Mehriban Aliyeva: Baku forum to contribute to constructive dialogue, strengthen mutual understanding

Mehriban Aliyeva: Baku forum to contribute to constructive dialogue, strengthen mutual understanding

Baku, Azerbaijan, April 27

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The UNAOC 7th Global Forum continued on April 27 in Baku, and Azerbaijan's first lady, president of Heydar Aliyev Foundation, goodwill ambassador of UNESCO and ISESCO, Mehriban Aliyeva made a speech at the event:

First of all, allow me to greet all participants of the concluding session of the 7th Global Forum of UN Alliance of Civilizations and to wish you all happiness, good health and lots of success. It is a great honor for us to host this very important forum. I am sure that this forum will make a valuable contribution to the development of constructive dialogue and enrichment of cultures and civilizations. At the same time, I hope that the participants of the forum will find an opportunity to do some sightseeing in our city, learn its culture, and feel its aura of hospitality and kindness.

The topic of this session has a great public importance. Today, the world is going through a large-scale social transformation, driven by waves of migration, urbanization, climate change, and ageing of population in some countries and increase of unemployed youth in other countries. In some cases, we observe new opportunities for social integration, in other cases, on the opposite, the isolation of people from society. It is obvious that the social adaptation of people in various countries requires different approaches and solutions.

On this issue, much depends on the mentality of the nation, its work ethic, the availability of the human and much-needed economic resources. Today, I want to share with you the experience of our country and to try to highlight the main priority of both the state policy as well as the activities of the public institutions and NGOs.

Azerbaijan, while being an ancient land, is at the same time one of the youngest members of the United Nations. Having restored the independence, which was lost in the beginning of XX century, Azerbaijan has become a full member of the UN on March 2, 1992.

We have passed 25 year-long path of state building process. Most of what you can see in Azerbaijan today have been achieved during this period. I will not bring up any economic indicators and statistical figures today. We are an open country and our economic and social achievements are well known. Of course, we are very proud of such fast progress. We have managed to achieve significant transformation of the economy and ensure its integration into world economic system. We have built an effective system of governance at all levels of public life. Reforms have been undertaken in the field of science, culture and education. And we have managed to implement all of this relying on rich human potential of our nation.

It is very important to note that this progress has been achieved despite enormous difficulties that our nation has faced during this period of our history. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country had serious political, social and economic crisis. The happiness coming from the restored independence was overshadowed by the sadness coming from the loss of human lives and the occupation of our historic lands. By the time Azerbaijan became member of UN, Armenian-­Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been underway for 5 years already and this has resulted in occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijani lands and the emergence of 1 million of IDPs and refugees.

As a result of Armenian occupation, 900 settlements, 150 000 houses, 693 schools, 975 kindergartens, 695 clinics on Azerbaijani territories have been destroyed. We have also lost more than 40 000 unique historical museum artifacts and materials and 4.6 million books and manuscripts in 927 libraries. One can hardly imagine the level of damage imposed on cultural heritage of Azerbaijan.

Using this opportunity, I want to thank all UN agencies, which were together with us during those horrible days. UN Security Council adopted 4 resolutions, calling for the immediate withdrawal of Armenian military troops from Azerbaijani territories. We are thankful to all international organizations, which helped us during that period.

Government of Azerbaijan faced a very difficult task: within a very short period to accept, settle and feed hundreds of thousands children, women, elderly, who became victims of aggressive policy of our neighbor. A country, which had 7 million people had to solve the problems of 1 million compatriots without much economic assistance and resources. To appreciate this challenge, one can look at the current situation with migrants around the world and compare the numbers.

In difficult times of 1993 when the aggression was underway and 7 adjacent regions to Nagorno-Karabakh were also occupied, the foundation of modern statehood and its basic principle of social protection of every citizen was laid down. We have managed to maintain the most important asset that is the human capital of the nation. Even in refugee camps, public schools, including music schools continued to operate. All humanitarian state bodies functioned without interruption. Children attended schools, teachers were teaching, doctors were treating patients. These daily routine works have instilled a sense of hope for tomorrow. This was one of the most reliable and effective methods of social adaptation of people, who have lost everything.

In subsequent years, government has done and continues to do everything possible for normalization of these people's lives. We have managed to eliminate all tent camps and build modern housing settlements for refugees and IDPs. These people are provided with jobs and social welfare benefits. Young generation received access to modern education. Speaking in medical terms, all of these efforts to help people were only palliative treatment. The person who finds himself or herself in a refugee status loses its personal identity. One can create for them ideal conditions for living, but nothing can replace their longing for native land and house. Elderly dream of finding last rest place in their native land, youth wants to return to their ancestor's lands.

