President Aliyev: multiculturalism - a state policy in Azerbaijan (UPDATE)

President Aliyev: multiculturalism - a state policy in Azerbaijan (UPDATE)

Baku, Azerbaijan, April 26

By Seymur Aliyev- Trend:

The UNAOC 7th Global Forum official ceremony took place today in Baku, where the country's President Ilham Aliyev made the opening speech.

He welcomed the participants of the forum.

"It is a big honor for us to host the 7th UNAOC Global Forum. We consider it a sign of appreciation of our activity and promotion of values of intercultural dialogue, multiculturalism," said the president in his opening speech.

"I'd like to express my gratitude to the founding fathers of the alliance - Turkey and Spain, President Erdogan and former Prime Minister Zapatero for this extremely important initiative, which now lives for more than 10 years," Ilham Aliyev said.

The president went on to add that the idea of creation of the alliance was the sign of wisdom of the politicians, President Erdogan and former Prime Minister Zapatero, supported by international community.

"I'd also like to express my gratitude to the high representative UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser for his leadership, contribution and promotion of the values of peace, solidarity and friendship," said president Aliyev.

The president went on to say that Azerbaijan is proud to have the representatives of more than 140 countries gather in Baku to address the important issues of the alliance of civilizations.

He said that Azerbaijan for centuries was a place where religions, cultures and civilizations met.

"We're 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," he said. "Religious tolerance, multiculturalism - were always present here. There was no word - multiculturalism, but the ideas were always present."

Ilham Aliyev added that as a result of that, Azerbaijan today is a multiethnic, multiconfessional country, where representatives of all religions and ethnic groups live in dignity and peace.

"This is one of our biggest assets," he said. "And we're proud of our history. We are proud of our historical monuments, which reflect the creation of representatives of different cultures."

President reminded that one of the oldest mosques in the world, which was built in 743, is situated in Azerbaijani city of Shemakha.

"Also, one of the oldest churches in the Caucasus, the ancient church of ancient state Caucasian Albania is also situated in Azerbaijan, close to another ancient city of Sheki," he said.

The president said Azerbaijani government invests in construction and renovation of mosques, orthodox and catholic churches, synagogues.

"This is our policy and this is our lifestyle," said the president. "For centuries, Azerbaijan is preserving this asset, regardless of political or social situation in the country."

Ilham Aliyev went on to add that Azerbaijan is relatively young as an independent country, only 25 years old, but it is ancient, with deep historical and cultural roots.

"Multiculturalism for us is a state policy," said the president. "We organize different events, addressing this important issue."

The president added that every two years, Intercultural dialogue forum takes place in Azerbaijan, and Baku International Humanitarian Forum is hosted regularly as well.

"The main idea is to bring the representatives of different religions together and establish more understanding between us," he said.

The president also reminded that Azerbaijan hosted the world summit of religious leaders, addressing important issues of interreligious dialogue.

"I think today this is one of the most important topics on global agenda," he said. "And the role of the alliance of civilizations is growing. Unfortunately, we see some very concerning trends in our region, in Europe, in the Middle East, on the area of former Soviet Union. We see clashes, confrontations, based on ethnic and religious grounds."

Azerbaijan's president said this is a very dangerous tendency.

"I think that gathering in Baku, at the UNAOC 7th Global Forum will address these issues and will contribute to the cause of solidarity, peace, mutual understanding and partnership."

"In 2008 we initiated the Baku Process, which already became the broad platform for international dialogue. Azerbaijan is one of the few countries, which is the member of the Islamic Cooperation Organization and the Council of Europe. So at the meeting of the ministers of culture of Council of Europe which took place in Baku, in 2008, we invited the ministers of cultures of the Islamic Cooperation Organization," said the president.

"For the first time, the ministers of cultures from more than 100 countries from these two organizations gathered in Baku," Ilham Aliyev said. "Next year, in 2009, we hosted the ministerial meeting of the ministers of cultures of the Islamic Cooperation Organization in Baku and invited the ministers of culture of Council of Europe."

"So this was named the Baku Process and we are very proud that the name of our ancient city is now also associated with a positive initiative," the president said.

He went on to add that this process is growing, getting more and more supporters.

"It is becoming a global initiative, which contributes to the cause of solidarity, mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue," the president said.

