BAKU, Azerbaijan (May. 25)
The president of Azerbaijan told a visiting American Jewish delegation that the mainly Moslem republic guaranteed freedom of worship to all of the more than 30 ethnic groups in the country.
“For us, the Christian church, the Jewish synagogue and the Moslem mosque are all sacred because they are houses of God,” said President Abulfez Elchibey.
The president made the remark last week in a meeting with a 40-member United Jewish Appeal delegation — the largest U.S. delegation to visit his country since it declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.
The leader of the UJA delegation, Carole Solomon of Philadelphia, noted the republic’s move toward a democratic government and guarantees of human rights.
However, the delegation reported that the president was unclear on the question of the freedom of Jews of draft age to emigrate from his country.
The UJA delegation visited Azerbaijan on a fact-finding mission for Operation Exodus, the campaign funding the emigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union.
According to Azerbaijani law, all men between the ages of 17 and 28 are banned from leaving the country before completing their military service.
Louba Baredani, the Jewish Agency’s emissary in Baku, said, “In practice the government generally allows Jews of military age, who have not yet received draft notices, to leave, provided they go with their families. But those seeking to emigrate alone are not allowed to go.”
Ethnic conflicts in the former Soviet republics in the Caucasus mountains, as well as deteriorating economic conditions, are the main factors behind the emigration to Israel of about 500 Jews a month from the region.
The Jewish community in Azerbaijan, which numbered 80,000 in 1989, has been reduced to less than 40,000 today.