Azerbaijan has a long history of suppression at the hands of Arabs, Mongols, Persians, Turks and Russians. The country gained its independence when the Soviet empire fell in 1991. A difficult first decade was beset by internal coups and war with Armenia. Nearly 1 million Azerbaijanis were displaced by this conflict. The president, re-elected in a shady election, is the son of the previous president. They have overseen a political shift away from Russia toward Turkey and the West.
Official religious freedom is tempered by reactions against “foreign” religions and fears of Islamist extremism. Christian work is increasingly opposed, especially through obstruction and intimidation, if not outright persecution. Most Azerbaijani Muslims are Shi’a, a trait shared with neighbouring Iran.
Racial discrimination also affects religious freedom because the Christian population is almost entirely ethnic Armenian and Russian while the Muslim population is largely ethnic Azeri. A 1992 religious law that initially granted more freedoms has been amended several times with restrictions.
The State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations was formed in 2001. It demands the registration of religious communities and censors religious literature. Christian groups that do not register are considered illegal and often face discrimination.
In December 2007, five church members and three visitors were imprisoned and fined for “meeting without state registration” following a police raid. Police officers also confiscated their books and other religious materials. In June 2008, police arrested Pastor Hamid Shabanov on allegations of possessing an illegal weapon, despite the insistence of his family and congregation that authorities planted the gun they claimed to find while searching his home in Aliabad. The arrest was viewed by local believers as a direct attack on the pastor's Baptist church and an attempt to halt Christian activity in the area.
- As Azerbaijan remains a politically unstable nation, pray for stability and a genuine effort to make peace in and around Azerbaijan.
- Pray for increased commitment to fundamental freedoms and for a proper perspective of the gospel message that Azerbaijanis have negatively associated with Russia and other foreign cultures.
- Pray that Christian witness to the majority Muslim population may be with humility, wisdom and love.