This week in Azerbaijan was held The 4th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue under the auspices of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev in cooperation with UNESCO, UN Alliance of Civilizations, UN World Tourism Organization, Council of Europe, ISESCO, North-South Center of the Council of Europe.[i]
Based on the main principles of the global agenda of Dialogue among Civilisations adopted by the United Nations General Assembly[ii], the UNESCO Convention on Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions[iii], the Islamic Declaration on Cultural Diversity[iv], Declaration and Action Plan of the Third Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe member states, the Council of Europe White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue[v], as well as the Baku Declaration for the Promotion of Intercultural Dialogue[vi], the previous World Forums have reached remarkable achievements.
The 4th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, focused primarily on the topics such as the role of faith, religions, migration, human security, sport, education, art, sustainable development, violent extremism, business in building trust and cooperation among cultures and civilizations. The Forum provided a platform to discuss the way forward to build societies based on genuine respect for everyone’s rights including freedom of belief, equal opportunities, and good governance as well as an inclusive framework of tolerance and respect for diversity.[vii]
By bringing together heads of governments, ministers, heads of various international organizations, senior policy makers, cultural professionals, goodwill ambassadors, experts, journalists, practitioners, prominent intellectuals and activists, in brief, some 800 guests representing more than 120 countries, the Forum became an international platform to enable and encourage people, countries and organisations around the globe to take concrete actions to support diversity, dialogue and mutual understanding among nations by raising awareness on the importance of intercultural dialogue worldwide.
Indeed, at their speeches, high level leaders highlighted the important role that Azerbaijan plays at the region and for the dialog between civilizations.
Forum on the eyes of International Leaders
Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations noted Azerbaijan’s important contribution to the development of intercultural and interreligious dialogue in the world.[viii]
Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, noted that Forum reflects Azerbaijan’s long history – history of tradition, culture, intercultural dialogue and interreligious exchange.[ix]
Nadia Al-Nashif, UNESCO Assistant Director General for Social and Human Sciences, underlined the Baku Forum`s very strong vision and its perfect resonance with UNESCO’s mandate to build peace in the minds of men and women.[x]
Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, Director General of the ISESCO, called Azerbaijan as a model of democracy, peace, development and intercultural dialogue.[xi]
Tacan İldem, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy, described this event as very important initiative in solving a number of problems in the modern world.[xii]
Yousef Al-Othaimeen, Secretary General of the OIC, called the Forum as a crucial step taken to address global challenges.[xiii]
Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of UNWTO, said to have heard important messages from Azerbaijani President.[xiv]
But, what were exactly those messages?
Of course, the most important part of this event was Azerbaijanian President Ilham Aliyev’s comprehensive speech.[xv]
Azerbaijan-land of ancient civilizations
In His speech, President Ilham Aliyev indicated that Azerbaijan, for centuries was a place where civilizations and cultures met. Its geography, its history and development demonstrate intercultural dialogue as one of the most important issues.
He said that Azerbaijan’s history, traditions, geography actually dictated that Azerbaijan could be and should be an area where civilizations meet. He added that for centuries, people inhabited in Azerbaijan, are living in a diverse environment. Multiculturalism, ethnic and religious diversity is this country’s history and today’s reality. Today Azerbaijan is a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional country, and representatives of all the ethnic groups and religions live in peace and harmony.
Referring to the country’s historical monuments, demonstrating the cultural diversity of Azerbaijan and its ancient history, the President stressed that Azerbaijan is proud to have one of the oldest mosques in the world, built in 743 in one of the ancient cities of Azerbaijan, Shamakhi. The President added that one of the oldest churches, the Church of Ancient State of Caucasian Albania is also located in Azerbaijan, in another ancient city of the country — Sheki.
Describing the Fire Temple in Baku belonging to religion of Zoroastrianism, as a demonstration of Azerbaijan’s cultural and religious diversity, He underlined that today, mosques, churches, synagogues which exist in Azerbaijan are protected by the state and many of them were built with the state financing.
Multiculturalism is a state policy in Azerbaijan
President Aliyev accentuated that multiculturalism is a state policy in Azerbaijan, and at the same time, a lifestyle in the country. He noted that, though the word multiculturalism is relatively new, and sometimes very difficult to pronounce, the ideas of multiculturalism have always existed in this country. Regardless of the time of history, regardless of the political system in Azerbaijan, its people have always been active defenders and promoters of multiculturalism inside Azerbaijan and beyond our borders.
Underlining several important international events, organized by Azerbaijan, as previous International Humanitarian Forums, World Religious Leaders Summit, the Seventh Global Forum of Alliance of Civilizations, previous Intercultural Dialogue Forums, He said that all this helps to find ways how to reduce tensions, how to reduce risks, how to create better understanding between peoples and religions.
Indicating that alternatives to multiculturalism were xenophobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism, racism and discrimination, President Aliyev said that “We sometimes hear from different public figures, politicians, country leaders, different skeptical views on that. I think that if we unite our efforts — and today representatives of absolute majority of international community are here — we can demonstrate and prove that multiculturalism is alive”.
