Azerbaijan State Official Encourages Religious Freedom

Silver Spring, MD... [IRLA]. "All religions are equal in the eyes of the law," stated Dr. Rafig Yahya Oglu Aliyev, in a visit to the International Religious Liberty Association's (IRLA) headquarters. Serving as chairman of the Azerbaijan State Committee for Work with Religious Structures since 2001, Aliyev assured IRLA officers and staff that the Azerbaijan government is interested in fostering healthy and productive relationships among various religious organizations to prevent conflicts.

"While we cannot control negative information released by various independent groups, such as the media, we do feel that it is important for the State to add our voice to the current debate to help change the public's misconceptions about other religions, and to promote tolerance," he added. Extending an invitation to the IRLA to organize a chapter in Azerbaijan, Aliyev asked for cooperation between IRLA and his office for open dialogue and sharing of information.

Welcoming Aliyev was Dr. John Graz, secretary general for the IRLA, who works closely with the U.S. Department's International Visitor Program. "The visit of Dr. Aliyev is very important for the role of IRLA in Azerbaijan and for the promotion of religious freedom," commented Graz. "We are delighted to accept Dr. Aliyev's invitation to organize a symposium with his office to improve the knowledge of various religious groups toward each other in the frame of peace and harmony."

A country of over 7 million, Azerbaijan is made up of 93.4 percent Muslims, 2.5 percent Russian Orthodox, 2.3 percent Armenian Orthodox, and 1 percent other. [Viola Hughes]