US puts Azerbaijan on religious freedom watchlist over fears for Artsakh’s heritage

The United States on Thursday added Azerbaijan to a watchlist on religious freedom, following fears for Christian heritage after the country seized Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh).

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, releasing an annual index of designations, maintained all 12 countries that had been on the previous year’s blacklist, including China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, AFP reported.

In the sole change, Blinken added Azerbaijan to a watchlist, meaning it will join the blacklist, which carries potential sanctions, without improvements.

In a recent recommendation to the State Department, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom pointed to concerns for the preservation of Christian religious sites in Nagorno-Karabakh, where virtually the entire population of 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled to Armenia following Azerbaijan’s military offensive on September 19-20.

The commission also voiced alarm over regulations on all religious practice in the Shiite Muslim-majority but largely secular country under strongman President Ilham Aliyev, including a requirement that all religious groups be registered and their literature approved by an official body.

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