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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09BAKU738 2009-09-16 08:48:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baku
Cable title:  

AZERBAIJAN: SUMMER 2009 MOSQUE CLOSURES,

Tags:   AJ IR KISL PGOV PHUM PREL 
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					C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BAKU 000738 

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/CARC, DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/10/2019
TAGS: AJ IR KISL PGOV PHUM PREL
SUBJECT: AZERBAIJAN: SUMMER 2009 MOSQUE CLOSURES,
DESTRUCTION, AND OPENINGS

REF: A. BAKU 405

B. BAKU 396

BAKU 00000738 001.2 OF 003


Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Donald Lu, Reasons 1.4 (b, d)



1. (C) Summary: Through open source reporting and
communication with embassy contacts, Post provides a list of
specific allegations regarding mosque closures and
destruction over the last four months. Much has been made in
the press regarding these closures, with some alleging a
trend of religious persecution. However, Embassy analysis
shows that each mosque was closed for different reasons,
including commercial disputes, challenges to property rights
and perhaps even broader regional political issues. As such,
Embassy is not inclined to link all mosque closings to
suggest that the government of Azerbaijan has aimed wholesale
to destroy Islamic religious movements. Embassy notes that
these issues have come to light while the Abu Bakr mosque,
previously one of the most prominent Sunni communities in the
country, remains closed after authorities halted religious
activities there pursuant to what has been called an on-going
investigation following a grenade attack at the mosque on 17
August 2008. Finally, it should be noted that, in the wake
of additional mosque closures, the Teza Pir mosque opened
with great fanfare on 06 July. This mosque, which has been
under renovation for several months, will serve as the
headquarters for the Caucasus Muslim Board (CMB). End Summary.

GOAJ Cites Property Rights, Safety Concerns


--------------------------





2. (C) On April 26, police destroyed the Prophet Mohammed
mosque of the Yasamal District Religious Community, which
started construction on the mosque in summer 2005. Details
of the destruction of the mosque were transmitted per reftel
B, but the issue seems to be one of legal wrangling over
property rights vice limitation on religious gathering in the
more traditional sense.



3. (C) A mosque known as the Oily Rocks mosque, which sat at
a working site in the Caspian Sea, was destroyed in mid-June


2009. The reason for destruction, according to Zerkalo, an
independent, respected Russian-language newspaper with print
and online editions, was structural problems. (Note: the
Oily Rocks complex is a Soviet era offshore oil and gas
structure that is well past its prime. Access to the complex
is severely restricted.)

Mixed Messages at Turkish Mosques


--------------------------





4. (C) The Sunni Illahiyyat Mosque, near Baku State
University, had been rumored to face possible closure in late
May due to illegal construction and operation. As of the end
of May 2009, embassy sources indicated that the mosque
remained open. According to Zerkalo on 16 June 2009,
activity at the mosque had been temporarily halted, and the
head of the State Committee for Work with Religious Structure
(SCWRS), Hidayat Orucuov, said that the mosque would be
opened after the receipt of necessary documents. However,
when the Embassy sought to confirm the report independently,
the mosque was found to be functioning. On 03 September,
Poloff and FSN visited the mosque and spoke with the Turkish
akhund (cleric) who is heading the mosque and several
worshippers. The mosque has remained open throughout the
summer, and the Turkish akhund, who returns to Turkey after
four years in Azerbaijan, had heard no reports that the
government planned to close the mosque. The authorities did,
however, destroy the Turkish akhund,s home, which was
located next to the mosque. Ostensibly, the house was
destroyed because of the government intention to build a road
on the ground where the house stood but there was no visible
evidence that a road was being constructed.



