25-27 April Azerbaijan hosted 7th Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC). This international event has a significant role to play for Azerbaijan.
First of all, the UNAOC started in 2005 by the initiative of former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, and financially supported by the governments of Spain and Turkey. The previous Global Forums of the UNAOC were held in: Madrid (2008), Istanbul (2009), Rio de Janeiro (2010), Doha (2011), Vienna (2013) and Bali (2014).
The UNAOC aims to reach a more peaceful and socially inclusive world, by building mutual respect among people of different cultural and religious identities, and highlighting the will of the world’s majority to reject extremism and embrace diversity.
Based on the principles of the UN Charter and the priorities of the UN Secretary-General, UNAOC works in four areas as Education, Youth, Migration, and Media to reduce cross-cultural tensions and to build bridges between communities.
Regarding its objectives, we can underline contact and dialogues between governmental, intergovernmental, and non-governmental stakeholders and interventions to defuse religious and cultural tensions by mobilizing third parties that can act as forces of moderation and understanding such as religious leaders, grassroots organizations, youth and women leaders.
“Living Together In Inclusive Societies: A Challenge and A Goal” was the theme of the 7th Global Forum. If we observe what happens in our today’s world, we can see clearly that over the past few years, the world has witnessed a staggering rise in violent extremism, religious intolerance and radicalization. Several extremist groups in different countries tried to extend their perverted interpretations of the holy texts and their intolerant messages. As a result, world community risks shared values of peace, justice and human dignity. At the same time, large numbers of migrants and refugees, led to increasing nativist and xenophobic rhetoric.
From this point of view, choosing Azerbaijan for this event is not by accident. Indeed, Azerbaijan dynamically developing country that is building a modern secular state, based on strong cultural traditions, as the host country, serves as a model of a country where people have been living inclusively together for centuries. The historical tolerance of Azerbaijan’s people, the political leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, and Azerbaijan’s location between Eastern Europe and Western Asia have combined to foster an environment where people of various religions and ethnicities have lived together in mutual respect and harmony for national development.
Indeed, currently there are more than 649 registered religious communities in the Republic of Azerbaijan, among which 37 are non-Islamic ones.
Azerbaijan has 13 functioning churches. The building of the Jen Mironosets Church (the building was built by Hadji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev in 1907) was granted to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991. Aleksi II, the Patriarch of Whole Russia who was on a visit in Azerbaijan in May 2001 granted the status of a church to this temple. Currently the number of the Russian Orthodox Churches is three in Baku, one in Gandja and one in Khachmaz.
The catholic community was registered in Azerbaijan in 1999. A special building for the conduction of religious ceremonies was purchased for the community and it became a church in 2000. According to the agreement between the Azerbaijani Government and Vatican the Roman Catholic Church has been constructed in 2007 in Baku.
The Albanian-Udi religious community was registered in 2003. The Albanian Church which was built in Kish, Shaki and is considered one of the oldest temples in the Caucasus, as well as the whole world was reconstructed and put under operation in 2003.The opening ceremony of the Albanian –Udi Chotari church was held in May, 2006 in Nidj district, Gabala, the location area of Saint Elisey, ancient Albanian church.
While Armenia occupied Azerbaijanian lands and destroyed its cultural heritagee, at the center of the Baku, Azerbaijan preserved the religious heritage of Armenian people. The Armenian Church was restored, and it is situated where it was built.
It is more than 2500 years that the Jews have settled in Azerbaijan. They have never undergone religious intolerance or discrimination in our country. Currently 6 Jewish religious communities are registered here. Today there are 7 synagogues functioning in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan contributes also to the world heritage. Restoration of Roman catacombs, Strasbourg Cathedral Church, ancient masterpieces in Versailles (Paris), Capitolini Museum (Roma), Louvre Museum (Paris), Trapezitsa Museum (Bulgaria) etc. by Heydar Aliyev Foundation are typical example for these kind activities.
