Valery Novoselsky: “The Armenians feel comfortable in Azerbaijan”

Interview by Peter Lyukimson, Israel. Exclusively to Vestnik Kavkaza

The Israeli human rights activist Valery Novoselsky has recently visited Azerbaijan where he took part in the project “The Path of Tolercance” initiated by the Azerbaijani State Committee on Work with Religious Organizations. He talked to Vestnik Kavkaza and shared with his impressions.

– It was really impressive. Of course I was surprised with traditional Azerbaijani hospitability. However, the most important for me was to see that Azerbaijan not only followed all rights of ethnic and religious minorities, but also supported them. It appears that a Muslim country can be very tolerant and open for cooperation. Due to the trip, I see that this interpretation of Islam much more reflects this religion than a radical interpretation.

– What was a program of the trip?

– We visited the Orthodox Cathedral of Holy Myrrh-Bearers and the synagogue of mountain Jews in Baku, as well as the Armenian church in the city. All these cathedrals were reconstructed due to the financial support of the Azerbaijani government. Then, we visited Quba and Oguz, the village of Kish where the unique Udin church was situated. We met many clerics of different religions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity. All of them said that Azerbaijan was a country where anti-Semitism had never taken place, as well as anti-Rusism and anti-Gipsism. And if some inter-ethnic conflicts appeared, they were usually “imported” to Azerbaijan by certain players.

– You talked to clerics who are always close to the authorities and have good relations with them. So, they could avoid some moments. Did you talk to common representatives of ethnic minorities?

– We met them a lot. And we got the same results – everything is right with following human rights and freedoms in Azerbaijan. I remember the meeting with the Udins – a small ethnic group which tries to protect its individuality. They told us that it was difficult to maintain their ethnic and religious identity when their church was tried to subdue the Armenian Catholicos and be presented as Armenian. I think it is very important that the Azeri authorities pay attention to preservation of the unique small ethnic group, its religion and culture.

– Did you find out whether the Armenians live in Azerbaijan and how they are?

– The Armenians of course live in Azerbaijan. They told me there are 30 thousand people, but I think it is an overstated number after the conflict between the two nations. Anyway, there are no less than 5 thousand Armenians in Azerbaijan, and they feel comfortable. The Azeri leadership protects their rights and security. It means a lot, considering the conflict between the two nations. Europe should learn from Azerbaijan in the sphere of tolerance. I have many times been to Europe and know the situation with tolerance and human rights there. The Azerbaijanis have a lot to be proud of.