I believe that every one of us can understand these human sufferings and agree that for the lasting solution of this problem it is important to have the liberation of the occupied territories and return of people to their homes. No matter what kind of social adaptation we speak about, we must clearly understand that Karabakh, Syrian, and Iraqi, and Afghani refugees and IDPs carry in themselves not only physical losses and difficulties.

Recovering from psychological traumas and hurt souls requires much more time and effort. We must unite our efforts so that the existing conflicts could finally reach their resolutions, so that no new epicenters of conflicts appear in the world, so that the number of refugees and IDPs does not increase.

The least everyone can try to show sympathy to the pain, tragedy and loss of another person. Compassion should become a real instrument for the resolution of human sufferings.

Dear guests, I would like to talk about projects of Heydar Aliyev Foundation, implemented in public-private partnership. They cover wide range of issues. As an example, in 2005 we have started the renovation and construction of public schools and have completed 412 of them. This initiative was later supported by government of Azerbaijan and we have created a good model of cooperation between government, NGOs and businesses. Today the outcome of this cooperation is the renovation of 3000 schools out of 5000 existing ones.

I also want to highlight the projects, directed towards the social integration of children, who have lost their parents and who are brought up in orphanages, as well as of people with disabilities. The Heydar Aliyev Foundation has managed to instill in people's mind the idea of equality of all citizens, tolerance towards children who have lost their parents.

Within the framework of the program, development of children's houses and orphanages the foundation has renovated and equipped 34 children's institutions. We arrange the participation of these kids in international competitions; we send them for vacations to resorts abroad. Foundation also provides an opportunity for children from other countries with similar conditions to visit Azerbaijan and get to know our country. Moreover, construction of buildings for orphans who have reached adulthood has also played an important role in social integration of youth into society.

Interaction of people with disabilities with healthy persons is an important element of social integration. At the moment, we have almost 570 000 people with disabilities in Azerbaijan, including 67 000 kids. As our experience shows, this category of people often having trouble to participate in the life of the society.

A major role in the social integration of kids with disabilities is played by inclusive education. Inclusion of kids with disabilities into the process of education alongside with the healthy kids ensures that they are accepted by the society. Despite the fact that Azerbaijan has joined the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008, first steps on inclusive education were made even before that, in 2004. Today, 366 kids with disabilities are involved in inclusive education.

Within the project Ensuring access for blind persons to Information Technologies, we created a modern ICT center in republican orphanage school for blind kids in Baku. The Foundation has also built several regional information centers for people with disabilities, as well as rehabilitation center for kids with special needs, including Down syndrome patients.

Relying on our own experience, we have also implemented a similar project in Bosnia and Herzegovina's capital Sarajevo, where the Foundation has reconstructed the center for blind youth and kids. In September of the last year, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation has built a new dormitory in Hungary for the Roman-Catholic center for kids with weak eyesight, named after Laslo Batyani.

Within the frames of the project "Azerbaijan - the address of tolerance", the Foundation contributes to the renovation of catholic, orthodox churches and synagogues. As a part of that project, we have supported constriction of the educational center for Jewish kids living in Baku. We also restored Rome catacombs of Saint Marchelino and Saint Pietro in Rome. For the first time in the history of Vatican, an organization from a Muslim country has helped to restore these saint monuments of Christianity.

The Foundation has also implemented a number of other projects in France. We have provided financial support for the restoration of several ancient place of worship in various regions of France, including Strasburg Cathedral. Azerbaijan also became one of the sponsors in the creation of the Department of Islamic Art in Louvre.

Dear friends, Azerbaijan is a multi-national, multi-religious country in which representatives of all religions and ethnic groups are citizens of the country with equal rights. Religious and ethnic tolerance, which is now accepted in the progressive world as an important pillar of democracy, has become a norm in Azerbaijani society. It is with sense of pride that I want to note that historically we have never had cases of discrimination or animosity on the national or religious basis.

Though the majority of our people are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and other religions are also represented. There are 649 religious communities in Azerbaijan, including 24 non-Muslim. For example, we have a settlement of Krasnaya Sloboda in Guba district, which is the only place in the world where Mountainous Jews live together.

High level of social tolerance towards all segments of population is an indicator of a developed society. I think that one of our most important achievements is the existence of that level of social tolerance in Azerbaijani society today.

It is for sure that our country continues to face many unresolved issues, challenges and problems. The process of transformation and modernization in many sectors continues. However, looking back to our successes and achievements, we see our future with optimism, because we believe in our country's most valuable asset - its human potential.

I want to conclude my speech with a quote from famous Albert Einstein: The life of the individual has meaning only insofar as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful. Life is sacred, that is to say, it is the supreme value, to which all other values are subordinate.

Once again, I wish you all good health, happiness and peace.

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