Prison for finding bible
12 May, 2011
Prison for finding bible

Letter from Saingilo

The letter was delivered by two young people. To avoid unnecessary problems for them back home, we decided not to reveal their identities.

“On 18 April this year, Georgian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Teimuraz Sharashenidze and his deputy Gela Giorgadze paid a visit to our village Aliabad. The villagers have plenty of problems. So, we were looking forward to meeting the Ambassador. For years, we have been asking for setting up of a Georgian k

indergarten and a school in the village. We are even deprived of giving Georgian names to our children. They imposed this prohibition on us in 1996(!); besides, they forcefully changed our surnames in early 20th century. For decades we are requesting to return our original surnames but to no avail. Azeries are building mosques in Georgia but building a single church in Azerbaijan is an immense hassle. We request attention of Georgian Authorities and hope that they will help us. It is a great disappointment for us that our hopes always remain unfulfilled. Is there no single person among you who care about us?”
The story of the Ingilo youth is heart-breaking. We feel obliged to share it with our readers:
A: “They took away passports from the population and returned them with changed names! After altering the surnames they deprived us of Georgian names! When a child is born in Azerbaijan, the parents are given a list of Muslim names to choose from it. If you refuse, they won’t issue a birth certificate to them. There are a lot of such children in our village by now. They turned six but cannot go to school. Due to such conditions the number of pupils decreased drastically. They go from family to family prior to September “advising” parents not to take their children to a Georgian school, or else they to find  problems. It can be, for example, a problem to find a job or the danger of getting fired. That is why Georgian schools are increasingly lacking pupils. They will not open new classes for only 7-8 children. Sea of Mosques is being built in Georgia, and no one blocks Azeries from doing it. However, in Azerbaijan you will get jailed even if they find the Bible or a New Testament with you!
Q: Is there a law that prohibits carrying the Bible or the New Testament?
A: What is law for Azeri bureaucrats? They can do anything to you. When the Azeri President or other delegation visits Georgia, thousands of Azeries meet them and wave Azerbaijan flags. But here if they find a Georgian flag with you, they will make everything to keep you in prison. Once I was in Baku with my one-year old son. The boy had a fillet on his head in the form of the Georgian flag. They detained us just for it. They started to question us aggressively why we were there, who we were and so on. They were angry, demanding how I dared to attach the Georgian flag fillet to my child in Baku. Perhaps you don’t believe that such things happen somewhere but unfortunately they are real. It’s a doleful reality.
They found a Georgian flag with my three friends and all of them were arrested and given 10-day administrative punishment – of course formally they were accused of a different misdemeanor. It couldbe hooliganism or drugs – in the latter case they would plant  drugs in your pocket. Or alternatively, they would put a cow in your yard and swoop on you in the morning to get you handcuffed for a make-believe robbery. But most painful is the behavior of Georgian officials. They have none of state-minded approach to our travail.
We tried to get in touch with the Georgian Ambassador in Azerbaijan but succeeded only to talk with the First Secretary of the Embassy, press attache Kakha Abuladze who made the following comment:
A: It’s absolutely true that the citizens with Azeri surnames are disallowed from reverting to their Georgian surnames. But they cannot do it to the people with Georgian surnames. The problem is the fact that Ingilos cannot self-identify themselves. If you ask them whether they are Georgians or Azeries, they reply that they are Ingilos.
Q: Is there such a law in Azerbaijan?
A: Yes, there is. The Public Register has it. It was this very topic discussed at the meeting held in the school. Quite on the contrary – the Ambassador advised them to revert to the surnames of their ancestors; identify themselves as Georgians; in that case they won’t be subjected to the proscription of Georgian names. In this our embassy is ready to help them as it is our duty.
Q: But they cannot regain their surnames!
A: We told them many times to write a formal collective complain so that we’ll be able to start the formal case. Without the collective complain we cannot do anything. They say they are afraid of prosecution if they complain. What can we do?
P.S. In the feudal era Saingilo was the part of Georgia, namely, its eastern part -  Kakheti Region. Now it is an Azeri territory. The word “Saingilo” came to use in the 19th century to denote the area inhabited by forcibly Islamized Georgians or so called Ingilos. The word Ingilo in Turkish means something like “newly converted to true faith”. In early medieval centuries the area of Saingilo used to be a part of a Georgian Province Hereti. In the 11th century it was incorporated in the Georgian region of Machi Princedom, part of Kakheti Kingdom. In the 16th-17th centuries, political changes in Kakheti Kingdom, continuous Ottoman and Persian aggression and incursions of Dagestan feudalist raiders wreaked havoc to the area, demeaning it economically and politically. The number of local Georgian population was diminished and replaced by Tsakhurs and Avars from Daghestan. Simultaneously, Georgians were forced to adopt Muslim faith. In time, Saingilo lost links to Kakheti Kingdom. In the current administrative division, Saingilo covers Belakani, Zakatala and Kakhi districts of Azerbaijan.


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