Issue 9, Articles 8-9, 11 September 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.



Monday 11 September 2000

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

Increasingly frustrated by the international community�s failure to protect
Serbian Orthodox churches in Kosovo, the Orthodox diocese of Raska and
Prizren and the Serbian National Council (SNC), a body with close ties to the
diocese, have decided to seek monetary compensation from some of the
international bodies involved in the administration of the province as well as
some Western governments. �KFOR and UNMIK, who have not resolved ONE
case, not ONE single case, to date of the destruction of churches are responsible
for carrying out, at least, monetary reparations to the Church,� the SNC and the
diocese declared in a statement.

The two bodies, which took the decision in the wake of the August destruction
of Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Velika Reka (see separate KNS article), are
claiming compensation �for the renovation of destroyed churches� from the
United Nations and the European Union, as well as a number of Western

�[St Elijah�s] was not only a spiritual but a little Serbian cultural centre as well,�
diocesan architect Professor LJUBISA FOLIC told Keston on 21 August in
Belgrade. �I am unable to estimate the sum of money that has been lost so far,
but we are talking about the history of one whole nation. We will follow
international resolutions, conventions and decisions in similar cases; the
economical patterns are being established.�

On 15 August the Serbian Orthodox Church instructed its office in Washington,
D.C. to send an appeal to the US Commission on International Religious
Freedom requesting protection for its churches and shrines in Kosovo. �Today,
under the internationally brokered �peace�,� the letter read, �we are witnessing
systematic and organised terror waged against the Serbian people and their
Orthodox Christian faith.� After listing numerous attacks, the letter asks �Are
these not overt violations of religious freedom in Kosovo?�

LAWRENCE GOODRICH, communications director of the Commission,
confirmed to Keston by telephone from Washington on 8 September that the
letter from the Serbian Orthodox Church in the US and Canada had been
received. He declared that the Commission considered the reports in the letter
and other reports of church destructions in Kosovo �disturbing� and confirmed
that the Commission would be responding soon to the letter and inviting
Church representatives to meet the Commission. (END)

Monday 11 September 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

An official of the Azerbaijani government�s Administration for Religious
Affairs has told Keston News Service that the Baku Lutheran parish is one of
three Christian churches that his office has recommended for registration with
the Ministry of Justice. The Lutheran parish - which has faced a split that most
observers believe was government-inspired - has long been seeking registration
and lodged its latest application back in May.

Members of the church have told Keston of repeated government attempts to
meddle in the life of the congregation, which reached a peak at the end of last
year with the expulsion of the congregation�s German pastor GUENTHER
OBORSKI, who began serving in Baku in 1998. The congregation is hoping
that once the parish is registered it will again be able to invite Pastor Oborski to

VAGIF SALAMOV, a chief specialist at the Administration for Religious
Affairs, told Keston by telephone from Baku on 8 September that his office had
given a �positive recommendation� to the Lutheran application, together with
those of a Pentecostal church in Zhiliye Kamni near Baku and the Cathedral of
Praise, another Pentecostal group. �All formalities have been completed and the
documents have been forwarded to the Ministry of Justice,� Salamov declared.
�The applications will be considered at the next meeting of the board of the
Justice Ministry, which will probably be later this month.�

Salamov confirmed information Keston had received from members of the
Lutheran congregation that their application had first been submitted in May
and had been sent from the Religious Affairs Administration to the Justice
Ministry on 30 July. However, he shrugged off questions as to why the
application had not been decided within the one month deadline specified in
Azerbaijan�s law on religion, declaring that his office is very busy in the
absence on sick leave of its head, temporary acting chairman MUSTAFA

Members of the Lutheran parish told Keston that on 12 May the parish had held
a meeting to approve the final text of the parish�s charter, which was then
submitted the following day to the Religious Affairs Administration. For the
next two and a half months, the administration sent back the text several times
demanding corrections or translation from Russian into Azeri. The parish
clearly believes that this was a stalling tactic, complaining that the
Administration demanded numerous changes on �trivial points�, although
Salamov denied this to Keston. �Everything that has happened in the
Evangelical-Lutheran community in Baku in the last two years gives us reason
to think that we have fallen into a battle with state agencies,� the parish wrote
in June at the height of the quibbling over the statute�s text.

Seven leading parish members - including the chair of the parish NATALYA
GAIDAROVA - wrote to IDAYAT ORUDJEV, presidential adviser on ethnic
questions, and the prime minister ARTUR RASIZADE on 28 August asking
them to help speed up the registration process and to �remove the artificial
obstacles� to the registration of their parish.

The refusal so far to approve the registration application has made it difficult
for the parish to secure its own pastor. Since the expulsion of Pastor Oborski,
the parish has been forced to resort to temporary pastors. Parish member
DILARA AHMEDOVA told Keston from Baku on 5 September that German
Pastor VON LOEWENICH and his wife HELGA spent two and a half months
in Baku in the early summer, ministering to the parish at the invitation of the
German Embassy and with permission from presidential adviser Orudjev and
the Religious Affairs Administration. However, the parish is again without a
pastor and wants Pastor Oborski back in office.

However, it seems likely that government agencies will try to obstruct Pastor
Oborski�s return. Asked when the parish will be able to invite him back,
Salamov declared that only once it has achieved registration will it be able to
invite its own pastor. Asked whether Pastor Oborski will then be free to return,
Salamov declared: �I can�t say. It does not depend only on me.� Asked what
might obstruct his return, Salamov stated: �He can return only if there is no
information that impacts negatively on his visa application. The Foreign
Ministry will be involved. If he is accepted, he can come. If not, it will be
someone else.�

A rival government-sponsored Lutheran parish in Baku is led by TAMARA
GUMBATOVA, former chair of the main parish who spearheaded attempts to
have Pastor Oborski expelled from Azerbaijan and who refused to accept a vote
to remove her from office at an emergency parish meeting on 7 November last
year (a decision approved by Archbishop GEORG KRETSCHMAR of the
Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Central
Asia, who is based in St Petersburg). Gumbatova�s community was registered at
record speed by the Justice Ministry earlier this year. This parish too does not
have a pastor. (END)

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