There is concerns that the new Religion Reform Laws of the small Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan are really an attack on the freedoms of the minority Christian religions of the country. While religious freedom is guaranteed in the Constitution of the nation, the new laws give the government more control over who can worship and where they can meet. I carefully read the press release of Forum 18, a religious watchdog group, and found little evidence that the new laws were designed to attack Christians but where targeting radial militant Muslims and “State Religions” of foreign groups.
The History of the conflicts between the Russian Orthodox and the Armenian Orthodox people give rise to caution in this fledgling democracy. Its location in southeastern Europe and the closeness to the oil fields in the Caspian Sea make for a very nervous Government. The fact that the pipe lines from the Caspian Sea go through their country and into Georgia and Turkey keeps them on their toes. But perhaps the most dangerous threat comes from Iran and its oppressive form of Islam and the possible spread of radical, militant and inhumane cell groups like the ones that raked havoc in its neighbor, Afghanistan.
Ninety-three percent of its residents are Islamic and have lived in peace with its Christian neighbors. Combined, the Armenian and Russian Christians only represent five percent of the population. The other two percent are a mix of Hare Krishna, Evangelical Christians and Atheists. The new laws will affect mostly those Islamics who want to start cults or religious cells that do not promote religious tolerance. Even though Shi’ite Muslims are the majority, they are not of the same mindset as those in Iran.
While we need to be aware of the temptation to exploit others by the new laws, we should take into consideration that they are trying to protect their people from terrorists who use religion to promote hate and violence. They suffered under the cloak of the USSR for decades and resent foreign entanglements and the intrusion of others into their way of peaceful coexistence. They would no more welcome a repressive Religious Regime than they would welcome the return of Communism. Pray that they seek the Wisdom of God and the sensibility of International Law when enacting the new laws. Pray that they find that the true believers of God seek only to live within the peace of God and desire never to bring harm to others. Pray that the doors of Spiritual Freedom are opened to those who bring the Message of Peace into the land.
What I want to stress here is these laws make it impossible for terror groups like the Al Qaeda and the Taliban form forming cells in Azerbaijan. And that is a very good thing! What the government of Azerbaijan needs to do is to act with tolerance and gentleness when dealing with the over enthusiastic Evangelists. Let them examine the intent of these missionaries and the heart of the message. And I applaud Forum 18 for keeping us informed of what is happening in these small Republics across Europe and Western Asia.