AZERBAIJAN: Adventists Told to Get Out Before President Arrives.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 3 July 2002

Adventist leaders in Azerbaijan are optimistic the decision by local police in the country's exclave of Nakhichevan to expel an Adventist family just days before President Heidar Aliev's mid-June visit to the exclave will soon be revoked. "We are discussing this issue with the State Committee for Relations with Religious Organisations," an Adventist leader told Keston News Service from the Azerbaijani capital Baku on 3 July. "We hope we can resolve it together." Pastor Vahid Nagiev, his wife Keklik Kerimova and their four children, who are registered to live in the town of Nakhichevan, were subjected to internal deportation on 10 June, despite the fact that Azerbaijan's laws do not allow for internal deportation.

Kerimova echoed the hope that the State Committee would step in. "We presented our case to them in writing and we hope they will take up and resolve the issue," she told Keston by telephone on 3 July. She said that when the family was ordered to leave they asked for the order in writing, but no documents were given. She added that even now the family cannot return home. "We've been told we can't live there as we are Christians." Kerimova declined to discuss with Keston the details of the deportation, hoping that the issue will soon be resolved without international coverage.

Sources in Azerbaijan told Keston in late June that a group of policemen, including the chief of police of the town of Nakhichevan, came to the Nagiev family home, which also serves as the church, on 9 June, ordering them to leave Nakhichevan. The family refused. At 10 pm that day a further group of eight policemen arrived, explaining that the family had to leave before President Aliev's arrival on 15 June as they feared the Adventists could be preparing "terrorist actions" against the president. The policemen reportedly accompanied their instructions with threats. They also declared that they would not allow a Christian church to exist in the centre of the town. The family was forced to leave Nakhichevan on 10 June by air for Baku (the exclave is bordered by Turkey, Armenia and Iran, and all transport to the rest of Azerbaijan is by air).

The Nagievs visited the State Committee in Baku on 1 July to seek its help in overturning their banishment from Nakhichevan, putting their case to Mirzabala Amirakhov, the head of the department that deals with Christian groups. He listened to their case, asking them to put their complaint in writing. He also asked the Adventist leadership to confirm that the Nakhichevan congregation was part of the Adventist church. The Adventists delivered the two documents to the State Committee on 3 July.

Contacted by telephone on 3 July, Amirakhov told Keston that the State Committee had not had time to investigate the case. "I can't confirm that they've been deported - that's their words. They left Nakhichevan and are now here." He said the investigation was only at the beginning and that the State Committee had not yet got in touch with its local representative in Nakhichevan, whose first name he gave as Idrikh. He said he did not have his surname to hand or his telephone number.

The Nagiev family have encountered pressure from the local authorities in Nakhichevan. Last September, three of their children were barred from attending school on the grounds that they are Adventists, a decision overturned after pressure from Baku. In October the authorities tried to deport them, but they refused to go, citing Article 48 of the Azerbaijani constitution guaranteeing the right to confess any faith they chose. (See KNS 25 March 2002)

The 20-strong Nakhichevan Adventist church gained registration with the Ministry of Justice in 1996. It did not re-register in 1998 under the compulsory re-registration process. However, in autumn 2001 - under the most recent re-registration process - it did seek re-registration, but this was turned down. It then applied for registration as a new organisation in January of this year, but is still awaiting approval. The State Committee, which now handles registration, has told the Adventists that it has requested details from Nakhichevan of the 1996 registration, but has not yet had a response.

Azerbaijan has only two registered Adventist congregations, one in Gyanja (which was raided by police in February - see KNS 27 February 2002) and one in Baku. (END)