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President Ilham Aliyev`s development policy pursues long-term and diverse goals

Interview with  Chairman of the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations, deputy Executive Secretary of YAP Mubariz Gurbanli

Q: How do you think what have been 2014`s major highlights for Azerbaijan?

A: For Azerbaijan this year has been a great success. The country implemented concrete programs covering a variety of areas. The President`s activity has been very fruitful. His speeches at regional and international events have been a considerable contribution to the development of Azerbaijani statehood. Continuation of socio-economic prosperity, the government`s steps towards ensuring energy security and high status of liberal values in society prove that 2014 will enter the history as a positive chapter.

In general the year 2014 has been a difficult one for the world, with conflicts worsening and economic and financial crisis deepening in different parts of the globe. But Azerbaijan has managed to achieve success in socio-economic area and state building, improved its international reputation and embarked on several important projects. The government`s successful policy is yielding fruits.

Under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan has completed transition period. Naturally this is a very serious indicator of a young state.

Mr Ilham Aliyev`s election as President of the Republic of Azerbaijan in 2003 marked the start of comprehensive development in all areas of the country`s life.

Of course, the State Programs on the socioeconomic development of regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan must be emphasized.

The adoption of the first program in 2004 has played a special role in the development of the regions of Azerbaijan.

The reforms carried out in Azerbaijan and the sound policies have given an impetus to the comprehensive development of our country. Today Azerbaijan is looking to the future with very high hopes and optimism. The key to this is our economic independence, our economic strength and political will.

Over the last 10 years Azerbaijan has developed most rapidly in the world. The economy has grown 3.4 times. No other country has achieved such growth in the last 10 years. The main prerequisites for this are the reforms, the stability and public order observed in our country. Of course, stability and sound policies have created favorable conditions for the development of the economic sphere. In Azerbaijan, economic reforms are complemented by political transformation. There is consistency between these two areas. I think that from this point of view the experience of Azerbaijan can be of interest to other countries.

Q: What can you say of tasks and strategic goals for 2015?

A: one can say with confidence that the year 2015 will be a success for Azerbaijan in all fields. I believe that our economic development will be sustainable. Our economy is not dependent on oil and gas, but this sector is making a huge contribution to our economy. Oil and gas revenues are invested in the development of the non-oil sector, and this is considered one of the main factors conditioning the overall development.

One of the key priorities of the government`s development strategy is reducing the level of poverty. In 2015, the government`s plans include deepening economic reforms, implementing state programs to ensure food security. Regional development, support for entrepreneurs, development of the non-oil sector, reduction of our dependence on imports and creation of the export potential are the indicators of recent years. And this will be continued in 2015 too.

Q: Several Muslims countries have been hit by serious religious conflicts recently. What can you say of religious views of the Azerbaijani people?

A: Islam is the dominant religion in nearly 60 countries. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation unites 57 Muslim countries. And Azerbaijan has a firm position in this organization.

As you know 96% of Azerbaijan`s population are Muslims, while 4% are representatives of other faiths. As far as religious views of the Azerbaijani people are concerned, as you know we lived under the Russian empire and the Soviet Union for many long years. And this surely had its impact on religion. The Soviet Union was propagating atheism, and this negatively influenced our religious and historic traditions. But today the picture is completely different as almost all Muslims conduct religious rituals. However in comparison with other Muslim countries, we differ for our secularism. Although there has been strong external pressure and propaganda, there are not any serious problems in Azerbaijan. Negative trends sometimes affect our culture, arts, religion, but they cannot take roots in our country.

Q: There have been wide discussions recently on the launch of religious studies in secondary schools. How do you think what will the teaching of religion as a separate subject in secondary schools give us?

A: We must never forget our past, history, culture, our outstanding persons. This must also apply to our religion. Children must get knowledge about religion in secondary schools. This means basic knowledge about religions because Quran, Arabic script shall be taught at special religious schools and medreces.

As you know state is different from religion. The freedom of faith and the freedom of conscience are provided in the country. National leader Heydar Aliyev had always visited mosques, and President Ilham Aliyev continues this policy. When Azerbaijan restored its independence there were only 17 mosques in the country, but now there are 2,500 mosques.

Today around 300,000 or 350,000 people gather in mosques for Friday and holiday prayers. In general, our mosques are capable of receiving 600,000-700,000 people per day.

As regards textbooks in secondary schools, I think that religion would better be taught in high grades, for example in the 9th or 10th grade. The textbook can be called “Basics of religious knowledge” or “Basics of religion and culture”. At the same time, children must received knowledge about negative religious trends and sects.

Thirty countries across the world now experience armed bloody clashes, with 12 of them being religious conflicts. Unfortunately, the large part of these conflicts takes place in Islamic countries. Religious conflicts are caused by radical sects. In the past 14 years, alone a total of 1.2 million people have died in conflicts, mostly religious ones.

Q: What about the role of the mass media in this process?

A: The government is carrying out enlightenment work in this area. The President allocated additional funds to the State Committee for this purpose. And we will invest these funds in programs aimed at enlightening people and strengthening work with religious communities. I can say that considerable work has been done in the field of enlightenment, and this work continues. The Caucasian Muslims Office organizes courses for imams, akhunds and religious figures. We think that imams and akhunds must have secular knowledge too. 

Q: Can we say that “the fifth columns” in the field of religion has been a fiasco?

A: Azerbaijan is a tolerant country where representatives of various religious have coexisted peacefully for centuries. And our country sets example to other countries of the world. For example, the West and the USA particularly can learn much from Azerbaijan in terms of multiculturalism. As President Ilham Aliyev said representatives of all nations and religions live in Azerbaijan in pace and harmony as a family. There have never been religious or national conflicts in Azerbaijan. Multiculturalism is a way of life in Azerbaijan.

As you know religious conflicts have spread throughout the world. The situation is very difficult, with Muslims killing each other in different parts of the world. In this process Western think tanks have a special role to play because they use these conflicts to pursue their own interests. These interests include, on the one hand, discrediting Islam on the global scale, and, on the other hand, creating manageable chaos, which already sees the Middle East become a blood ocean.

In recent months I have traveled across Azerbaijan and met with representatives and leaders of various religious communities. We maintain close cooperation with representatives of Islamic sects. We listen to them, address their problems and provide all conditions for their normal activity. According to my observations, external forces try to influence religious situation in Azerbaijan, There are efforts to artificially cause tension among Islamic sects in our country. These forces want to bring the Middle East situation and conflict to Azerbaijan.

But the government of Azerbaijan is pursuing a wise and right religious policy. There are no confrontations or disagreements between religious confessions in our country. So thanks to this we have managed to defeat and prevent efforts of the “fifth column” in the field of religion.