The ‘kind lady’ of Azerbaijan

“A country without woman is destroyed and remains helpless but in the hand of woman this world will only have bliss. She will exalt humanity.”

This quote from Hussein Javid, the Shakespeare of Azerbaijan, sums up the cultural, economic and political rationale behind the recent appointment of Mehriban Aliyeva, the first lady of Azerbaijan, to the post of vice president. Today, in the Muslim world where women are fighting an uphill battle for gender equality and a seat at the decision-making table, this Muslim nation of 9 million the size of South Carolina has taken a historic leap forward.

Why does the appointment of a reform-minded, intelligent and worldly stateswoman halfway across the world matter for United States, and why is it important for Washington to applaud and wholeheartedly support Mrs. Aliyeva? If we are to successfully tackle the challenge of Islamic extremism, then we must find and support positive and uplifting alternatives. Mrs. Aliyeva’s success can become a model for the rest of the Muslim world to emulate. Thankfully, this wise woman of the East has the ingredients for success.

In many ways, “Mehriban Khanum,” as she is affectionately called by her countryman, embodies her nation’s core values. These are values we Americans can both relate to and have championed throughout our history. First, Mehriban Khanum, whose name literally means “kind lady,” represents the fundamental value of religious tolerance, which is in the DNA of this Shia Muslim country. She has been a champion of Azerbaijan’s tolerance towards all religions. Members of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Bahai faiths live side by side in peace and harmony in Azerbaijan. For example, when the Jewish community decided to build a new synagogue in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, she gave her full and public support.

Not surprisingly, it was Mrs. Aliyeva and not her husband, President Ilham Aliyev, who represented her country in meetings with the pope to discuss interfaith dialogue. And unlike Azerbaijan’s neighbor Iran, where members of the Bahai faith continue to be persecuted by the intolerant ayatollahs, Mehriban Khanum has stood by this faith community. In short, Mehriban Khanum feels that it is in the deeds of a Muslim that one shows one’s piety and not in intolerance toward members of other faiths.

Mehriban Khanum’s second personality trait captures another feature of her nation’s core value: namely, being charitable toward those less fortunate. As founder and head of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the “kind lady” has championed numerous philanthropic projects around the world. For example, immediately after the 2008 earthquake in Pakistan, she mobilized the resources of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation to rebuild a school in one of the most remote regions of that country.


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