Azerbaijan, Southwest Asia
Political Leader: President Ilham Aliyev
Religions: Islam 83.7%, Non-Religious 11.3%, Christianity 4.6%, Other 0.4%
Persecution Ranking: 22nd
Number of Terrorist Groups: 2
Acts of Terrorism: 6; Casualties: 19
Percent of Corruption: 76%
% of People in Poverty: 24%
Azerbaijan is located in Southwestern Asia, bordering the Caspian Sea, between Iran and Russia, with a small European portion north of the Caucasus range. In 1991, Azerbaijan was the first Soviet republic to declare its independence. The Azeris have been oppressed throughout history by the Arabs, Persians, Turks and Russians. Recently Azerbaijan tensions with Armenia led to a full-scale war, fighting over who should own the Nagorno-Karabakh region. War and corruption have had a massive impact on the whole country and almost half of the population live in poverty. Local scientists consider the Abseron Yasaqligi (Apsheron Peninsula) (including Baku and Sumqayit) and the Caspian Sea to be the ecologically most devastated area in the world because of severe air, soil and water pollution.
Over the past five years, the government of Azerbaijan has aggressively apprehended and prosecuted members of suspected terrorist groups, according to Country Reports on Terrorism 2007. It has closed organizations that were suspected of supporting terrorist groups and arrested at least 39 persons from three separate terrorist-associated groups, on terrorism-related charges.
Since August 2003, Azerbaijan has supported peacekeeping operations in Iraq with an infantry company of approximately 150 soldiers stationed at the Haditha Dam. A platoon of Azerbaijani soldiers has worked with the Turkish peacekeeping contingent in Afghanistan since November 2002. While Azerbaijan has taken steps to combat terrorist financing and identify possible terrorist-related funding by distributing lists of suspected terrorist groups and individuals to local banks, comprehensive legislation to counter terrorist financing has not yet passed parliament.
According to official figures, approximately 96% of the population is Muslim. Azerbaijan is a secular country, in article 48 of its constitution ensures the liberty of worship to everyone. Everyone has a right to choose any faith, to adopt any religion or to not practice any religion, to express one's view on the religion and to spread it. Officially there has been “religious freedom” since then, but in reality Christianity is negatively associated with Russians and Armenians.
Challenges to Christians:
According to paragraphs 1-3 of Article 18 of the Constitution the religion acts separately from the government, each religion is equal before the law and the propaganda of religions, abating human personality and contradicting to the principles of humanism is prohibited. Unfortunately most people think of Christianity as the religion of the Russians or Armenians who have invaded Azerbaijan in its past. Most towns and villages have never heard about Jesus and foreign missionaries aren't allowed to evangelize.
- Pray for Azerbaijan to continue to take a tough stance against terrorists. Pray that the government of Azerbaijan would remain aggressive in apprehending and prosecuting members of suspected terrorist groups
- Most Christians in Azerbaijan are Russian speaking. Pray that they would have real sensitivity and wisdom in evangelizing to the majority Muslim population.
- Pray that Christians in Azerbaijan would be able to reach people who don’t know God.
- Pray that God will break down these barriers and prejudice so people can open their hearts and minds to Jesus.
Sources: 24-7 Prayer, Operation World, CIA Factbook, Wikipedia, International Religious Freedom Report 2007, Country Reports on Terrorism 2007