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Forum 18: Azerbaijani authorities want to close Sunny Mosque in Old City of Baku

The leader of the Lezgin Mosque community of Baku Faiq Mustafa fears that Azerbaijani authorities might attempt to oust the community under an excuse of renovation of the Lezgin Mosque. This was reported by international organization "Forum 18” News Service from Baku.

According to the head of Lezgin community the director of Baku's Icherisheher (Old City) Samir Nuriyev advised him that the community should voluntarily leave the building in advance of full renovation.

Forum 18 did not manage to get a response as to why no document on the proposed renovation has been given to the community and whether the community will be able to resume use of the mosque once the renovation is complete.

According to the article, even though Azerbaijan's State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations announced that the government has nothing against Sunnis, it is the mosques of Sunny community in the country that repeatedly get closed.

Mustafa fears that after the renovation, the authorities could turn the mosque into a museum or, if they reopen it as a mosque, they could create a new Shia community there. "Then where would we worship?" asks the community leader.

Forum 18 informs that for several months policemen have been trying to blockade the Friday prayers in the Mosque.

"The possible closure – temporary or permanent – of Baku's Lezgin Mosque comes amid continuing state restrictions on individuals and communities exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief,” reads the announcement of the organization.

Lezgin Mosque, which is one of the oldest mosques in Azerbaijan, was renamed by the authorities, without considering the opinion of the mosque’s community, into "Ashurbekov” mosque early in 2010. This gave way to a number of protests and calls for help on the part of Sunnis of Azerbaijan to their co-religionists in the North Caucasus. However the Azerbaijani mass media while currently mentioning the mosque in the context of operations by security forces, again call it Lezgin Mosque.

In Azerbaijan Suni Islam is practiced mostly by indigenous people of Azerbaijan – Lezgins, Tsakhurs and Avars. According to the official data there are 180 thousand Lezgins, 51 thousand Avars and 12,3 thousand Tsakhurs in Azerbaijan. However, according to various expert assessments the real number of indigenous people of Azerbaijan reaches to 600 thousand, while the number of Avars is 20 thousand. In Azerbaijan the representatives of indigenous peoples are subject to harassment on ethnic and religious grounds. The Azerbaijani authorities term the punitive actions against them as a "fight against vahabism”. Harassment of activists, regular raids of internal forces of Azerbaijan and others result in migration of the youth from these regions.



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