From Baku to Marneuli: In the Search for God
Rubaba Mukhtarova, an ethnic Azerbaijani, deeply cares about her regular get-together with her Korean, American, and German friends. Every Sunday the 48-year-old joins a small group of people for half a day of praying, chanting and studying the Bible—every Sunday in a different home. The meetings of the Protestant community that Rubaba is a member of, would not be unusual, but the group is an unexpected commodity in Marneuli, a town of about 20,000 in southern Georgia, which is densely populated mostly with Shia muslim ethnic Azerbaijanis.
In 2014, Mukhtarova migrated from her native Baku to Marneuli, several years after a fallout with her husband and extended family, of Muslim faith, after she converted to Protestantism. Georgia would not be the best fit as a religious refuge—religious minorities do not have it easy, as the Orthodox Church holds a strong foothold in the country and discrimination is not uncommon. But for Mukhtarova, Marneuli was perfect. The energetic, and now single, mother of a teenage boy opted to move to an Azerbaijani-speaking town, where she had heard about the small but vibrant Protestant community of about 50 people.
She did not waste time—she got involved with the religious group and started working with the local Marneuli radio station, focusing specifically on women’s rights in the Azerbaijani language.
Marneuli’s protestant community started taking shape back in 2012. Today, it embraces people from all different walks of life—from farmers, to teachers, to scientists. A little Babel of languages, as English and German mix with Azerbaijani and Korean and Russian, this tiny club is open to the world, exuding the spirit of internationalism where it would be the least expected.