Whilst travelling through Gabala in the north of Azerbaijan I took the time to experience a small part but significant part of the religious tolerance within the country. Religion is 100 per cent removed from the state here and freedom of religion is something you feel brings pride and togetherness. For a country that is 95% muslim the signs and support for all religions is evident. If a new church is built for whatever denomination the heads of all other religions are invited. A good example is the fact that outside Israel there is only one country where a mountain jewish settlement lives and thrives in the manner they did hundreds and hundreds of years ago…. Azerbaijan. Qırmızı Qəsəbə. It was an honour on this day though to visit the church of the Udi. People I admit to never hearing of but now so want to learn more.
Near Galaba, in the village of Nij I was invited kindly to a church. This small church was special. It belongs to the native people of this part of the world – The Udi people. One of the most ancient of the Caucuses with mentions dating back to 5BC. There are only a few thousand Udi people in the world today and the majority, approx 4.000 live in this area and village in Azerbaijan. I signed the guest book and saw only a few pages back the signature of our own Prince Andrew.
Today they practice Orthadox Christianity and I was welcomed with their kindness to see their church, renovated and used. In their homes a flame always burns and the moon plays a great part in their beliefs. All signs that they followed much more before christianity. They have kept their own language but of course most are bilingual. Farming plays an important role with the Udi language naming calender months after things like grapes and seeds.
They are proud to have been able to keep their community and the Azerbaijan authorities and people have played an important role with their tolerance and help. Was remarkable to see such harmony and understanding in a country that has been at the centre of so many Empires, wars and disturbance of history. I do not profess to be an expert within a few hours of being here but it has opened my eyes and opened my want to learn. Here is a page that allows you to understand more. And here are some more pictures from inside this remarkable building.