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Azerbaijan's Religious Tolerance Isan Interfaith Model Says UK Parliamentary Conference

LONDON, November 14, 2012 /PRNewswire/ --

A conference at Britain's Parliament agreed that Azerbaijan is ready to use its historical position as a tolerant and multi-faith nation to promote religious tolerance throughout central Asia and beyond.

The conference at Portcullis House in Westminster was hosted by Lord Fraser, who spoke of Azerbaijan's largely unheralded record of religious tolerance within its borders.  

Although Azerbaijan is 95% Muslim, it also is home to one of the most flourishing Jewish communities in the Muslim world, as well as many Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox faiths which all co-exist in a peaceful and cooperative manner.  

There are three synagogues in Baku, and an active Jewish community with schools, cultural centers and even the teaching of the Hebrew language at the University in Baku.

"In Baku, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Synagogue was rebuilt with funding by a Muslim Imam," Lord Fraser told delegates.  "I can't think of any other city in the world where that could have happened?"

Azerbaijan's multi-faith composition is rooted deep in its history and seven decades of religious repression under Soviet rule actually achieved the opposite of what was intended, by galvanising inter-faith cooperation.

In the two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union religions of all kinds have flourished and there are now 500 different religious communities in a land of just nine million people.

The event was entitled Prospects of European Multiculturalism: The Azerbaijani Model of Inter-Faith Dialogue and Tolerance and was addressed by Leyla Aliyeva, General Coordinator of the OIC Youth Forum on Intercultural Dialogue.

She said the time has come for western nations to acknowledge Azerbaijan's role in this area and support its regional leadership.

"For us tolerance is not an achievement; it is natural, it is what we were born with," she said.

"I think in today's world it is especially important to show that Jewish people, Christians and Muslims can live an peace and harmony and we are especially proud of that."

Azerbaijan has a state committee to work with the various faiths called the Committee for Work with Religious Organisations.  Elshad Iskandarov, the chairman, spoke of the role governments can play in nurturing tolerance.

"Azerbaijan can contribute by its second (commodity) besides energy and that is the model of interfaith tolerance," he said, adding that "our model of tolerance can be shared with Europe and elsewhere and can  be implemented in other places where there is definitely a need for more cooperation."

He added that the best evidence of Azerbaijan's success is that the Jewish community is growing.

"This is a place," said Iskandarov, "where Jews who left after the fall of the Soviet Union are now re-immigrating back because they feel safe, in their home."

Moshe Becker, a Jewish leader from Azerbajian, told the parliamentary conference that in Azerbaijan "there has been no anti-Semitism and we live very peacefully, even cooperating with our Muslim and Christian brothers."

Pastor Rasim Khalilov, who leads the Word of Life evangelical community, Azerbaijan's youngest Church, said the real testament to his nation's success can be seen in the lives of the faithful.

"Their lives are good," he said.

"People can express themselves from their souls, and from their hearts, and from their minds"

Mr Iskandarov said the next challenge is to educate the world as to what his nation can contribute saying "our human relations and tolerance are just as important as the other commodity they know better, the energy".

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