5. (C) The Sunni Shahidlar (Martyrs) Mosque, built with the
support of the government of Turkey, is located at the Alley
of the Martyrs in a central location in Baku (opposite
Parliament) and was closed at the end of April 2009. The
official response from the Embassy of Turkey on 28 April 2009
was that the renovation of the mosque had been requested by
the authorities and there was no other reason for the

BAKU 00000738 002.2 OF 003


closure. On 28 August, as reported by news outlet APA, the
religious affairs advisor of the Turkish Embassy in
Azerbaijan said that he could not comment on whether or not
the mosque would be reopened and deferred to the Azerbaijani
authorities, though he added that other Turkish mosques in
Azerbiajan were not facing any problems. A representative
from the State Committee for Works with Religious Structures
(SCWRS) said that the mosque closure might be reconsidered
"when the registration of religious communities is
completed." The Turkish akhund from the Illihayat mosque
worked at the Shahidlar mosque for several years. When asked
about why the Shahidlar mosque was closed, he smiled and said
in English, "no comment."



6. (C) A mosque in the Dalimammadli settlement of the
Goranboy District near Ganja, which was rumored to have been
destroyed, was said to be under reconstruction by its owner
with the intent to re-open following the repairs, according
the SCWRS.



7. (C) On 26 August, the "Fatmei Zahra" mosque filed a
lawsuit against the Surakhaniy District Executive Authority.
Located in the Yeni Gunashli settlement in eastern Baku, the
mosque is still under construction. The local executive
authority stopped the construction and asked the court to
issue a verdict ordering the destruction of the mosque,
provoking a countersuit by the mosque community. The
religious community has claimed that it had all the documents
required for the construction. On 01 September, APA reported
that a Baku court ruled in favor of the Suraxani Executive
Authority and that the incomplete construction of the mosque
should be closed. On the same day, Sabayil District Police
broke up a protest by the mosque's supporters in front of the
Baku city hall. The community appealed directly to President
Aliyev. According to Turan news agency on 07 September, the
head of the CMB, Sheikh Allahshukur Pashazade said during his
Friday sermon on 04 September that he opposed destruction of
any mosque and had appealed to "higher authorities" regarding
the issue.



8. (C) On 26 August, the opposition daily Azadliq reported
that the government intended to destroy six additional
mosques, and the reason for closure was not because of
structural problems but rather because of threat to
authorities posed by devout worshippers. In addition to the
Fatmei Zahra mosque, the other mosques facing destruction
included: Mehdi-Sabhid Azzaman, Imam Rza, Hazrat Ali, and
the Illahiyyat (See para 4, above). Post has received no
independent verification of Azadliq,s claim, and none of the
named mosques have been destroyed.



9. (C) Comment: In a number of important respects the
tendency toward closures of mosques supports the thesis that
the Azerbaijani state apparatus is being deployed against
Islamic communities as a means of pre-empting the rise of
Islamism as a political challenge. Certainly other
indications, such as the government's decision to reduce by
two thirds the number of seats available on officially
sanctioned charters for Hajj, (ostensibly due to fears of
H1N1 flu), and legislative changes that prohibit
foreign-trained imams from conducting Islamic rituals, tend
to bolster this theory. It is clear enough that the GOAJ is
avowedly secular in orientation.



10. (C) However, several of the mosque closure cases may
plausibly be fueled by non-religious issues. For example,
the Turkish Shahidler and Illahiyyat mosques' problems could
have been part of a political response to Turkey's initiative
to repair relations with Armenia. Also, the Prophet Muhammad
and Fatmei Zahra mosques are embroiled in the kinds of
property rights disputes with local executive authorities -
who often wield more power than the nominally superior Baku
city administration - that also routinely plague private
businesses. Naturally it is possible that these more prosaic
explanations are a cover for a more insidious policy, but
this can not be reported conclusively now. The future of the
additional mosques cited for destruction in paragraph eight
above may serve as a crucial indicator of the government,s
true intent. As to the corollary question of whether these
cases are contributing to the political viability of radical
Islam in Azerbaijan, there does not appear to be any linkage

BAKU 00000738 003.2 OF 003


at this point. End comment.
LU