carnegie logo

Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

« Previous | Babylon & Beyond Home | Next »

AZERBAIJAN: Feud over ban on Islamic head scarves fuels fears of Iranian meddling


A full-blown ideological war appears to have erupted between Iran and the secular government in neighboring Azerbaijan after Baku earlier this year banned the wearing of Islamic head scarves, or hijabs, at schools in the Caucasus nation by introducing a standard school uniform that prohibits traditional Islamic dress.

Conservative clerics in the Islamic Republic have publicly and repeatedly slammed the decision and warned Azerbaijani authorities that they're heading down a slippery slope by prohibiting schoolgirls from wearing hijabs in the classroom in the Shiite Muslim-majority nation whose citizens maintain strong ties to co-religionists and fellow ethnic Azeris in Iran.

"An ideological revolution has been staged in the republic of Azerbaijan, and this country will become one of the religious centers in the future," said a cleric named Foruqi during Friday prayers in the ethnic Azeri city of Ardabil in Iran, according to state television. "And this is the issue that scares the enemies."

Iranian officials repeatedly call on foreigners not to meddle in their domestic affairs by stirring discontent. But Iranian religious authorities appear to have no qualms about getting involved in the affairs of neighboring Azerbaijan. The powerful senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi explicitly called on the people of Azerbaijan to reject the ban and stand up against it by practicing civil disobedience.

"The Azerbaijani people should peacefully resist this anti-Islamic decision and prevent these challenges to Islamic sacred value," the Azerbaijani English-language newspaper AzerNews quoted him as saying. "Azerbaijani dignitaries should be advised not to succumb to foreign instigators and hear the voice of their people.” 

Angry public protests have taken place in parts of Azerbaijan over the new school dress code, announced verbally by the Azerbaijani education minister, Misir Mardanov. In cryptic statements to the media, he has blamed some of the rallies on unnamed foreign instigators.

"It seems to me that the protest held in front of the Ministry of Education in connection with hijab had been organized by some forces inside and outside the country. That is for sure," Mardanov was quoted as saying by the country's state-run APA news agency after protesters staged a rally outside his office in Baku earlier this month.

Mardanov did not refer to a specific country, but high-level Azerbaijani officials had previously warned American diplomats of potential Iranian "provocations," according to U.S. Embassy cables published on the WikiLeaks website.

The education minister also responded to Shirazi's veil-ban criticism, reportedly saying that the new school dress code will be enforced no matter what and that "no one should doubt that."

The move to ban Islamic veils on schoolgirls comes amid already tense relations between Baku and Tehran, partly due to the Azerbaijani government's friendly ties with Iran's arch enemies, Israel and the United States. The decision is also believed to have widened the rift between the secular government of President Ilham Aliyev and the country's growing number of devout Muslims and the religious ranks, who the government suspects are being egged on by Iran.

During the Shiite Muslim mourning day Ashura earlier this month, thousands of people took to the streets of Nardaran, near Baku, to protest the hijab ban, according to a report by Prague-based Radio Free Europe.

A video claimed to have been shot at the demonstration and posted on Radio Free Europe's website shows a large crowd of men with clenched fists raised into the air, chanting  "we'd sooner die than give up the hijab" and expressing support for the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah as a local religious leader rails against the veil ban from a podium.

Few women appear in the clip, except for a group of young girls wearing veils.

The Radio Free Europe report suggests that the veil ban has sparked a backlash, with hundreds of girls believed to have stopped going to school.

"I'll never give up my hijab," Vusala Quliyeva, an 11th-grade student in Baku was quoted as saying by Radio Free Europe."They haven't shown us any official papers restricting our head scarves. I don't understand their verbal instructions, and I can't follow their order."

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Azerbaijani women protest against a government decision to ban Islamic veils at schools. Credit: YouTube.

Video: Protesters demonstrate against the veil ban in Azerbaijani schools. Credit: YouTube

Comments () | Archives (33)

Don't exaggerate the power of Iranian clerics' statements - here, no one cares for them much.

The ban concerns only the secondary schools and the issue really is whether a girl between 6 and 16 can make an informed choice about whether to wear hijab and what that entails.

Th issue is a complex one, and imho the Government was wrong to announce an outright ban - there must have been a wide public discussion first. Turkey's experience is important here - we should study it to avoid repeating the same blunders.

"Iran has no right to interfrence the decision of other country..."
People’s demonstrations are not the sign of Iranian influence. It is the consequence of mounting influence from the western countries. Do you mean US, Russia, Turkey, Israel have every right to make design for people there? They were are still are changing reigns and performing other social surgery.

Iran has no right to interfrence the decision of other country. First, they should look to their laws and rules. So beyond the time...

"Forcing people to take off their Hejab is as bad as forcing people to have Hejab."
Actually forcing woman to take off their hejab is more troubling in Islamic countries than forcing them to have Hejab. Turkey tried that policy years ago and as a result people voted for their Islamic party to reverse the law.
Hejab is not natural but it is the woman right. People have right to be wrong. Many women in the west have too many unnatural behaviors too.