"Azerbaijan's geographic location is known, but at the same time our initiatives are aimed at strengthening the position of our country as a bridge between cultures, between civilizations, as a country which can and should contribute more to the cause of mutual understanding," President Aliyev said.

He reminded that last year Baku was very proud to host the First inaugural European Games in Baku, and next year Baku will host the Fourth Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku.

"So, in one city in two years time, European and Islamic athletes will perform. This is not only sport and achievement of medals. This is friendship, mutual understanding, solidarity, partnership," he said.

"There is nothing to divide between us," he continued. "We are all living on the same planet, all the people want to live in dignity, peace, security, to raise children, to protect their families. All religions advocate for the same values - humanity, mercy, solidarity, peace. Uniting our efforts is what the world needs to do."

The president went on to say that today's gathering, today's forum is a clear indicator that the ideas of multiculturalism are strongly supported by international community.

"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," Ilham Aliyev said.

He went on to add that strengthening the values of multiculturalism will be a very positive trend, and all the responsible politicians should contribute to this positive dynamics.

"As I said, Azerbaijan is a relatively young country as an independent state. This year we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of restoration of our independence. These were the years of transformation of political, economic system, these were the years of creation of the state," the president said.

"I think that we've met all our major targets. Azerbaijan became the respected member of the international community. It is the member of the United Nations, OSCE, Islamic Cooperation Organization, the Council of Europe, Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and many other international bodies," Ilham Aliyev said.

He went on to remind that Azerbaijan has strong international support, which was reflected in 2011, when with the support of 155 countries, Azerbaijan for the first time, was elected as a non-permanent member of the Uinted Nations Security Council.

"That was a big victory for our country, and sign of great respect to Azerbaijan," said the president. "Within the short period of 25 years, we managed to present ourselves as a reliable international partner, as a country with independent foreign policy, country which contributes to regional development, regional security, stability and multiculturalism."

President Aliyev went on to say that the years of independence were the years of transformation of Azerbaijan's political system, creation of democratic institutions.

"We succeeded in that," said the president. "All the freedoms are provided in Azerbaijan, freedom of media, free internet. More than 70 percent of our population are internet users. Freedom of assembly, religious freedom, all freedoms are provided and this is a good foundation for rapid economic development."

He further said that economic reforms implemented in Azerbaijan were implemented in parallel with political reforms.

"Unfortunately, the creation of our state was dominated by military aggression by neighboring Armenia against Azerbaijan. The aggression that ended in occupation of internationally recognized territory of our country. Nagorno Karabakh is a historic, legal part of Azerbaijan. When Azerbaijan became the member of the United Nations, it got adopted with Nagorno Karabakh as an integral part of our country. But as a result of this aggression, Nagorno-Karabakh is totally occupied by Armenia, and not only Karabakh, but also seven other districts of Azerbaijan, beyond the administrative borders of Nagorno Karabakh are under occupation," said the president.

Ilham Aliyev noted that as a result of the occupation, Azerbaijan has more than one million refugees and internally displaced persons.

"So, we were subject of ethnic cleansing by Armenia and almost 20 percent of our territory is under occupation for more than 20 years," the president said.

"Everything on the occupied territories is destroyed. The OSCE sent fact-finding missions twice to observe the situation there, and their reports are terrifying. Everything is destroyed - all our buildings, historic monuments, mosques, graves," said Ilham Aliyev.

"Here in Baku, in the center of the city, you can see how we preserve the religious heritage of Armenian people. The Armenian church was restored, and it is situated where it was built. But all our mosques on the occupied territories lie in ruins," he said.

The president reminded that the international community adopted resolutions and decisions in order to put an end to Armenian occupation.

"The United Nations Security Council, the highest international body, adopted four resolutions, demanding immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian troops from occupied territories," he said. "Unfortunately, Armenia simply ignores these resolutions and doesn't implement them."

"And here we come to a very important mechanism of implementation of decisions and resolutions of international organizations," said President Aliyev. "In some cases, resolutions of the Security Council are implemented within days, if not hours. But in our case, it is more than 20 years, and still no result."

The president said that the OSCE, Islamic Cooperation Organization, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, NAM, all of them adopted similar resolutions demanding the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Azerbaijan's territories.

"Armenia simply ignores them, and there is no international pressure to force the aggressor to comply with international norms," Ilham Aliyev said.

