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Spotlight Article

Secular State Tolerant Society

Azerbaijan America Alliance
September 29, 2014

Azerbaijan’s State Flag, adopted in 1995, features three equally sized bands of red green and blue with a white crescent and star centered on the red band. The symbolism of the crescent and eight pointed star are usually attributed to Islam, although the exact meaning is still disputed by historians. The blue symbolizes Azerbaijan’s Turkic Heritage, the red represents progress, and the green represents Islam. The symbolism of these colors is described in the anthem of Azerbajian, written by Uzeyir Hajibeyov.

Some Americans may wonder at why a religiously free nation would directly symbolize a specific religion in their nation’s Flag. The United States’ flag is comparatively secular, with thirteen stripes to represent the original thirteen colonies, and stars on a blue field to represent fifty states. Yet the United States makes homage to the faith of their founders in other places, such as the words “in God we trust” printed on our currency.  

Azerbaijan is a 96% majority Muslim country with an Islamic heritage. It is not surprising Azerbaijan would recognize its common history in its national symbol. Although the majority of Azerbaijanis are Muslims, for centuries until today Christians, Jews, Bahais, and Orthodox live in peace and tolerance. The state of Azerbaijan was secular from its inception; in the Azerbaijan Constitution article 48 ensures liberty of worship to everyone.

Isreali Ambassador in Baku Rafael Harpaz recently attended a series of events dealing with Azerbaijani-Israeli relations in Washington and Philadelphia. On September 19th AzerTac reported that Ambassador Harpez stated during this visit to the United States, “Tolerance in Azerbaijan is an example to the entire world.”

Azerbaijan, like the United States, was founded on the principles of freedom and tolerance. Article 109 of the Azerbaijani Constitution bans political, racial, ethnic, national, cultural, religious, or sexual persecution.

Azerbaijan is a shining example of how a religious country can be a secular state. Religious tolerance in Azerbaijan, is not only an example for the region, but also, as Ambassador Harpez rightly noted, the world. 

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