Azerbaijan is also well-known for its capacity to organize international events at very high level. Since 2011 Azerbaijan has hosted the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, in partnership with UNAOC, UNESCO, UN World Tourism Organization, Council of Europe and ISESCO. Through this initiative known as the “Baku process”, Azerbaijan acknowledges the power of intercultural dialogue and demonstrates that such meetings bring all people closer and create the conditions for positive intercultural and inclusive relations. At the same time, hosting the first ever European Games in 2015, Azerbaijan will conduct the Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017.
In brief, Azerbaijan’s experience, despite challenges, is an example of a country moving forward to substantive progress through inclusion and an excellent model to reach the three major pillars of the United Nations: peace and security, human rights, and development.
This exceptional quality and role were recognized by all Forum participants.
Azerbaijanian President Ilham Aliyev mentioned that Azerbaijan is not only a geographic bridge between East and West, but also a cultural bridge. For centuries, representatives of religions, cultures lived in peace and dignity in Azerbaijan. Religious tolerance, multiculturalism – were always present here. There was no word – multiculturalism, but the ideas were always present.
Underlining the role of multiculturalism, President Aliyev noted: “As I said, more than 140 countries are present here. Multiculturalism has no alternative. We all know that there are different ideas about different views of multiculturalism – failed, or some that did not work, but there are positive examples. For us, multiculturalism is a state policy, and is our lifestyle. And looking at the alternatives, what are the alternatives of multiculturalism? Very dangerous alternatives – xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, discrimination, hatred”.
Azerbaijan’s first lady, president of Heydar Aliyev Foundation, goodwill ambassador of UNESCO and ISESCO, Mehriban Aliyeva expressed that Baku forum will contribute to constructive dialogue, strengthen mutual understanding.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his video message appreciated the hospitality of President Ilham Aliyev, government of Azerbaijan and the city of Baku.
UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser said they could not dream of a better venue than the city of Baku to hold this Forum.
ISESCO Director General Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri told that Azerbaijan is very major player in international scene, which is promoting dialogue between cultures and working for peace and security in the world.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Azerbaijan as historical center of civilizations.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo y Marfil qualified Baku as a route through which many new people, many ideas and cultures meet again.
For Spain’s former Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Baku is an ideal place for holding the 7th Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations.
Member of French National Assembly Jean-Luc Reitzer presented tolerance as symbol of Azerbaijan.
Here is the importance of this event- those who know already all those qualities of Azerbaijan will be sure one more time and those who are new will have a great opportunity to discover this beautiful country and this great nation.
This event will also allow the participants to discover also the sad realties about Azerbaijan.
The illegal military occupation by the neighboring Republic of Armenia of almost 20 percent of the internationally recognized historic territories of Azerbaijan, including Nagorno Karabakh and adjacent seven regions, continues regardless of four United Nations Security Council resolutions adopted in 1993, which demand immediate, unconditional and complete withdrawal of Armenian troops from Azerbaijan’s territories.
More than one million Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced as a result of this occupation. Along with the military occupation and ethnic cleansing on these occupied lands, the cultural property of the Republic of Azerbaijan has also incurred irreplaceable losses.
Numerous historical, cultural, religious monuments and pieces of arts have been looted and removed from the occupied Azerbaijani territories by the Armenian armed forces. Many of them were put on sale in the auctions and shops throughout the world. Armenia is trying to change the attributes of Azerbaijani cultural heritage, toponyms of Azerbaijani origin and identity.
500 historical, architectural and more than 100 archeological monuments, 22 museums (40 thousand museum pieces and exhibits), 9 historical palaces, 44 temples, 10 mosques, 4 art galleries have been looted and heavily damaged. Hundreds of ancient mausoleums and fortresses have been destroyed.
These are obvious acts of cultural terrorism with the aim to wipe out the evidences of the historic roots of Azerbaijanis in these areas.
In brief, this Forum allowed world community to discover the reality about Azerbaijan, from all points of view.
Dr. Turab GURBANOV