Fact check of FSSPX statements on Azerbaijan religious tolerance

By | Rachel Brooks

March 24, 2021 

“Ateshgah Fire Temple” by indigoprime is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Azerbaijan’s religious diversity stems from an ancient history of trans-regional faiths merging. Above image is from the remnants of the Zoroastrian fire temple in Baku. 

In a series of rapprochements that also included a visit to Iraq, the Vatican has made a public visit to Azerbaijan. This was reported by FSSPX News on March 22. The rapprochment news contained fallacies regarding the relationship of Azerbaijan to Christian institutions international 

As follows, an audit of the statements made in the FSSPX article. 

The news of rapprochement between the predominately Muslim Azerbaijan and the Vatican held great promise, as the Azerbaijani Ambassador to the Holy See noted a relationship with the Vatican holds a “special place” in the foreign policy of Azerbaijan. 

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FSSPX News reported the rapprochement between Azerbaijan and the Vatican as “astonishing.” 

“Since its independence in 1991, the Caucasian republic—rich in oil and backed by a remarkable geostrategic position—has claimed a strong attachment to secularism and religious tolerance: two concepts which its leaders use without restraint for foreign policy purposes,” wrote the FSSPX site. 

A fact audit of these statements reveals that the concepts of religious tolerance and secularism are not mere exploits of Azerbaijani foreign politics. Rather, due to the above-listed “geostrategic position” of Azerbaijan, the nation has intermingled with diverse cultural groups throughout its ancient history. 

This includes social traditions such as the spring festival of Novruz, which is a fully secularized and Muslim-social adapted holiday that developed out of the ancient Zoroastrian tradition of the region. 

FSSPX news continued in its factual error in a statement. 

“However, Azerbaijan’s priority in terms of foreign policy remains the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, several months after a ceasefire signed under the aegis of Vladimir Putin, after a lightning war of a few weeks against Armenia, marked by the defeat of the latter,” wrote the religious outlet.”

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Azerbaijan’s priorities regarding the Karabakh are supported by international law which recognizes the region of Karabakh as initially belonging to the Azerbaijani republic’s sovereignty. Azerbaijan currently pursues a rehabilitation of the region which has been deadlocked in conflict occupation for the better part of 30 years and continues to be plagued with the presence of landmines left by the Armenian forces to limit the potential of Azerbaijani repatriation into the region. Armenian nationalist occupation of the region has continued, for the better part of the past 30 years, to be a political rallying point bringing together the Armenian republic and the scattered Armenian diaspora. 

“Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh is claimed by Azerbaijan but is de facto under direct Russian control. To realize its dream of reclaiming a territory it considers its own in the name of history, the Azeri state must gain Western sympathies, by appearing as a modern country, open to all religions, especially Christianity.”

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This statement likewise is not completely factual. Karabakh was not “claimed” by Azerbaijan, but was rather reclaimed as part of its initial pre-Soviet territory. The land is currently under Russian occupation with the presence of peacekeeping forces having entered the territory at the climax of the Second Karabakh War. In addition, Karabakh’s ethnic population of Armenians was established as a result of the conflict between 1988 and 1994 with ethnic cleansing a direct result of the conflict era. 

A civilian recalls the ethno-diversity of Karabakh prior to the war, and her survival of the wartime circumstances. 

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The statement “to realize its dream of reclaiming a territory it considers its own in the name of history” is non-factual because Azerbaijan has, by international recognition, been recognized as the legal sovereign of the region all along.

Likewise, the statement “the Azeri state must gain Western sympathies, by appearing as a modern country, open to all religions, especially Christianity” is non-factual. Azerbaijan does not require western sympathy to pursue modern development for the simple reason that Azerbaijan has a well-established trade relationship with the Middle Eastern nation Israel as well as with regional neighbor Turkey, which has helped it to establish its modernization and technological advancements.

Likewise, Azerbaijan does not need to posture to the western entities to prove its openness to religious tolerance. Azerbaijan is the home of the Red Village, the largest community of Jews outside of Israel.