AZERBAIJAN: Will Christian children now get birth certificates?
Having repeatedly refused to register 18-month old Luka Eyvazov's birth, because his parents gave him a Christian name, the authorities have at last given him a birth certificate, after Forum 18 News Service reported his case. Unusually, the authorities also apologised to Luka's parents "for making us wait and suffer for so long," Luka's mother Gurayat Eyvazov told Forum 18. Without a birth certificate, Luka was not able to go to kindergarten or to school, get treatment in a hospital, or travel abroad. Luka's case was the last known case of a series of Baptist parents in the mainly-Muslim town who were refused birth certificates for their children because they had chosen Christian, not Muslim first names. However, Gurayat Eyvazov said it was unclear if the next time Baptist parents try to register a child's birth with a Christian name they will face similar refusals. "Officials said nothing on this."
Luka Eyvazov is the fourth child of Novruz Eyvazov, the leader of one of three Baptist congregations in Aliabad. His is the last known case of a series of Baptist parents in the mainly-Muslim town who were refused birth certificates for their children because they had chosen Christian, not Muslim first names. However, Gurayat Eyvazov said it was unclear if the next time Baptist parents try to register a child's birth with a Christian name they will face similar refusals. "Officials said nothing on this," she told Forum 18.
Children's births in Azerbaijan are generally registered at the place where their parents are registered to live. As Azerbaijani citizens and registered residents of Aliabad, the Eyvazov couple originally tried to register Luka's birth at the local town administration, which is where they first encountered a refusal. Without a birth certificate, Luka was not able to go to kindergarten or to school, get treatment in a hospital, or travel abroad.
Luka's parents failed too at the regional level in Zakatala, where civil registration official Aybeniz Kalashova wrote to the Eyvazovs last May complaining of foreign Baptist missionaries who had come to Azerbaijan in the early 1990s "spreading the Christian faith of the Baptist sect among the population", and who "tried to change surnames and first names, changing them into Georgian and Christian names". The Eyvazovs even took their case to Mehman Soltanov of the Justice Ministry's civil registration department in the capital Baku, but this too failed to break the logjam (see F18News 1 December 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=466).
Other members of Azerbaijan's ethnic Georgian minority have told Forum 18 that the difficulty of registering children with Georgian Christian names is particularly acute in the Zakatala region, though it occurs from time to time in neighbouring regions with an ethnic Georgian minority.
One ethnic Georgian told Forum 18 on 10 January from Kakh [Qax] region south of Zakatala region that Ingilos – ethnic Georgians who were converted to Islam several centuries ago and are considered to be Georgian-speaking Azeris by the Azerbaijani authorities, such as the Baptists in Aliabad – face great difficulties trying to change their surnames back to the Georgian form and registering children's births with Georgian names. However, the Georgian told Forum 18 that in most of these cases the motivation for the parents' desire for Georgian first names is national, not religious.
Georgian Orthodox priest Fr Ioan Abesashvili confirmed to Forum 18 in Kakh last November that his parishioners had no problems registering the births of their children with Georgian Christian names.
Meanwhile, Zaur Balaev, pastor of another Baptist congregation in Aliabad, told Forum 18 on 4 January that the town authorities have finally agreed to allow him to open a grocery shop. He said the earlier refusals were part of systematic local official opposition to Baptists in the town and an attempt to drive them out by economic means by depriving them of the means to earn a living (see F18News 9 December 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=473).
Two of the three Baptist congregations in Aliabad have repeatedly tried to register with the authorities to gain legal status but, despite meeting all the criteria, have got nowhere with their applications (see F18News 8 December 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=471). The third congregation does not wish to register. Church members have been detained, fined, threatened and their homes have even been shot at over the past decade.
Najiba Mamedova, the notary of Zakatala region, angrily refused to discuss with Forum 18 on 10 January why she is still refusing to notarise the signatures on the Baptist congregations' registration applications necessary for the applications to go further. "You are asking about such trivial matters when 25 percent of Azerbaijan's territory is occupied by Armenian bandits and the country is flooded with refugees," she declared, refusing to say why this was relevant to why she would not notarise the Baptists' signatures. She then put the phone down. Mamedova has a record of behaving angrily towards enquirers, having shouted "We don't need Baptists here" at Forum 18 (see F18News 8 December 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=471). (END)
For more background information see Forum 18's Azerbaijan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=92
A printer-friendly map of Azerbaijan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=azerba
5 January 2005
In this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org , an Azerbaijani Protestant, anonymous to avoid state persecution, pleads for the international community to promote religious freedom for all, as "it seems to us that our democracy is being sold for oil. Foreigners are afraid to call things by their real name. They are afraid to tell our government bluntly that human rights violations must end." He argues that "religious freedom cannot exist without other freedoms, such as freedom of expression and association, as well as press and literature freedom. Because of this, religious freedom is a litmus test for freedom and democracy in any society, including Azerbaijan." He concludes by proposing practical steps for effective dialogue with Azerbaijan's leaders, leading to real religious freedom, and how religious minorities can be involved in this process.
17 December 2004
A Protestant Pastor has described what Christians want to Forum 18 News Service as "we want freedom – freedom in society, freedom of faith and freedom to worship, freedom from the state so that it no longer interferes." One example of many incidents was a police raid in which the police halted a worship service, questioned all those present, and later tried to recruit the church leader as an informer. That congregation has been unable to meet for worship since. Police raids and harassment take place throughout Azerbaijan, with many believers involved being too frightened to speak out. As one pastor put it, "sometimes their own relatives don't even know they've become Christians." A pastor told Forum 18 that Baha'is and Jehovah's Witnesses face the same pressure from the authorities as Christians, as do independent Muslim and Hare Krishna communities. The authorities have denied to Forum 18 that religious persecution happens in Azerbaijan.
13 December 2004
AZERBAIJAN: Jailed for sharing faith, "non-constructive teaching" and "creating tensions between family members".
One Baha'i, Tavachur Aliyev, has been jailed for ten days, allegedly for not obeying the police, but really for sharing his faith, Baha'i sources have told Forum 18 News Service. Forum 18 has also been told that 18 Muslims were also jailed for two weeks, on charges of giving "non-constructive teaching" and "creating tensions between family members". The imprisonments took place during a fresh crackdown on religious activity in the exclave of Nakhichevan (Naxçivan), between Armenia, Turkey and Iran. Other religious communities such as the Seventh-day Adventists have also suffered at the hands of the authorities, who deny that religious persecution takes place in the exclave, and also decline to talk to Forum 18.