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By Felix Corley

Forum 18 News Service

The Baptist community is getting increasingly concerned about its historic church in central Baku , located close to the main railway station. “We regard it as a holy site,” Ilya Zenchenko, head of Azerbaijan ‘s Baptist Union, told Forum 18 in Baku on 19 October. “My grandfather was among those who built the church. It’s not just a property we want to get back to sell – our church wants to worship there once again.” He says it is the only historic church in Azerbaijan , as no other purpose-built churches were put up before the communists came to power.

Zenchenko said that after a fire in August, that he fears might have been started deliberately, and high-rise building next to the church which could damage it, the Baptists visited Mustafa Ibrahimov, an official at the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, to express their concern. “He tried to calm us, assuring us the building is recorded as a historical monument,” Zenchenko told Forum 18. “But he told us there is no law on restitution so it can’t be returned.”

Built in the first decade of the twentieth century, the Baptist church was dedicated in 1911 but confiscated by the Soviet authorities in 1930. Although listed as a monument, the church is now the Shafag cinema.

Although the Baptists acquired copies of documents from the Azerbaijan State Archive, attesting that the church was built by the community and belonged to it until its confiscation by the Soviet regime, when the community first asked for the church back in the 1990s officials denied it had ever belonged to the Baptists.