Wednesday, January 26

Azerbaijan in the shadow of the hijab

Azerbaijan and its authorities keep a tight lid on many things, among these is religion. This is an article I wrote recently for Osservatorio on new developments evolving around religion, religious dress and arrest of the leader of the Islamic Party. 

Here is a short excerpt from that article. The full version is available here:

On 10 December, the Minister of Education in Azerbaijan, Misir Mardanov, announced the introduction of a ban on headscarves in schools. While many have criticized this move, authorities claim that it is in line with the existing law on school uniforms. “The law […] clearly states that you have to go to school in a uniform and that all other forms of clothing are unacceptable”, the minister told a local news outlet, APA, dismissing claims that the ministry’s decision limits or restricts people’s freedom of religion.

Whether simply a matter of uniforms or something else entirely, the statement spurred heated debate across the country. The actual intentions behind the move have so far left many questions and unsatisfied parents, not to mention many young girls who must now face a choice: keeping their headscarf but leaving school, or the other way around.

The view from above

Despite mass protests  in Baku and across the country  (which also involved burning  of the Minister of Education’s picture), the ministry is determined to stick to its decision given this is not the first time that the headscarves-in-school issue has appeared in Azerbaijan. Just a few years ago (in 2007) a high school student was suspended for a week for wearing a religious headscarf but was allowed to come back to school after protests in the country’s second largest city, Sumgayit.

In addition, officials at the Ministry of Education consider headscarves a violation of basic rights, especially if a student as young as six or seven is obliged to cover her head on parental orders. Comparing the hijab to honor, an idea chanted by many protestors during the protests, is also wrong according to pro-government political analyst Mubraiz Ahmedoglu. Ahmedoglu claimed in apress statement , “it is unethical to associate the concept of honor with the issue of schoolgirls wearing the hijab […] It makes uncovered women in Azerbaijan seem dishonest, does it not? […]”.

There are also fears that unless strict rules are introduced to curb the wearing of religious dress, including hijabs, in public schools, it will just be a matter of time before separate schools for boys and girls are introduced in Azerbaijan.


Bugsy said...

The issue is very complicated indeed. In Turkey, despite years of public discussion, it is still largely unresolved.

Alos, Iranian influence, imho, should not be simply dismissed as Government's "spin". There were (and probably still are) quite active Iranian-sponsored networks promoting (specifically !) hijab among Azerbaijani women. And their activity is bold/conspicuous enough to be registered even by usually pretty dummy (sorry, but it is true :)outside observers. see here for example

arzu geybulla said...

yes, indeed a very complicated issue.
i know how painful of a process its been in turkey since i live here.
oh, i dont think we should dismiss Iranian influence, in fact, i don't think i was dismissing it. i looked at from the government's perspective and i know perfectly well what kind of religious work Iran has been actively carrying out in Azerbaijan.
thanks for the comment