BBC: More and more Azerbaijanis leave for Syria to fight -
More and more Azerbaijanis leave to fight in Syria. One of the reasons is the oppression of Salafis in Azerbaijan, where, as the human rights activists say, dozens of people are imprisoned for their religious beliefs. At the same time the critics argue that the Azerbaijani government does too little to convince people not to leave for Syria, reads Kenul Halilova’s article published on the website of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
The author notes that in early July the video which shows how a man is attacked and has his beard cut off publicly has become a hit among Azerbaijani Internet users. After several hours this video disappeared from the YouTube. Azerbaijani authorities, who ordered to remove this video, say that the victim was propagating a "nontraditional religious propaganda" in Sabirabad which is in the east of Azerbaijan.
Over the past few years, the Salafis in Azerbaijan have become a target of a number of attacks. But this time, the incident in Sabirabad did not remain unanswered, and soon some unknown people attacked the Shiite mosque in the suburb of Baku. "It seems that the Salafis of Azerbaijan rise," the article reads.
It is written in the article that Azerbaijan is a secular state and since the independence the authorities in Baku had negative attitude towards Iran's attempts to export their Islamic revolution. Over the past few years, a number of Shiite activists were detained for protesting against the ban on wearing hijab in schools. Salafis are most active in the northern regions of Azerbaijan whish are populated mainly by Sunnis. People in such cities as Gah, Zaqatala and Balaken believe that the local men are easy to promote and become "Wahhabis" from moderate Sunnis (Salafis they are called in Azerbaijan).
"The money comes for help in this case," said one of the interlocutors, ensuring that volunteers who leave for Syria to fight there, pay 2 to 5 thousand dollars. "They have no work, so they give the money to their relatives and leave. And in case they die, their families receive money for bringing their bodies back home," he adds.
However, the Azerbaijani site publika.az published an "exclusive statement" of an Azerbaijani, who has fought in the ranks of jihadists from the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" against the Syrian President Bashar Assad. According to him it is the harassment of the Salafis in Azerbaijan that forces them to join the Syrian rebels. "We are being criticized a lot in Azerbaijan. But there is a reason why we have come here. The reason should be sought primarily in Azerbaijan. We are under pressure. People do not accept us. The media works against us calling us Wahhabis. Police cut off our beards. That’s why we decided to leave for Syria," explains the man.
The Azerbaijani government argues that no one in the country is prosecuted for his religious views. But a video appeared on the Internet that showed how in the Old City of Baku police detain and interrogate the passersby. As the Azerbaijani BBC service found out recently, the police has tried to stop those who attend to the Salafi mosque Ashurbey which is located not far from the traditional Shiite mosque located in the same area of the Old Town.
The police confirmed the arrests, and added that this was done because of "complaints of the local residents."
According to the human rights activists there are dozens of people in Azerbaijani prisons who are detained for their religious beliefs. The government denies this.
The publication reads that since 2012 the number of reports received form Azerbaijani citizens who went to fight in Syria increase. According to the local press, during the last two years more than 100 Azerbaijanis have been killed in Syria. Azerbaijani authorities claim that it is impossible to verify these details, and condemn the actions of those who are sent to fight abroad. However, the critics say that the Azerbaijani government does too little to convince people not to leave for Syria.
Religion writer Arif Yunus says that more and more Azerbaijanis leave for Syria, and religious radicalism grows in Azerbaijan. “The government should change its policy ... It is not having a dialogue [with the religious groups]. There have already been religious strives in regions, but the government does not discuss this," he says.
According to numerous reports on the Internet, the Azerbaijani militants in Syria are mainly based in the town of Raka, in the north of the country, on the northern bank of the Euphrates. Muhammad Azeri, claiming to be one of the leaders of the Azerbaijani Jamaat in Raka, posted a statement in the YouTube, which says that "we continue our jihad." "For this, Allah has given us tanks, machine guns and even airplanes," he adds.
The article reads that Shiites and Sunnis in Azerbaijan have lived side by side for centuries. However, according to analysts, the pressures on religious organizations by the authorities of Azerbaijan, as well as social problems existing in the province led to the fact that some decided to leave and to fight in Syria.
This summer, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported that the radical Sunni group "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" is gathering volunteers in Azerbaijan for participating in the war in Syria and Iraq. According to IRNA, the restrictions on political and religious activities in Azerbaijan are one of the main reasons why "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" considers this country as fertile ground for jihadist recruitment.
On the world map published by "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant", Azerbaijan should join the organization which has proclaimed it a caliphate.
Many users of social networks in Azerbaijan have expressed outrage that the Shiite militants of "Islamic State of Iraq and Levant" kill and destroy their shrines in Iraq. But there are people who support them. In interview with BBC imam Salafi of mosque in Baku refused to comment on the activities of the ISIL, saying that very few people know about them. But then he added: "Let Allah help them."