was unforgettable and fruitful. No doubt, that after your apostolic visit to Azerbaijan in 2016, my visit to the Vatican, and our further meetings in the environment of human fraternity in Kazakhstan and Bahrain later this year, paid valuable contributions to strengthening of the high-level relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Caucasus Muslims` Board, as well as to the process of Muslim-Christian dialogue in general.
Your Holiness! The special importance that you attach to interreligious dialogue and your efforts to resolve conflicts in the name of Global Peace are commendable. The fact that you, as the religious leader, always show a meaningful attitude to events taking place in various parts of the world, is your outstanding feature that finds deep response in the hearts of the believers in the One Creator. Millions of people watch your Sunday sermons of the Head of State of the Vatican and the Leader of the Catholics of the World. Meanwhile, I consider it as my moral duty to draw your attention to some moments that you touched upon in your last sermon, regarding to what is happening in the Caucasus region.
Your Holiness! I share your concern about the situation in the South Caucasus. Indeed, threats to sustainable peace and security in the region are still remaining and that is a worrying point. As you know, in the 44-day Patriotic War, the people of Azerbaijan liberated their ancestral lands, recognized by the World Community, which were occupied by neighboring Armenia for nearly 30 years. According to the trilateral agreement reached, Russian peacekeepers were stationed for a period of 5 years in the part of Karabakh inhabited by Armenians. For us, it is obvious that your concern comes from the false, and, as usual, biased appeal addressed to Your Holiness and to the other Heads of Religious Centers and Churches by Catholicos-Patriarch of Armenians Garegin II regarding the so-called blocking of the humanitarian Lachin-Khankendi road connecting the Armenian minority in Karabakh with Armenia.
I would like to bring to your supreme attention that the above-mentioned road has never been blocked by Azerbaijan. Those who did this are the Russian peacekeepers, and the Azerbaijani authorities have repeatedly officially declared that Azerbaijan has not imposed any restrictions on the passing of vehicles on the Lachin road, while the traffic regime along the road remains as before. As about organization of transition of citizens, goods and vehicles, it is the responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping forces. However, aiming to defame Azerbaijan in the eyes of the World Community and trying to portray it in inhumane character, the Armenian side spreads insidious misinformation, conducts biased propaganda against our country and makes false claims. We are very sorry that the Armenian Apostolic Church under the influence of Armenian politicians is particularly active in this issue.
Your Holiness! The verity, according to the conducted investigations, is illegal exploitation activities that are carried out in the "Kyzilbulag" gold field and the "Demirli" copper-molybdenum field of the Karabakh region where the peacekeepers are responsible. Despite the prior agreement on the monitoring of this activity, reached by independent activists through the peacekeepers, the separatist regime did not let the eco activists enter those facilities. The action of the representatives of the civil society, which is going on since more than a week, under the slogans against the looting of natural resources and serious damage to the environment, is a peaceful one and does not create an obstacle to the Lachin-Khankendi road. At present, the protestors demand an on-the-spot inspection of the said fields, the cessation of illegal exploitation, monitoring and inventorying in various directions, assessment of potential risks to the environment and elimination of the consequences of damage. Claims of the Armenian side, and the Echmiadzin in particular, that the peaceful protest action of the eco activists caused a humanitarian crisis are completely false, as the humanitarian corridor is active. The video records taken from the place of the protest action, show that humanitarian cargo trucks and emergency ambulances can pass freely, and all conditions are provided by the protestors for this. In case of humanitarian problems of Azerbaijani citizens of Armenian origin living in the Karabakh region, a hotline has been established for the prompt resolution of their appeals. The real problem is that this humanitarian corridor is misused and weapons and ammunition, military goods and mines are transported to the Armenian separatists in Karabakh. It is no coincidence that after the signing of the trilateral declaration on peace, about three hundred Azerbaijani civilians were harmed by the newly buried land mines - they were either killed or disabled for life. Recently, 350 Armenian-made mines produced in 2021 were detected in our lands. 8 Azerbaijanis in Kalbajar region became the latest mine victims on December 14.
Your Holiness! You have been to Azerbaijan, where got acquainted with the multicultural values and traditions of our multi-ethnic, multi-confessional country, and have had an opportunity to personally observe how citizens of different ethnic and religious identities live as a happy family and freely practice their religious and spiritual customs, and all religious denominations benefit equally from the attention and care of the State. You are a living witness of the respectful attitude, attention and patronage of the Azerbaijani State to traditional religious values in our country and worldwide. Like more than 30,000 Armenians living in our multicultural country, same number of Armenians who live in Karabakh are our citizens and enjoy same rights and freedoms, privileges and access to the resources like every other Azerbaijani citizen. However, they have become hostages of the illegal regime. The rhetoric of some political figures in Armenia, pressures from the diaspora, as well as the statements of the Armenian Church are fueling the spirit of revanchism that threaten the fragile peace. Such statements do not serve the dialogue of the Azerbaijani authorities with the local ethnic Armenians. However, Azerbaijan is the most interested party in such a dialogue to complete the reintegration process. We wish peace, we are engaged in the peace-building works. We are working hard to revive Karabakh, which turned into ruins during the occupation, to rebuild its infrastructure, to restore vandalized mosques and churches. This will benefit the entire region from large-scale projects that serve common security and economic well-being of Azerbaijanis and Armenians living together in Karabakh. Our supreme hope is to establish lasting peace and tranquility.
Having introduced these true facts to Your Holiness, who always approach all issues through criteria of justice, we humbly request you to support our just cause and our efforts for the sake of peace, as the Almighty Creator command. With your supreme authority, please do not spare your efforts and prayers for sustainable peace in our region!
Your Holiness! Taking this opportunity, on behalf of the Muslims of Azerbaijan and personally I once again express sincere greetings to you - the Leader of the Catholics of the World on the occasion of your great Christmas holiday, the nativity of Jesus Christ, wishing you and all your followers the blessings of the Almighty, longevity, wellness and success in your valuable work. May the One Creator protect the Earth and Humankind from harm, and bestow peace and prosperity to our world! Amen!
Please accept my assurances of deep respect,
                                     Allahshukur PASHAZADEH

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