The Soviet Azerbaijani authorities had in their time closed or misused mosques with equal abandon. One of the largest of those mosques, Bibi-Heibat, reopened recently in Baku in the presence of President Haidar Aliev, who personally financed the construction of its minaret. (Assa-Irada, July 14) On July 31, a delegation of Kuwait’s Committee for Asian Muslims made public in Baku a plan to begin construction of an Islamic university in the vicinity of the Azerbaijani capital in 1999. Planned as the largest institution of this type in any former Soviet republic, the university will be fully financed by Kuwait. The student body will consist of 60 percent Azeris and 40 percent students from other CIS countries. The Kuwaiti delegation signed a cooperation agreement with the state-approved Spiritual Board of Caucasus Muslims and was received by Aliev.
The Spiritual Board’s head, sheikh-ul-islam hajj Allahshukur Pashazade, made clear at the joint press conference that politics and proselytizing will be prohibited at the institution. That Azerbaijan is not about to alter its secular orientation was also made clear by Education Minister Misir Mardanov, who cautioned a teachers’ conference that the authorities do not entertain proposals to introduce Koran courses, lectures by mullahs, or other types of “religious propaganda in [state] schools.” (Azer-L, July 31; Turan, Yeni Azerbaijan, July 30). Nevertheless, the authorities’ cautious overture to Muslim values seems unmistakable and coincides with the approach of the presidential election.
U.S. MILITARY DEVELOPS CONTACTS WITH TURKMENISTAN.