The majority of Azerbaijan’s population consists of Shiites. The Wahhabis were not present in Azerbaijan before the collapse of the Soviet Union, but during the past few years and especially in areas close to Russia’s borders, Wahhabi groups have appeared and had considerable influence. Through the last decade with financial support from Saudi Arabia and some Arab countries, Wahhabism started and expanded, particularly in the northern regions of Azerbaijan.
Saudi Arabia has played a major role in financing and preparing the Wahhabi groups that have grown and strengthened in both sides of the Azerbaijan-Russia border. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, with financial support from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the Wahhabis became active in areas like Zaqatala, Qusar, and even Baku, Salyan, Neftchala, and etc., they even were able to found a mosque in Baku. With activities such as buying taxis and giving them away free of charge to the youth, under the condition of joining Wahhabism, giving loans to poor families, and other actions along these lines, the Wahhabi establishments have tried to penetrate the Shiite society of Azerbaijan.
In the name of Charity, the Saudi emissaries have spread propaganda among disadvantaged sectors of society and refugees in the Karabakh region. One of the methods that the Saudis use to expand their influence is encouraging the youth to pursue religious education in Saudi Arabia. In the past, Wahhabis did not have much power in Azerbaijan, but nowadays they are actively trying to expand and grow. This growth has raised concerns for Azerbaijan, especially because this country has chosen the Western and secular way of development.
Some citizens of Azerbaijan have even joined extremist and Wahhabi groups and gone to Syria, only for earning money. There is a strong connection between the Wahhabi groups present in Azerbaijan, and the opposition groups of Syria. Wahhabis in Azerbaijan and the Wahhabis in the north Caucasus and Dagestan have united and declared their aim to establish the Caucasus Islamic caliphate. This caliphate’s territory is supposed to consist of Azerbaijan and parts of north Caucasus.
It should be mentioned that a network affiliated with Saudi Arabia and with financial and political support from the Saudis, is transferring a number of Azeri citizens to Syria ,with the help and through the territory of Turkey. These citizens are usually from the regions close to the north Caucasus like Qusar, Zaqatala, and Balakan.
With the start of terrorist operations in Syria, US government advised Baku to be on the side of West-oriented governments called the Friends of Syria. The Azeri government also devoted a large sum of money for supporting terrorist groups in Syria. On this basis, Baku has not obstructed the activities of Wahhabis, in fact in some cases, associations have been established between Wahhabis and the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations of Azerbaijan.
However, presence of Azeri Wahhabis in Syria will be dangerous for Azerbaijan; Since these Wahhabis are a radical group that has formed with the financial and political support of some countries, and if Baku fails to identify them, they will cause instabilities in Azerbaijan, especially after they return to this country.
Although the Azeri government pretends not to be aware of this situation, it is quite clear that Wahhabis are being sent to Syria from the Republic of Azerbaijan, with the consent of the government. The Wahhabi movement has no roots or history in the Shiite populated southern Caucasus region. This movement has been established with the help and support of Saudi Arabia and some other countries in the region with the goal of recruiting people from the Sunni minorities in that area. Meanwhile, since the relevant organizations in Azerbaijan did not take measures to stop the spread of Wahhabis, the Wahhabi movement has turned into a huge threat for Azerbaijan.