In the third and final part of the exclusive interview with Meydan TV, religious scholar and activist Haji Taleh Baghirzade, who has just been released from prison, sheds light on the situation in the broader region, the meteoric rise of ISIS and Azerbaijan’s relations with Iran.
What historical references define Azerbaijan’s modern national identity? What constitutes a true Islamic identity? And what is the state of Azerbaijan’s relationship with Iran in today’s complex geopolitical setting? Baghirzade answers these and other questions.
What do you make of the rise of ISIS in the Muslim world, and how does it affect the region?
No doubt, ISIS is not just the problem of the Muslim world. It is the problem of the region and the whole world. They have reached America and Europe too, and their finances are not the result of a miracle. The question is why doesn’t the coalition that destroyed [Libyan former President Muammar] Ghaddafi fight ISIS in the right manner? Who needs ISIS, which has become a real threat to the region? The Muslim world does not need it. There is no obligation in religion and Islam’s approach is peace and mercy. They simply create these problems in order to prevent Islam’s integration to the West.
Do you acknowledge that Iran supported Armenia when it occupied the lands of Azerbaijan back in the 1990s?
You know, this fact needs to be discussed, but you cannot just answer “yes” or “no” to it. We are on the side of the truth, but saying that Iran assisted Armenia would mean showing Iran’s negative face. What has Iran done for Azerbaijan? This is the question.
But former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosian said that if it were not for Iran, they would have been destroyed back in the 1990s.
It is hard to unambiguously express an opinion on these topics. The issue needs to be investigated objectively. Both sides need to be heard. Today, when our lands are under occupation, our hope is with Turkey and Iran because the OSCE Minsk Group does not do its work properly. This group is against Azerbaijan; the co-chairing states support Armenia. Iran and Turkey can support Azerbaijan, and we have a shared aim: one
(community), three states.
Then what will happen to the national rights? Coming back to the question of national rights and the Islamic state, will national rights be recognized if an Islamic state is created?
We have not considered creating an Islamic state. The real issue is what can be done to liberate Garabagh. Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan are Muslim states. They are the main powerful states of the region. We can liberate Garabagh from occupation through earning their support and through our own power. With regard to Islam’s view about language and culture, the ideal Islam does not distort anyone’s language, because Islam explains the truth to people. Expressing Islam in Arabic over Azerbaijani does not give any advantage.
Do you agree that just as Islam historically served Arab chauvinism, the Islam of today simply serves Persian chauvinism, as some may say?
We have established a Muslim National Movement, and our ideology is Pan-Islamism in the national and Islamic idea. What is national identity about? National identity is a right given to peoples by God. In the Quran, Allah says that we created people as men and women and divided them into tribes and peoples so that they know each other. Today our first and main responsibility is to protect our independence.
Right now we’re facing problems caused by both the West and Muslim states. If we’re not aware of our national identity and do not strengthen our language, we will not be able to stay strong under the pressure from Iran, Turkey, Arabia or even the West. If the nation knows about existence of Shah Ismayil, it will rise. Shah Ismayil made the Azerbaijani language the official language of his state. Javad Khan did not fall on his knees before the empire, he fell as a hero, but he won. This is our national identity.
We especially believe that Islamists should have a national identity, and through this national identity, we should run our “anti-virus program.” If Iran said today that Azerbaijan is their territory, of course we cannot agree with it. It may be that we were part of Iran before the Turkmenchay agreement but there were times when Arabia was part of the Ottoman Empire as well, and this doesn’t mean that Arabia belongs to Turkey. In this sense Azerbaijan’s independence is a priority for us and we do not accept Islam as a union with Iran and Turkey.
As a side note, should Azan be sung in Turkish or Arabic?
Islamic view is measured by the Prophet’s view because the founder of our religion is the prophet of Islam. There’s no doubt that Islam’s language is Arabic. Since it is such a rich language, some people say that when we translate it into Azerbaijani and Persian, it gets too long and it is not possible to express it properly. Islam has been singing Azan and said Namaz (prayer) in Arabic for many centuries. If the God Almighty has sent it in Arabic, we should say it in Arabic too.
I would like to come back to the question of state and religion. Would the situation in the region improve if religion and the state were joined?
Today the United States is considered to be the cradle of democracy, yet still in the twenty-first century, they are still facing issues with racism. No matter how much they preach democracy, the issue of white and black is a serious signal to the contrary to the world. Islam solved this issue back in the seventh century by placing people’s advantage not in their race, nation or religion but how just they are before God. Islam put justice as a criterion. Today all states have their specific defects and from the Islamic point of view, the ideal state will be created by and upon arrival of the twelfth Imam Saint Mehdi just as Christians wait for Jesus’s return. This is seen as utopia by some people but our belief in the Quran shows that we look forward for his arrival. The twelfth imam will come back and restore justice in the entire world, not just in one state or region. All people want justice.
When you were released from prison, there was a lot of chatter about your connection to Iran. Why?
We have been in prison twice. Back then we also asked the Ministry of National Security generals to come and meet with us. Because the Ministry of National Security, which is responsible for protecting Azerbaijan’s security, watches those who serve foreign states, the generals know us better. In this sense, we are very confident about ourselves. Our paper is completely clean, we have not been in relation with anyone, and we have not accepted or given any money to anyone. The Ministry of National Security knows very well that we don’t have any problem and that we do not serve Iran, or Turkey or the West.
We have begun a fight inside Azerbaijan using our own thinking and a synthesis of Islam and national-moral values. I do not want to follow the issues between Shiites and Sunnis. Our ideology is Pan-Islamism in both national and Islamic ideas. If someone is a Muslim, no matter whether he prays or doesn’t pray, we look at him as a brother. But since Shiism is spread in the Islamic State of Iran, some people raise the Iran issue as they do not understand. We are not just followers of Iran. It is Islam, not Iran itself, which is really important.