A Threat Ignored? Ethnic Azerbaijanis Increasingly Inclined to Radicalism

Young ethnic Azerbaijani writer, Joshgun Jafar, thinks poor education of ethnic Azerbaijani people living in Georgia is the reason for many problems, including the fact that missionaries of Sunni and Shiite directions of Islam get easy access to the young uneducated Muslim population here. He wants to see progressive, educated, tolerant and capable peers who respect others’ opinions and freedom.

“I became the target of many threats, even death threats, because of my critical articles about the recent increasing inclination of ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Georgia towards religious fanaticism, Sharia laws, and life with outdated stereotypes. This further proves that ethnic Azerbaijani people are more and more inclined to radicalism,” said Joshgun Jafar, who lives in Muganli village of the Gardabani municipality. Joshgun is the only one among his brothers and sisters who has received higher education.

“Our family tried hard to provide high education at least for me. I received a diploma of philosophy in Iran. I am very concerned about my friends not being able to get a normal education. I tried not to remain indifferent to this problem. I think through my poetry and articles I can reveal many issues from a different perspective.”

“Missionaries from Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia spend a lot of money on religious propaganda in the regions of Georgia predominantly inhabited by Muslims. In response to that, the Government of Georgia does nothing. It is a very important issue – religious radicalization might become a reason for controversy and provocation in society. They have already started convicting people under the Sharia Law in Azerbaijani populated villages [here].”

A resident of Karajala village in Telavi district was convicted under the Sharia Law and had his finger cut off. Karajala village attorney of Telavi District Administration, Alasgar Sardarov, has spoken openly of the threat of Wahhabism throughout the past five years:

“Several years ago, youth from Turkey began a program of propaganda on radical religious ideas. Nobody doubted that they had other plans, too. A short time later they grew beards and began dressing in short trousers. Cutting off a finger is nothing to a Wahhabi. One man had this done to him because he stole a cow, and this was supported as the punishment for thievery according to their religion.”

Telavi district is located close to the Kist inhabited Pankisi Gorge. Telavi Municipal Board Deputy Chairman Ruslan Ashurov said, unlike most ethnic Azerbaijani inhabited villages, Karajala village has good social infrastructure and the population is more educated, with the majority of locals having knowledge of the Georgian language. However, the ‘missionaries’ are still attracting more and more into their group.

Near the butcher’s where the man had his finger cut off, a young man, who calls himself a member of the ‘Sunni promotion society’ and a ‘believer,’ claims he has over 350 friends.

“According to our religion, every Muslim should live and die for Jihad. Death is also a mission. If you are Muslim, you must not be afraid of death at all and you must always be ready for it.”

Karajala village school director Elza Ashurova said the influence of Salafists has been increasing over the past years and more and more children are skipping lessons.

“Children who are close to radicals or are members of such families do not come to class during the fasting period. I tried several times to persuade the Akhund of the mosque to let the children go to the mosque after lessons. But he refused, telling me there is a fixed time for praying to Allah and it is of utmost importance to do so.”

Ashurova said that teachers have found religious materials in the computers of the first-grade pupils. Interviews with pupils revealed that parents recorded these programs in their computers and requested children to learn the materials by heart. Some parents do not allow their children to participate in certain school events because of their religion.

According to Zaza Vashakmadze, Head of the State Committee of Georgia on religious issues, they are aware of the increasing inclination of people towards radical religious movements not only in Telavi but also in other regions. “There are people among the Muslims, mostly ethnic Azerbaijanis, that have connections with radical religious groups,” Vashakmadze said. “We know about it but cannot interfere unless we receive complaints from those regions and so far nobody has reported any interference in their private lives. Therefore, from a legal point of view, it is impossible for us to do anything.”

Sheikh of the Georgian Muslim Department Ramin Igidov said attention is not being paid to the increased radical religious teachings in villages in the Kvemo Kartli region.

“Recently, the number of ethnic Azerbaijani people going to fight in Syria has increased. Apparently, the government has faced some problems in the fight against this problem. It is difficult because all their efforts are evaluated as restriction of the freedom of religion.”

Georgian Parliamentarian Mahir Derziev said the radical direction of religion became strong in Georgia during Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidency.

“Wahhabis arrived in Georgia from other countries and settled in Pankisi Gorge with the permission of the previous government. Since local radicals are against the Assad regime, Saakashvili’s government supported them in everything. Saakashvili has left and this problem is still unresolved.”

Leader of the Public Movement ‘Dignity in Georgia,’ Alibala Asgarov, said the government is not interested in the problems of religious radicalism.

“Apparently, the Government of Georgia does not perceive it as threat to their people and does not hurry to interfere.”

Tural Gurbanli


'Family shoes outside a mosque'. Photo from www.janejolly.com

26 November 2015 20:34