These people are crazy and should be shunned by the world and left to kill each other.

Concern ourselves with the rise of China and the Muslims will work out their own attire

Holly.Re: letting the women decide.In theory good, in practise bad. Women have few actual rights in many Muslim countries and are under de facto pressure from their families. Would you cling to your freedom if it meant censure,shunning or even death threaths from your own family?If a violent father threathened you to put a veil on would you dare to resist?Remember that beating is commonplace and acceptable in these coutries! If a mother said it shamed her if you did not wear hijab and neighbours spat at you for not doing it? But if it is a law everyone has to do it and no one can blame you as an individual.

"Forcing people to take off their Hejab is as bad as forcing people to have Hejab."

No, it isn't.Hijab is unnatural and constricting and taking it off is in the interest of women. It prevents movement (e.g. in sports)and is advocated on the pretext that the female body is unclean--thus it is an ideological comment that infringes on the freedom of women to decide for themselves and to be respected for the bodies they have and as they are. Hijab says the woman is not worthy of respect in herself--she is only worthy of respect if she does as we say and covers herself.
Hijab communicates hatred and scorn of women, as well as fear of female sexuality and the female body.

"For your information, Iran is NOW the most progressive nation in the region."
I s that why they are still stoning women for adultery?
PB, I'd put it to you that satellites and technology don't translate into modernity if your mind still resides in a cave.

"We'd sooner die than give up the hijab"
Allright, Muslim bros,you wear it, then!

There are many Moslem women who would never give up covering themselves when in public any more than American women being comfortable taking off their bikini tops at topless beaches in Europe. In some cultures women get tattoos and would be outcasts if they didn't. Who is to say that is wrong?

American's often pride themselves about freedom, but it was 132 years from the ratification of the Constitution before women in America were given the right to vote (1920). They can vote in Iran, Afghanistan today, but not Saudi Arabia (I think the only country that does not allow women to vote in 2009), women cannot also drive or travel without their husbands permission. So why not the outcry, could it be because of oil?

How would we like it if the Catholic Church in Rome meddled in our government laws and legislative process? Oh wait they do!

Damn, it's time to shut out all foreign meddling in the US!


"In fact, he said, for the first time in the history of Iran, the number of illiterate men is higher than that of women in Iran."

That's from an article today in the LA Times about the increasing dropout rate in Iran. So how does that correlate to your insistence that "Iran is NOW the most progressive nation in the region"?

>a large crowd of *men* with clenched fists raised into the air, chanting "we'd sooner die than give up the hijab"<

Says it all.

The Islamic world is just too different from the West. I want Muslims to be forbidden to immigrate to the United States. Their ideologies are just too volatile and incompatible with Western democracies. It is so sad that the Europeans foolishly have allowed them to move to Europe in such large numbers.

I know a lot of people don't like all the immigration that has come to California from Latin America, but assimilating Latin Americans is relatively easy since they share Judeo-Christian values and aren't trying to overthrow Western Civilization. The Muslims are a whole different ballgame.

Funny, these are nothing but backward little countries that want to live like it was still the year 500. worshipping a horrible outdated religion that wants to kill everyone.

The middle east and surrounding countries are just a minor distraction in this modern world. We need to just build a fence around them and don't let them out to pollute the rest of the world.

Just look at the Police and the "plain" clothes officers, all Russian immigrants living in Azarbaijan. And look at the public who are not Russian. Great stuff. It's only a matter of time.

I am Azari Iranian.

Yahasin Azarbaijan.


don't worry about what they get. That's what they are worried about. As Iran grows in technology and power, Azari's who are all Iranians and Bahrain will be back home. The British Separated Bahrain through their Shah, and the Soviets occupied Azarbaijan. It takes time.


Everything you said was also said about Iran in the 70's. Iran was said to be a great country, westernized and all the garbage you said. Then came 1979. What was learned about Iran is that idiots like you do business in those countries but have not clue about them. For your information, Iran is NOW the most progressive nation in the region. Short Skirts don't translate into modernity, but but putting Satellites in space or being one of top 25 nations on clone technology is. Even the recent 3 day report on CNBC about business in Iran said they were amazed with the advancements and the INCLUSION of women at every level of workplace. Get a clue or you'l find yourself in the midst of another revolution, with your business up in smokes. You represent everything that shows why America get the mideast wrong everytime, because like you, our foreign policymakers don't understand it.

There was this article about corruption in Azerbaijan few days ago,
So what is it, aren't their rulers are corrupt or not!
My experience is, government push the people towards any ideological doctrine then their citizens will embrace 180 degree of that position!!

1 2 | »


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Recent News
Introducing World Now |  September 23, 2011, 8:48 am »



About the Contributors