A Tale of Two Ambassadors

by Nathan Hamm on 7/9/2004 · 2 comments

If true, Norway’s Ambassador to Azerbaijan showed extremely bad behavior at the Juma Mosque in Baku.

The Office of the Caucasus Muslims (QMI) condemned the Norwegian ambassador in Baku, Steinar Gil, on Thursday, claiming that he insulted believers by visiting Baku’s Juma mosque on Jule 4 while drunk.

Haji Salman Musayev, deputy chairman of QMI, said the ambassador Gil scoffed at Juma congregants for their failure to protect their religious rights, calling them “cowards.”

In Norway’s defense, they have been sheltering opposition activists and are getting a lot of heat from the state press.

Here’s how US Ambassador Reno Harnish behaved at the mosque.

On July 5, US Ambassador Reno Harnish made an appearance at the mosque in an apparent expression of concern over recent developments.

According to the BBC report, the police backed off.

Not much you say? That’s fair, but it is a fairly loud shout in diplomatese. It’s rare for the ambassador to go on these assignements and I can assure you that Azerbaijan understands what it means.

For more on the conflict at the Baku Mosque, read EurasieNet’s latest.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Mark Hamm July 10, 2004 at 1:19 am

Interesting story. I doubt the Norwegian ambassador story is true. SO the US is supporting the Islamist against the totalitaian government. Do you think this is the way we should fight the so called Islamofascist movement?

Nathan July 10, 2004 at 2:47 am

True or not, he pissed off the mosque somehow.

You’re wrong to assume that Ilgar Ibrahimoglu is an Islamist just because he’s an Imam. At the very least, assume he’s a Shi’ite because he’s Azeri, and therefore, outside of the Wahhabi-Islamist vein. From EurasiaNet:

Ibrahimoglu is a genuine study in contrasts in a country that has long been accustomed to rigid categorization. He prefers a beige turtle neck, casual jacket, slacks and comfortable shoes to the traditional Sh’ia cleric’s robes. He received religious instruction in Iran, and training in human rights advocacy in Poland.

In addition, he has worked as a free-lance journalist covering religious issues for several independent publications in Azerbaijan. Ibrahimoglu has also served as coordinator or program officer for several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Human Rights’ Club and the Center for the Protection of Conscience and Religious Freedom (DEVAMM), an affiliate member of the International Religious Liberty Association. As such, his activities have extended beyond issues of religious freedom, touching on the thornier subjects of media freedom and election monitoring. Such a diverse background can seem revolutionary in Azerbaijan. This can help explain why both Ibrahimoglu and the Juma mosque have run afoul of authority over the past year. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

Since 1992, when the then-18-year-old Ibrahimoglu and other believers laid claim to the Juma mosque, (which had served as a carpet museum during the late Soviet era), it has steadily attracted followers. Ibrahimoglu became the mosque’s imam in 2002 and helped boost its popularity by relying on an “enlightened” approach to Islamic practice and worship. For instance, he abolished fees associated with funeral rites, including the ritual washing of the body and prayers for the dead. He also organized an annual blood drive as a substitute for the self-flagellating connected with Ashura, the Sh’ia period of atonement. Initiated six years ago, the blood drive attracted 2,000 volunteer donors this year.

If he was an Islamist, he’d never have been able to even rear his head. He’s being assaulted because he’s a human rights activist.

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