by Nigar Goksel
Religiously-inspired bonding: CHANGING SOFT POWER ELEMENTS IN TURKEY’S RELATIONS WITH AZERBAIJAN
Turkish public sensitivities and political outreach towards the Muslims of the Caucasus region have always been there. However, this general sympathy has been channeled into more concrete involvement and has had more effect in recent years. More than 20 years after Azerbaijan’s independence from the Soviet Union, and 10 years of Turkey being governed by a relatively more „religiously informed” government than was the case in Turkish Republican history, this article examines the changing role of religion in Turkey-Azerbaijan relations.
Turkish involvement in religious affairs in Azerbaijan is done primarily through two channels – one is the official Directorate of Religious Affairs in Turkey and the other is the Fethullah Gülen movement, also called the Nurcu’s because the Gülen teachings draw on Said Nursi’s writings. The Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs has financed the construction of a number of mosques (eight according to most sources) and trains clergy from Azerbaijan in Turkey, as well as setting up schools in Azerbaijan to train clergy – in collaboration with the Turkish Ministry of Education and Foreign ministry.
The work of the Gülen movement is harder to qualify or quantify – and its interaction with government policies also much more complex. The Gülen Movement was founded by and is led by a Turkish Islamic scholar/preacher named Fethullah Gülen who lives in Pennsylvania. Through companies, education institutions (schools and special training courses), dormitories, media outlets, and political connections, the Gülen movement’s presence in Azerbaijan has been growing consistently since Azerbaijan’s early years of independence. Across the country, they include primary and secondary schools, university preparation courses, and one university. Perceptions of this movement in Azerbaijan vary widely and are assessed from various sides in this article.