The V International Summer School of Multiculturalism on “Intercultural Dialogue in the Context of Religious and Cultural Diversity – Interreligious Harmony in Azerbaijan” held by President Ilham Aliyev’s recommendation and the joint organizational efforts of Baku International Centre of Multiculturalism, UNESCO, “Erasmus+”, “ALADDIN Project” and the Club of the Young Friends of Azerbaijan continued its work in Gakh on 26 July 2017.
On the third day of the Summer School the participants listened to the lectures on “Religious Diversity in Azerbaijan” by Nijat Mammadli, the Head of the Foreign Relations Department at the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations and “The Sacred and Secular Elements in the Autobiographical Works of Middle Eastern Jews, Christians and Muslims” by Professor Josef Meri from Merrimack College (USA).
In his lecture Nijat Mammadli focused attention to the existence of different religious faiths in the territory of Azerbaijan since the ancient times, “Religious ideas and beliefs have existed in Azerbaijan since the most ancient times. Among the ancient Azerbaijanis there was a strong admiration for the spirits of their ancestors, rocks, trees, different natural phenomena and especially the space objects. The surviving rites and ceremonies of fire associated with Novruz Holiday testify to the existence of strong traditions of fire-worshipping in Azerbaijan. The temple of the fire-worshippers is called “Atashgah”. Atropatena’s religious centre was situated in Gazakh in the territory of Azerbaijan and there were atashgahs [temples of fire] in Baku, Shamakhi, Salyan and Lankaran.”
The lecturer noted that the “Atashgah” in Surakhani was built in the XVIII century to serve the fire-worshipers coming from India. Although fire-worshipping had been persecuted by Christianity in the Caucasian Albania, it managed to survive.
It was also stated that Zoroastrianism was one of the widely spread religions in Azerbaijan. Zoroastrianism is considered the most ancient among revelation religions. The Antique Greek and Medieval Muslim historians, also many subsequent researchers have considered Azerbaijan the Motherland of Zoroastrianism.
Judaism is one of the religions with a special place in Azerbaijani history. There are three Jewish communities in our country: mountainous Jews, European Jews (the Ashkenazis) and Georgian Jews. Mountainous Jews are considered the oldest. At present 7 synagogues function in the cities of Guba and Oghuz, as well as the capital of the country. Six of them belong to mountainous Jews and one to European and Georgian Jews. It was noted that Christianity was disseminated in Azerbaijan in the early centuries of our era. Apostle Thaddeus was the first to disseminate Christianity in the Caucasian Albania. Following the Arabs’ arrival in Azerbaijan in the VII century and the collapse of the state of Albania, Christianity began to grow weaker in the region. At present 13 churches function in Azerbaijan.
The new religion brought to our country by the Arabs – Islam has played a significant part in the national-spiritual history and culture of our people. Following Azerbaijan’s annexation by the Russian Empire, two Muslim administrative bodies were established – the Sunni religious office headed by Mufti and the Shiite religious office chaired by Sheikh-ul-Islam in Southern Caucasus. The religious affairs of the South Caucasian Muslims had been regulated by these two offices until Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was established.
Following the collapse of the USSR, Azerbaijan entered a new phase in religion. The advocacy and dissemination of religion in our country became possible, and the Constitution imprinted equality before the law. In the years of the Presidency of the National Leader Heydar Aliyev, numerous religious-historical monuments were restored; a special attention was attached to the religious enlightenment work. This work is successfully being continued by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
Nijat Mammadli also emphasized that having been registered, other religious communities of minorities also function in Azerbaijan, along with the above-stated religions.
In his lecture Jozef Meri, the US professor spoke of the history of formation and development of the religions of Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Near East and provided broad information on their areal of dissemination.
In the afternoon the participants of the V International Summer School of Multiculturalism will visit the historical sights of Shaki – the ancient Albanian temple in the village of Kish, the Palace of Shaki Khans and the Yukhari [Upper] Caravansarai hotel-complex.