Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi defaced after Azeri capture of the town

WASHINGTON, DC — The US Department of State has released the 2022 Religious Freedom Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). In particular, in the report, Azerbaijan is on the list of countries under special watch.

In 2022, the state of religious freedom in Azerbaijan had negative dynamics. The government continued to exercise considerable control over religious figures, continuing to prosecute and detain them.

It is noted in the report that at the end of last year, 19 people were imprisoned in Azerbaijan for their religious beliefs. Local human rights organizations also say that the government continued to use physical violence, detain, and imprison religious activists, and that many of the arrests of religious activists—including on drug charges—were political in nature.

The report points as well to the destruction of the Armenian spiritual heritage by Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh territories now under the control of Baku.

International bodies and other organizations continue to question the willingness of the Azerbaijani government to protect and preserve the religious and cultural heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories under Azerbaijani control, the report adds.

In February, the then minister of culture of Azerbaijan Anar Karimov announced the creation of a working group to remove the “fake” Armenian apostolic inscriptions from churches. But apparently, after international outrage, the government abandoned the plan, and in March, the European Parliament condemned Azerbaijan’s continued policy of destruction and denial of Armenian cultural heritage in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, the report notes.

USCIRF recommends that the US government provide funding to the United States Agency for International Development and the US embassy in Azerbaijan to restore, preserve, and protect places of worship and other religious or cultural sites in Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas.

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