RELIGIONS IN PRESENT AZERBAIJAN

The religions of Azerbaijan comprise different religious trends spread among the people and ethnic groups residing in the country. There are several confessions in Azerbaijan.

Article 48 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan ensures the liberty of worship to everyone. Everyone has a right to choose any faith, to adopt any religion or to not practice any religion, to express one's view on the religion and to spread it. According to paragraphs 1-3 of Article 18 of the Constitution the religion acts separately from the government, each religion is equal before the law and the propaganda of religions, abating human personality and contradicting to the principles of humanism is prohibited. At the same time the state system of education is also secular.

The law of the Republic of Azerbaijan (1992) "On freedom of faith" ensures the right of any human being to determine and express his view on religion and to execute this right.

Judaism

There are three communities of Jews-Mountain Jews, Ashkenazi Jews and Georgian Jews Azerbaijan. Nearly 16 000 Jews reside in the country. Of them 11000 people are mountain Jews, including 6000 people living in Baku and 4000 in Guba while a thousand people live in other cities. Ashkenazi Jews are 4.3 thousand in number. Most of them live in Baku and Sumgayit. There are 700 Georgian Jews in the country.

Mountain Jews currently dominate the whole Jews Diaspora of the country. They speak in tat language yet one can come across a great many of words of Turkish, Persian and Russian origin in their speech.

Mountain Jews are rabbis. Along with Old Testament, they also base their religion rabbi and Telmud legends. Due to the lack of religious education they explained the rules of Telmud in a perverted way and adopted some concepts connected with the idolatry of the Caucasus people. The belief in women Dedeyol, that lives in the forest and feeds on the hearts and lungs of pregnant women, Ilan-Ajdaha (Dragon-snake) that kills new born children and the tradition of jumping over the fire two weeks before Christmas originate from the local beliefs rather than from Jews.

Mountain Jews are more orthodox compared with Ashkenazi Jews. On the whole, the jews of Azerbaijan are quite far from the political and religious trends spread among Polish and Ukrainian Jews beginning from 18th century and reformist Judaism.

A number of synagogues of Mountain Jews exist in Baku, Oghuz and Guba. Krasnaya Slobada of Guba is the only place of compact residing of mountain Jews on the whole post Soviet area. Mountain Jews arrive here from all the countries of the world as pilgrimage or for visiting the burial places of their closes on the ninth Day of fasting. The region accounts for three synagogues and a mikva, constructed for conducting ceremonies.

Ashkenazi Jews originate from Europe and in fact come from the medieval Germany. Though small in number, the community of Georgian Jews is very active. A synagogue of Georgian Jews was restored by the financial aide of Jewish committee Joint in 1997.

After Azerbaijan had gained independence, the Jewish community of the country intensified their activity, strengthened relations with international Jewish organizations and created their religious schools-yeshivas, cultural centers (as the cultural center of Jewish community), societies (as the women's society Eva, Hesed-Hershon charitable society), clubs (as Alef, Kilel youth clubs, Mishpaha videoclubs), newspapers (as Az-Iz, Bashnya, Amishav). The Jewish agency Soxnut, Jewish committees Joint and Vaad-I-Hetzola operated for preserving Jewish traditions among the Jewish Diaspora, assisting to synagogues and conducting various cultural arrangements.

A new Jewish synagogue, which became the biggest synagogue of Europe was opened in Baku on March 9, 2003. The first Jewish school has been operating in Azerbaijan since September of 2003.

Christianity

Christianity is represented by Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Protestantism as well as a number of sectarian communities in Azerbaijan. Five Armenian-Gregorian communities have been registered in the country.

Orthodoxy is currently represented by Russian and Georgian orthodox churches in Azerbaijan. The Russian orthodox churches were founded in 2000 are report to the Eparchy of Baku and the Caspian region.

Azerbaijan also accounts for eleven Malaccan communities related to the old rituals of orthodoxy. These communities do not have any church; their dogmas are fixed in a special book of rituals. They oppose the church hierarchy which has a special power.

Albanian-udi church

Though the number of people belonging to the Albanian-Udi Christian religious community differs from that of others yet it's distinguished for its nature, content, religious and political importance. To date of 6000 of 10 000 people of Udi ethnic community live in Azerbaijan including 4400 people compactly residing in the Nich village of Gabala district.

The udis which originated from the Turkic tribes of the fourth century B.C. resided on the territory of Karabakh and Caspian sea shore, later accepted Christianity and spread this religion in the Caucasus Albania. The church of Kish (the Kish village of Sheki district)-the first Christian church-was considered the forefather of the Christian churches.

Tsarist Russia, incited by of Armenians, resettling to Karabakh signed a decree which abolished the Albanian church in 1836 and transferred Albanian praying-houses, all equipment and documents, belonging to the church to Armenian apostolic church. Under such conditions the udis would either accept the Gregorian religion thus turning to Armenians or become lonely dervishes. However, they had remained truthfully devoted to their faith, traditions and historical motherland through displaying great courage for over 160 years did not turn into Armenians on the contrary they tried to remove the historical injustice initiated from 1836. With the restoration of Albanian-Udi Christian community the theoretically proven historical facts were materialized and the rights of just udis were partially restored.

Catholicism. This trend in Christianity was represented by the Roman Catholic community in Baku.

Islam

After the collapse of the Soviet Empire all religious organizations fell into depression and split into pieces while the Religious Organization of Transcaucasia Muslims headed by akhund Allanshukur Pashazade elected the sheyhulislam in 1980 intensified its operation and tried to spread its influence to the entire Caucasus under the name of the Caucasus Muslims Department. The measures to implement these attempts were undertaken at the tenth session of the Caucasus Muslims held in Baku in 1998. The opening of CMD representations in Georgia and Dagestan was one of the significant steps in this field.

The chair of CMD ensures the consequent contacts with Islamic organizations and manages to establish close religious relations with neighbor Muslim countries. To date CMD controls the Islamic communities of Azerbaijan within its power, oversees the proper fulfillment of the rules of Shariat, progresses in breeding religious workers through the Islamic University of Baku, founded in 1991 and is responsible for all religious events occurring in the country. The faculty of theology of the State University of Baku has been training Islam and theology scientists since 1992.

Islam is represented by such trends as Shiizm, Sunnism and Shafiism in Azerbaijan. The policy of openness recently conducted in the country created conditions for the spread of a number of other trends and Sufi sects in the regions of the country.

Through the years of independence the worshiping of holies strengthened in Azerbaijan and the new holy places were set up along with old ones. Bakhailism created its own assembly and expanded yearly.

The influence of nontraditional religions strengthens in the country. Though not typical of Azerbaijan the International Society of Krishna has been operating in the country for already 10 years. A number of protestant religious communities registered by the government of Azerbaijan in the 1990th spread their religious views.

The relations the state-religion are regulated by the State Committee for the Work with Religious Associations of Azerbaijan established by the decree of President Heydar Aliyev in 2001.
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