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In the News

1700th Anniversary of Christianity in Caucasian Albania Marked in Azerbaijan


August 03, 2013

By Nazrin Gadimova

An event entitled "The tenth anniversary of the revival", dedicated to the ten-year anniversary of the revival of the Albanian-Udi Church and the 1700th anniversary of the official adoption of Christianity as state religion in Caucasian Albania, was held in the northern Gabala region of Azerbaijan on August 3.

The event was organized by the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations in cooperation with the Albanian-Udi Christian community of Azerbaijan.

Speaking at the event, which was held in the Jotari church of St. Yelisey in the village of Nij, chairman of the Albanian-Udi Christian community Robert Mobili said that 170 years ago the Albanian church was transferred to the Armenian Gregorian Church, but the Udi people refused to attend the Gregorian church to preserve their language, culture and loyalty to the Albanian church, and began to pray at home. During the Soviet times sermons were halted under state pressure. After Azerbaijan gained independence, however, the Udi people managed to achieve certain revitalization in this regard, Mobili said.

The Albanian-Udi Christian community was registered in 2003. Afterwards, work began on the restoration of churches and conducting worship. As part of these efforts, one of the oldest churches in the Caucasus, the temple of Kish in Sheki region, was restored in 2003, and one of the three Christian churches in the village of Nij, the Jotari church of St. Yelisey, was restored in 2006.

"The historic home of the Udi people is Azerbaijan," Mobili said. "They are one of the first ethnic groups to have adopted Christianity in the Caucasus. The Albanian tsar declared Christianity the official state religion in 313. After that Christianity began to shape up in the territory of Azerbaijan. Historical justice triumphed after Azerbaijan gained independence and the Albanian-Udi church was restored. Today, the Udi are considered successors of the abundant religious and cultural heritage of the Apostolic Autocephalous Church of Albania. However, additional support is required for the church's further revitalization in Azerbaijan."

The community leader said construction work is currently underway in the village of Nij, which is densely populated by the Udi. Over the past 10 years President Ilham Aliyev has visited the village twice, which is a clear example of the care and attention of the government.

Archbishop Alexander of Baku and Azerbaijan said in his speech that Azerbaijan is paying much attention to the preservation of national cultural values.

"The multinational nature is our heritage. Azerbaijan pays special attention and provides care for the preservation of this diversity at the state level. The restoration of the Albanian-Udi church greatly demonstrates this attention because this temple is one of the carriers of this story," he said.

Head of the department of religious expertise, public relations and analysis of the State Committee, Agil Shirinov, said that the Azerbaijani government has always supported the Albanian-Udi church by holding events aimed at international recognition of the Caucasian Albania's heritage.

"Preservation of the Albanian-Udi church is one of the priority issues for the Azerbaijani government," Shirinov said. "Over the last year, the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations has undertaken a great deal of work for the recognition of this heritage."

According to Shirinov, relevant activities will be continued. Plans for the near future include publishing a book on the history of the Apostolic Autocephalous Church of Albania, an international conference on the Caucasian Albania and a photo exhibition of world-famous photographer Reza Deghati which will reflect Albanian religious and cultural monuments at the UNESCO level.

Shirinov said that for years Armenians have been trying to appropriate the material and spiritual heritage of the churches of Caucasian Albania, but Azerbaijan will not allow this to happen and these lies will be fully dismissed.

"Worldwide recognition of the Church of Caucasian Albania as the ancient Apostolic Church, which belongs to Azerbaijan, will stop attempts of appropriation of this heritage by the Armenians. Due to the efforts of the Azerbaijani state the world community is informed of the fact that this ancient church belongs to Azerbaijan, as well as the fact that its representatives continue to live here," Shirinov said.

Leader of the Udi community of Volgograd, Professor Richard Danakari, chairman of the Udi community residing in Kvareli district of Georgia Mamuli Neshumashvili, representative of the Roman Catholic Church in Azerbaijan Vladimir Fekete, chairman of the religious community of Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan Milih Evdayev, the regional representative of the Caucasian Muslims, as well as diplomats and others, attended the Gabala event.

A photo exhibition titled "The tenth anniversary of the revival" was also organized as part of the event. In addition, a variety of publications on the history of the Albanian-Udi church were presented to the attendees. The event continued with a cultural program.

Along with the Jotari church, there are also Gyoy and Bulun churches in the village of Nij.

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