KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 9, Article 5, 8 September 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
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AZERBAIJAN: WILL NEW BAPTIST REGISTRATION APPLICATION BE
SUCCESSFUL?

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The Baptist church in the northern Azerbaijani town of Aliabad is believed to
hold the record for the religious group that has been refused registration the
longest. But the church - which has been waiting in vain for registration for
five and a half years - could be set for a further long wait. The head of the
Baptist Church in Azerbaijan told Keston News Service that a fresh registration
application will be lodged next week. But an official of the government's
Administration for Religious Affairs in Baku told Keston that the local
authorities have again complained about the activities of the church. The
official added that he plans to visit the region to assess the situation on the
ground, but this seems unlikely to take place in the near future.

The congregation of the Aliabad Baptist church - with about 30 adults plus
children - is largely made up of Inglos, a Georgian-speaking ethnic group, and
is led by Deacon REMIZ OSMANOV. It first applied for registration as far
back as February 1995 and, although it managed to gain registration as a
branch of the Baku Baptist Church last year, its application for registration as a
religious organisation in its own right has been constantly obstructed despite
numerous appeals (see KNS 14 April 2000).

`The authorities have been dragging their feet over this application,' the head of
the Baptist community in Azerbaijan, ILYA ZENCHENKO, told Keston by
telephone from Baku on 8 September. `According to the law there is nothing to
prevent the registration of this church.' He complained that the current
registration as a branch of the Baku church was the bare minimum to ensure
legal status, but that it restricted the church to meeting in one place only. `The
brothers want to evangelise and give out literature,' Zenchenko explained.
`Their current status does not allow this.' He declared that as the most recent
registration application was now more than six months old its validity had
therefore expired, so the church would lodge yet another application in the
week beginning 11 September. `All the documents are ready,' Zenchenko
reported.

But VAGIF SALAMOV, a chief specialist at the Administration for Religious
Affairs, told Keston by telephone from Baku on 8 September that the head of
the local authorities had telephoned him to complain of the church's activity as
an unregistered group. `The local population wanted measures taken against the
group,' Salamov declared. Asked why, he responded: `It is a very complicated
situation there. The population are Sunni Muslim, with some Georgian
Orthodox.' Asked why this was relevant to the Baptists' application, Salamov
failed to give a coherent answer, declaring that his office was short-staffed as
the Administration's temporary acting chairman, MUSTAFA IBRAHIMOV,
was ill in hospital in Spain after a heart attack. Salamov declared, though, that
he had told the head of the local authorities (whose name he did not write
down) that as long as the Baptists were not breaking the law no `measures'
were to be taken against them.

Salamov reported that he would visit Aliabad on Ibrahimov's return to work,
although he did not believe this would be soon. It is not clear if Ibrahimov's
powers have been vested in any other official in his absence, which could prove
vital for the new Aliabad application, as the Administration must approve all
applications before they go to the Ministry of Justice for processing.

Salamov declared that he did not believe the Aliabad Baptists had ever applied
for registration, although he admitted that he had not dealt directly with their
case up till then. Asked directly several times whether his office had any
objection to their registration on principle, Salamov eventually said No. `I have
no materials against them,' he stated, though immediately added that the local
authorities might have.

Azerbaijan's 1996 law on religion requires a religious organisation to have ten
adult founding members - a requirement that the Aliabad congregation clearly
meets. Zenchenko is optimistic that Aliabad's Baptist church will eventually
obtain the registered status to which it is entitled under the law. (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.