Leaving Islam



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Political trouble brewing in oil-rich Azerbaijan —another central Asian Islamic Paradise

 A.H. Jaffor Ullah


In the last two years, the world heard earful of news of political dissensions in several of the ex-Soviet republics.  Some of these nations are located near Euro-Asian border in Caucasus region while one is in Europe .  The protesters wore different colored scarves in different dissenting nations thus engendering new and catchy names for each of the revolution.   

Take the case of Georgia (Rose Revolution) where in late November 2003 a pro-West politician by the name Mikhail Saakashvili ousted a tyrannical president Eduard Shevarnadze, an aging ex-communist who was the foreign minister under Mikhail Gorbachev.   

The second revolution took place in Ukraine in December 2004 to protest a rigged election in which a pro-Russian presidential hopeful, Viktor Yanukovych, was declared a winner by a slim margin.  For weeks, protesters jammed the central city square wearing orange scarf.  The end result was the declaration of the rigged election null and void.  Within weeks, a new election put the dissident politician, Viktor Yushchenko, into power and christening the term the “Orange Revolution.”   

In late March 2005, trouble brewed in Kyrgyzstan, a tranquil central Asian ex-Soviet republic, where the despotic president, Askar Akayev, who enforced an iron clad rule since the summer of 1991 when Soviet union imploded due to President Mikhail Gorbachev’s implementation of perestroika and glasnost.  Ordinary citizens and political dissidents stormed the presidential palace and government offices in capital city of Bishkek .  During the tumult, the deposed president Askar Akayev fled the country to neighboring nation of Kazakhstan .  The country is now under the control of pro-west politicians.  

On May 13, 2005, a political trouble escalated in Ferghana valley, which is politically controlled by Uzbekistan .  In the eastern-most city of Andijan (in Ferghana), the government troop fired indiscriminately killing more than 600 protesters and bystanders.  Uzbekistan is ruled iron-fistedly by a dictator named Islam Karomov who is supported by Kremlin and tolerated by American Administration.  Many Uzbek dissenters moved into neighboring Kyrgyzstan in the aftermath of May 13 carnage.  After the putsch, life seems to be returning to normalcy in eastern Uzbekistan .  Only time will tell if the seed of political discontent sowed in spring 2005 will amount to anything in the future.  

A month could hardly pass when we read in the news that a new trouble brewed up in the oil-rich nation of Azerbaijan , which is located to the west of Caspian Sea , and which is also considered an eastern Transcaucasian nation.  The geo-political significance of Azerbaijan cannot be underestimated.  It sits at the far end of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipelines, situated between the Black and Caspian seas, containing two, possibly three breakaway provinces, and borders Iran, Georgia, Armenia, and Russia.   

Some background information should come handy to better appreciate what ails this oil-rich nation inhabited by nearly 8 million people living in a land about half the size of Bangladesh .  Azerbaijanis are essentially Turkic and Muslim whose nation regained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in summer of 1991.  Trouble brewed in 1994 with the neighboring nation, Armenia , over disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh enclave where Armenian people live.  Despite a 1994 cease-fire, Azerbaijan has yet to resolve its conflict with Armenia .  The country has lost 16% of its territory in the conflict and must support some 571,000 internally displaced persons because of the conflict.  The sad part of Azerbaijan story is that corruption is ubiquitous and the promise of nation building from oil revenues remains largely unfulfilled.  One parenthetical note about Azerbaijanis is that most of them are Shiites.  Culturally, they are similar to people who live in Azerbaijan province of Iran whose capital city is Tabriz .  

A personal anecdote about Azerbaijani people and their devotion to religion Islam.  In early 1960s when I was a high school student in Tejgaon, Dhaka, the Soviet Union sent a soccer team to Pakistan for friendly matches.  The Soviet team happened to be the Baku Oil Mill, which was one of the best team in the communist paradise.  A couple of my friend befriended a team member who had a Perso-Arabic name.  He told us that he is an Azeri.  We wanted to give him a gift as a token of our friendship.  He asked for a prayer mat and a copy of Koran for his elderly parents.  I now gather that during Soviet rule, the Azerbaijanis were not allowed to practice their religion in public; however, in private people maintained their faith.  The response from the visiting team member asking for a copy of Koran and prayer mat speaks in volume for a thriving religion in private.

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