By Nurit Greenger
Azerbaijan was a satellite of the Soviet Union and proclaimed its independence from the Soviet oppression on 30 August 1991. In fact the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic proclaimed its first independence in 1918 and became the first democratic majority Muslim state. Two years into its independence, in 1920, the country was incorporated into the Soviet Union as the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.
The modern Republic of Azerbaijan filed its 2nd independence on 18 October 1991, when the Supreme Council of Azerbaijan adopted a Declaration of Independence, affirmed by a nationwide referendum in December 1991, prior to the official dissolution of the USSR on December 26, 1991.
Just as Azerbaijanis were settling their mindset on living in a sovereign republic, in September 1991, the Nagorno-Karabakh War began. Armenia violated Azerbaijan’s recognized borders and sovereignty and assumed aggressive military rule over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven adjacent districts outside it. These regions, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, are pending a hopeful solution according to four United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions, calling for the withdrawal of Armenia troops from Azerbaijan territory, and through hopeful negotiations facilitated by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Yet, with the pain of fruitless diplomatic efforts, the pain of 1 million Azerbaijani refugees and Internally Displaced Azerbaijanis, forced to flee their homes and settled by the Azerbaijani government inside the country, and a population suffering from internal anger of injustice, Azerbaijan chose to continue on the path it is so familiar with: tolerance, coexistence and embracing all fellow man.
Coexistence in Azerbaijan-different faiths dine together In Azerbaijan they call it multiculturalism, I call it interculturalism.
People are most familiar with the modern social term, multiculturalism, which is the presence of, or support for the presence of, several distinct cultural or ethnic groups within a society. If a nation wishes to preserve its national identity I see multiculturalism a divisive factor.
Having been to Azerbaijan, I clearly see the unifying interculturalism factor of this country; interculturalism being the support for cross-cultural dialogue and challenging self-segregation tendencies within cultures, involving moving beyond mere passive acceptance of a multicultural fact of multiple cultures, effectively existing in a society, and instead promoting dialogue and interaction between cultures.
When you think of Islam…
When one thinks of a Muslim country, one thinks autocracy, affront to freedom and human rights, social unrest and violence, internal fighting and danger to one’s life. Not in Azerbaijan, a Muslim majority country. There, in this small country, nestled in a problematic neighborhood next door to hegemony seeking Shia Muslim Iran, antagonistic Russia and hostile Armenia, they embrace harmonious coexistence mentality they export in abundance.
When I, a Jewess, visited Azerbaijan I was seeking a taste of Muslim discomfort. I could not find any. Instead, I found, low-key people, mannered, hospitable to the hilt and open minded. A young country that is doing all that it can to get out of the Communism mentality the old generation is accustomed to, and has given the baton of leadership to its highly educated, progressive younger generation, who, together, are propelling all aspects of the country to great heights.
Azerbaijan, a country full with optimism
Optimism in Azerbaijan is carried out by the county’s ‘love thy neighbor’ almost religiosity.
Though Azerbaijan is a country where oil flows under your feet that is not Azerbaijan’s main treasure. Multiculturalism, which I strongly call to rename interculturalism, is the country’s chief treasure and the motto of each day in the life of the country. The Baku International Multiculturalism Center (BIMC) is one important stop when visiting the capital, Baku. BIMC already operates several branches around the world, the latest, BIMC-US, was launched this month in an official Memorandum of Understanding signing ceremony, at the Azerbaijan Consulate General in Los Angeles. Azerbaijan is where 28 ethnic groups live in harmony and the three monotheistic religions i.e. Islam, Judaism and Christianity, hold unconditional respect for each other.
In fact this coexistence and accepting and embracing of others is Azerbaijan's new religion it is exporting the world over. The country is a missionary in promoting its intercultural platform of coherent dialogue on tolerance, interfaith acceptance and harmony. There, in Azerbaijan, they believe that this is the highway to a more peaceful world.
In 1919 universal suffrage was introduced in the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, thus making Azerbaijan the first Muslim-majority country ever to enfranchise women, giving women the right to vote.
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920, granting American women the right to vote, a right known as woman suffrage.
If Azerbaijani woman suffrage came about ahead of the United States, known to be the freest society on earth, can you imagine what the future holds for this open-minded society?