"Our people were subject of genocide. Khodjaly genocide is now recognized by 10 countries. As as result of that genocide, hundreds of Azerbaijanis were killed, civilians. Almost 200 of them were women and children," he said. "This is a crime against humanity, and this once again shows what a danger we are facing."

President Aliyev said the resolution of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan must be based on international law norms, the UN Charter, the UN Security resolutions, Helsinki Final Act.

"Our territories must be liberated, our people must have a chance to go back to their homes," he said.

The president reminded that in the beginning of the 1990s, Azerbaijan faced a major humanitarian catastrophe, because it had 250,000 refugees - Azerbaijanis from Armenia and more than 700,000 internally displaced persons from Nagorno Karabakh and other areas.

"At that time, population of Azerbaijan was less than 8 million, so we had probably one of the highest per capita number of refugees and IDPs," said the president. "And we know how difficult it is to accommodate them, to provide decent conditions for them, especially at that time, when we were completely without any resources. We were, at that time, one of the poorest countries in the world."

"Of course we got some international support, but mainly we coped with this ourselves. Still, despite that, we built 90 settlements and every year were resettle more than 20,000 refugees and IDPs, some of them live in difficult conditions, in dormitories, schools and kindergartens. We are trying our best to improve their living standards, but it takes a lot of time. So we clearly understand the situation the countries now face, with respect to the refugees," Ilham Aliyev said.

He said that the international community should take part in the resolution of these issues.

"The countries which receive most of the refugees now, should be supported not only by words, but by very serious financial contributions," said the president. "As a country that suffered from occupation and continues to suffer from that, we know how difficult it is from all points of view - political, moral, economic and social."

President Aliyev went on to say that despite occupation, Azerbaijan continues to develop.

"We had one of the fastest economic growths of in the world, in a decade from 2004 to 2014. We dramatically reduced the poverty rate, from almost 50 percent to 5 percent. The unemployment is also around 5 percent," he said.

"We invest in education, the level of literacy in Azerbaijan is close to 100 percent. More than 3,000 schools were built and renovated in the recent years. More than 500 hospitals were constructed all around Azerbaijan, and it allowed us to significantly reduce child mortality. Gender equality is fully protected in Azerbaijan. Actually, women have had the right to vote in Azerbaijan for almost 100 years, since the creation of first democratic republic of Azerbaijan in 1918. By the way, that was the first democratic republic in the Muslim world," noted the president.

Ilham Aliyev said Azerbaijan invests in environmental protection, especially on the Absheron peninsula, which had a lot of polluted areas, due to oil exploration and development. He said Azerbaijan had to clean all the areas and create parks and public places there.

"In other words, we are making very important progress with respect to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and we are on the right track."

Further on, the president touched upon the economic crisis, which has touched all oil-producing countries.

"Taking into account the reduction of the oil price, the crisis did not seriously affect our economy. I am sure we will be able to achieve all our major goals in 2016," said the president.

"Azerbaijan is known as a country with rich energy resources, but our main objective is to transform black gold - as we call oil - to human capital. Therefore investment in education, social protection, reforms, bring to the result that our economy is now diversified and dependence on oil and gas is going down," Ilham Aliyev said.

He then spoke about Azerbaijan's energy projects. The president said that Azerbaijan initiated a large-scale energy project - the Southern Gas Corridor project - which is the project of energy cooperation and energy security. He said Azerbaijan is also an active member of the group of countries that promote transportation corridors, taking into geographical location.

The president then said that looking at the number of countries it becomes clear what kind of regional cooperation is taking place. He further said that these energy and transportation corridors are not only for energy and cargoes, but also partnership.

President Aliyev named the members of the Southern Gas Corridor - Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Italy, and also Balkan countries that may join in at a later stage.

"East-West corridor, the Silk Route - the project was initiated by 3 countries, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, and now it expands to Central Asia, China and from Turkey to Europe. And the North-South corridor, where Azerbaijan is also an active participant. It is the countries of northern Europe, Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan and India. This is the project of partnership because all these countries become interrelated. And if you are interrelated, interdependant on each other, then you have more predictability, stability, security and cooperation," he said.

The president said that creation of this format of international cooperation is based on economic interests, energy security, transportation. He added that this cooperation format is based on sharing the same values on how to overcome the difficulties, how to create better conditions for people.

President Ilham Aliyev said that common values of religious tolerance, mutual understanding, multiculturalism should make the lives of the people of the region better.

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