As He said, “Today we need to do it maybe more than ever before, because unfortunately, now some concerning tendencies in the world lead sometimes not to intercultural dialogue, but to alienation. We see it regularly that in different parts of the world – conflicts, confrontations, civil wars are generated by lack of understanding between representatives of different religions and ethnic groups”.
President Aliyev focused attention to the fact that multiculturalism is not only a trend, it is the only way to show how to make the world safer. Noting that, unfortunately, it is the Muslim countries that suffer the most from terrorism, He said that “We need unity, first of all in the Muslim world”. So, Azerbaijan plays a very important role in promotion of Islamic values and fighting against Islamophobia and attempts to connect Islam with terror.
In brief, President Aliyev highlighted that the impact of success of this dialogue can be seen in every area – political life, areas related to security, economic cooperation.
That is why, in order to demonstrate the status of Azerbaijani society, its state policy and also leads to more understanding in the region, 2016 was announced the year of multiculturalism in the country, and 2017 has been announced the year of Islamic Solidarity.
Speaking on the role of the sport President Aliyev reminded that organization of two years, in one city, of both the European Games and the Islamic Games is the demonstration of his country’s policy and intentions.
Country with exceptional socio-economic development
In his speech, President Aliyev noted that today Azerbaijan is a politically and economically stable country. Azerbaijan is a much respected member of the international community. He showed real example to approve this idea: “Several years ago, 155 countries voted for Azerbaijan to be elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. So this support of absolute majority of countries of the world demonstrates that Azerbaijan has a very good international reputation”. “At the same time, with nine member-countries of the European Union Azerbaijan signed or adopted documents on strategic partnership. This is a role we are playing in the region, and we managed to transform our geographical location into important infrastructure facilities”.
But to reach this level wasn’t easy. Despite heavy economic burden because of a million of refugees, especially in the early 1990s, Azerbaijan managed to mobilize and build a strong country. As a result, transportation projects which Azerbaijan initiated connecting Asia with Europe by railroad, generate already a lot of profit, at the same time create very important links between countries. As President Aliyev noted, Azerbaijan initiated also huge energy projects, one of which, the Southern Gas Corridor connecting seven countries at the first stage and providing energy diversification and energy security for many countries of Caspian region, of Central Europe and Southern Europe is the biggest infrastructure project in Europe, with $40 billion of investments. He called it as a project of energy security, energy diversification and cooperation, because all the countries involved in our energy and transportation project will become natural partners, and will be mutually interdependent.
President Aliyev underlined Azerbaijan’s impressive economic performance saying that for the last thirteen years, our economy, GDP grew more than three times: “We managed to reduce unemployment down to 5 percent, poverty level to less than 6 percent. We have a very low level of foreign debt – only 20 percent of our GDP and our reserves are five times bigger than our foreign debt”. This impressive economic performance is also highly appreciated by international institutions, Davos World Economic Forum ranking Azerbaijan’s economy #37, in terms of competitiveness.
Azerbaijan invested not only in economy, but also in social life, so that today, the level of literacy in Azerbaijan is close to 100 percent. Calling illiteracy, poverty, social inequality and injustice as the main sources of radicalism, President Aliyev noted that at the same time, it is investment in stability and security, because, radicalism, extremism, fundamentalism is generated mainly by illiteracy, lack of education when young generation is brainwashed and is directed to commit terrible acts of terror. He concluded that although international media show us migrant crisis, wars, devastations, clashes, religious and ethnic conflicts, there are a lot of positive examples and we also need to demonstrate them. So, for Him, one of the goals of and importance to this forum is that we are addressing this issue, we are uniting our efforts.
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – main obstacle against peace, stability and development in the region
As President Aliyev noted, the biggest problem Azerbaijan is facing is the Armenian occupation. Unfortunately, restoration of independence of Azerbaijan was accompanied by Armenian aggression, which resulted in occupation of our internationally recognized territory – Nagorno-Karabakh and 7 other districts. He reminded that as a result of this occupation more than a million of Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced persons. Azerbaijani people were subject to ethnic cleansing, and today on the occupied territories, all Azerbaijani historical monuments, buildings mosques are demolished by Armenia. He underlined at the same time that, while in Baku Azerbaijan renovated the Armenian Church, Armenia in the occupied territories demolished all Azerbaijani historical and religious heritage. He added that the OSCE twice sent the fact-finding missions to the occupied territories and their report clearly reflected the devastation of the occupied lands of Azerbaijan.
Speaking out on the resolution of the conflict, President Aliyev noted that the UN Security Council, the highest international body, adopted four resolutions, which demand immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops from occupied territories. For more than 20 years these resolutions are not implemented. He indicated clearly that Armenia ignores them and brutally violates international law and decisions of the Security Council, and there is no mechanism to force the aggressor to comply with the resolutions. For Him, this is a very important issue, which is of big concern to our people, that sometimes the decisions of the Security Council are implemented within days if not hours, but in Azerbaijani case, it’s more than 20 years. This is a demonstration of double standards, first of all, and this is also a demonstration of, to certain degree, inefficiency of mechanism of implementation of the resolutions.
Dr. Turab GURBANOV