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Azerbaijan: A Hot-Spot Getting Hotter

August 16, 2006

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 391 - Wed 16 Aug 2006

Azerbaijan is a religious fault-line country. Northern Azerbaijan
borders Chechnya and Dagestan and is largely Sunni Muslim. Southern
Azerbaijan borders Iran and is mostly Shia. To the west Azerbaijan
borders the Christian nations of Armenia (its traditional \'enemy\')
and Georgia. To the east is the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan\'s
population of nearly 8 million is 83 percent Muslim and around 4.6
percent Christian, most of whom are Armenian or Russian. Due to a
history of war and occupation Azerbaijanis tend to view
Christianity as the religion of the Russian and Armenian \'enemy\'.

There is growing sectarian tension between the Muslim 30 percent
minority Sunnis and the 70 percent majority Shiites who are however
not pro-Iranian. They are Turkic Azeri Shiites who mostly
appreciate the secular nature of their government and look to
Turkey, Israel and the West. Their mosques are visited primarily by
the older generation. The Sunnis though are mostly from ethnic
minorities. They are embracing the extreme fundamentalist Wahhabi
Islam from Saudi Arabia to counterbalance Azeri Shiite domination
and Iranian influence. Wahhabi Islam has only infiltrated
Azerbaijan in the past decade through migration of mostly Wahhabi
Chechen and Dagestani Muslims as well as the Russian military\'s
push of thousands of Chechen rebels and militants into Azerbaijan
during the second Chechen war. However, the current Wahhabi
advancement is due to the vast number of highly active Wahhabi
missionaries from the Arab Gulf states. Flush with oil funds they
are building mosques and distributing Wahhabi literature and
propaganda, as well as training and funding local Wahhabi
activists.

Wahhabis control at least 150 of the northern Sunni mosques which
attract mostly the younger generation. Of these the Abu Bakr mosque
in the capital Baku is the largest mosque in Azerbaijan. Whilst
Azerbaijan\'s mosques mostly attract around 300 to Friday prayers,
the Abu Bakr mosque typically has 5000 to 7000 worshippers. The
Wahhabi Sunnis are becoming more and more politically active,
threatening the government and the Shiites whom they regard as
heretics. The most radical and militant Sunnis tend to meet in
cells in homes. The threat of domestic terrorism looms large. The
risk of Iranian intervention is also real. Around 20 million ethnic
Azeris live in Iran, more than double Azerbaijan\'s population.
Iran\'s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is an ethnic
Azeri. The theocrats in Iran who view the Wahhabi as their
inveterate enemy would be keen to crush any Wahhabist threat in oil-
rich Azerbaijan.

So Azerbaijan is in danger of domestic terrorism directed at the
government and across sectarian lines, incited by mostly foreign or
foreign-backed Sunni and Shia missionaries and activists.
Meanwhile, Forum 18 reports amendments to Azerbaijan\'s already
repressive Religion Law aimed at clamping down on \'destructive
sects\' will be debated in the parliamentary sitting commencing in
September. When Christians are already viewed with contempt and
suspicion - particularly the small non-Orthodox minority, a number
of whom are Azeri converts from Islam - it is difficult to imagine
they could avoid becoming victims of Azerbaijan\'s genuine security
concerns.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* open the eyes of the parliament and its advisors to the non-
political, non-threatening, peaceful nature of Christian worship
and fellowship.

* grant the government the insight and courage to disregard
political correctness and historical bias to justly
differentiate between the evident Islamist threat and the
peaceful exercise of Christianity, praying particularly for Ms
Rabiyyat Aslanova, chairing the working group drafting the
amendments to the Religion Law, and for President Ilhan Aliyev.

* bless Azerbaijan\'s churches with great spiritual wisdom and
grace, and especially with divine brotherly love and spiritual
solidarity that dissolves denominational and ethnic barriers,
which is beautiful to see. \'My command is this: Love each other
as I have loved you.\' (John 15:12 NIV)

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE:
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AZERBAIJAN - A HOT-SPOT GETTING HOTTER

Northern Azerbaijan borders Chechnya and Dagestan and is largely
Sunni Muslim. Southern Azerbaijan borders Iran and is mainly
Shiite. Unlike Iranian Shiites, Turkic Azeri Shiites mostly embrace
secular government and look to Turkey, Israel and the West. However
the Sunnis who are mostly ethnic minorities are widely adopting the
extreme Islamist Wahhabism and becoming politically active and
threatening. Azerbaijan\'s Christian minority is mostly Russian or
Armenian so Azerbaijanis tend to view Christianity as the religion
of the Russian and Armenian \'enemy\'. Due to security issues arising
from political Islam, Azerbaijan is now amending its already
repressive Religion Law. With all \'sects\' under scrutiny,
Christians, especially Protestants, are likely to be targeted.
Please pray for wisdom for the government and for the Church.
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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray
specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.
Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.