WASHINGTON, DC — The United States on Thursday added Azerbaijan to a watchlist on religious freedom, following fears for Christian heritage after the country seized control of Nagorno Karabakh.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on January 4 that Azerbaijan joins the list along with the Central African Republic, Comoros, and Vietnam.
The designation comes after the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) pointed to concerns about the preservation of Christian religious sites in Nagorno-Karabakh. The takeover by Azerbaijan in September prompted virtually the entire population of 100,000 Artsakh Armenians to forcefully flee to Armenia.
The commission also voiced alarm over regulations on religious practice in the Muslim-majority country under President Ilham Aliyev, including a requirement that all religious groups be registered and their literature approved by an official body.
Blinken said in addition to the State Department’s “special watch list,” there are 12 “countries of particular concern” — Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. There was no change in this list from the year before.