Details added, first version posted at 10:34
Baku, Azerbaijan, May 5
The 4th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue has kicked off in Baku.
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev welcomed the quests, voicing his gratitude to all participants for joining the forum. President Aliyev reminded that the initiative to organize the forum was proposed six years ago, and the forum was held in Baku for the first time then.
"Since that time, the forum has transformed into a global international event, addressing one of the most important issues on the global agenda - intercultural dialogue," said the President.
He went on to add that the importance of every international event and every forum is judged not only by the topics of discussions, but also by the list of participants.
"We are very happy that more than 800 guests representing more than 120 countries are participating today at the forum," said the President. "This, first of all demonstrates the importance of the forum, and the importance of the discussions that we will have today and tomorrow," he said.
"We are proud that the number of partners of the forum, organizations, which are organizers of the forum, is also growing," President Aliyev said, adding that the government of Azerbaijan is organizing this forum in partnership with UNESCO, United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, ISESCO, the Council of Europe, and the World Tourism Organization.
"I am sure that the discussions and exchange of views during the forum will contribute to promotion of intercultural dialogue," the President continued.
"Azerbaijan, for centuries was a place where civilizations and cultures met. Our geography, our history and development in Azerbaijan demonstrate that intercultural dialogue is one of the most important issues," said President Aliyev, adding that without it, the world would be a much more dangerous place.
"Our history, our traditions, our geography actually dictated that Azerbaijan could be and should be an area where civilizations meet," the president said. "And for centuries, people inhabited in Azerbaijan, are living in a diverse environment. Multiculturalism, ethnic and religious diversity is our history and today's reality. And we're proud of that. Today Azerbaijan is a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional country, and representatives of all the ethnic groups and religions live in peace and harmony," President Aliyev said.
He went on to add that the country's historical monuments also clearly demonstrate 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 further said 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.
"In Baku, the Fire Temple which belongs to religion of Zoroastrianism, also demonstrates our cultural and religious diversity. Today, mosques, churches, synagogues which exist in Azerbaijan are protected by our state and many of them were built with the state financing. It demonstrates our history and also our policy," said the president.
President Aliyev went on to add that multiculturalism is a state policy in Azerbaijan, and at the same time, a lifestyle in the country.
"Though the word multiculturalism is relatively new, and sometimes very difficult to pronounce, the ideas of multiculturalism have always existed in our country. Regardless of the time of history, regardless of the political system in Azerbaijan, our people have always been active defenders and promoters of multiculturalism inside Azerbaijan and beyond our borders," he said.
President Aliyev noted that in 2011 the decision to organize a forum that would address intercultural dialogue, was motivated by Azerbaijan's history, realities and also by wish to create a broad format to address these issues.
"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," said the president.
President Aliyev went on to say that Azerbaijan's policy of multiculturalism is fully supported by the country's people.
He went on to say that 2016 was announced the year of multiculturalism in the country, and 2017 has been announced the year of Islamic Solidarity.
"The combination of these two events is important element of Azerbaijan's day to day life," the president said. "First of all it demonstrates the status of our society, our state policy and also leads to more understanding in the region."
Further on, the president said that Azerbaijan held several important international events, addressing particularly this issue.
"Five times already Azerbaijan has organized the International Humanitarian Forum. Several years ago we organized the World Religious Leaders summit. Last year, the seventh Global Forum of Alliance of Civilizations was very successfully held in Baku, and of course, for the fourth time we've gathered to address the issues of intercultural dialogue, said the President.
"All this helps us to find ways how to reduce tensions, how to reduce risks, how to create better understanding between peoples and religions," said the president.
"I think that history of Azerbaijan and its today's development are good examples that it is possible to achieve success," he said.
The president went on to say that there are different views on multiculturalism.
"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," President Aliyev said.
He further said that alternatives to multiculturalism are xenophobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism, racism, discrimination.
"Multiculturalism is not only a trend, it is the only way to show how to make the world safer, and I think that your presence at this forum and the topics of discussions clearly demonstrate our common will and our policy, our approach to promote these values," he said.
President Aliyev informed the quests that in 2008 the country initiated a very important process that was later labeled the "Baku Process", which is now highly appreciated by the international community.
According to the president, this initiative was backed up by the fact that Azerbaijan is one of the very few countries that are members of both the Islamic Cooperation Organization and the Council of Europe.
President Aliyev went on to say that Azerbaijan invited the ministers of cultures of the Islamic Cooperation Organization to a meeting of the ministers of culture of Council of Europe which took place in Baku.
"This was the first time when such a big gathering of representatives of more than 100 countries came together to address important issues of intercultural relations," said the president.
President Aliyev further noted that Azerbaijan hosted the ministerial meeting of the ministers of cultures of the Islamic Cooperation Organization in Baku in 2009, and invited the ministers of culture of the Council of Europe.
"This initiative and this format was later called the Baku Process. We're proud of that, first of all, because it was our initiative, second, because Baku deserves to be the center of intercultural dialogue," said the president.
"Next year we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Baku Process. The government of Azerbaijan and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations launched an initiative to create a "Baku Process Award" for leadership in cultural dialogue, which will be presented to those, who play a very active role in promotion of the dialogue of cultures and culture of civilizations," said the president.
The president went on to say that another important initiative launched by Azerbaijan was the organization of the European Games in Baku.
"Unlike other continental games, the European Games were never held before, and when the European Olympic Committee decided to organize these games, there weren't many bidders. And frankly speaking, Azerbaijan was the only country which made the proposal to organize these games in Baku," the president said.
The president went on to say that 2015 was the year of the First Inaugural European Games held in Baku, with participation of more than 5,000 European athletes.
"These games were of course a sports event, and at the same time, I think, it was symbolic that the First European Games were organized in a Muslim country," he said.
"It was a demonstration of multiculturalism, religious tolerance, and the games were organized on a high level," said the president. "The athletes, guests were satisfied and happy with the organization and also with the reception of people of Azerbaijan, who showed their traditional hospitality."
President Aliyev reminded that this year, just in one week, Azerbaijan will hold the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games with participation of all the Muslim countries and more than 3,000 athletes.
"So in two years, in one city, both the European Games and the Islamic Games - this is the demonstration of our policy and our intentions," said the president. "And again, this is not just a sports event. Of course, I am sure there will be very strong competition, but this is also an event that unites people."
"We need unity, first of all in the Muslim world. Unfortunately, it is the Muslim countries that suffer the most from terrorism," he said. "Azerbaijan plays a very important role in promotion of Islamic values," said the president. "We organized different international events in European capitals, presentations, exhibitions to demonstrate the ancient Islamic culture, and we are one of the most active countries to fight against Islamophobia and attempts to connect Islam with terror."
"So we need unity in the Muslim world in order to make our region safer, and at the same time we need active communication between the Islamic Cooperation Organization, Council of Europe, other international organizations, to reduce tensions," he said.
"Therefore, when we are talking about intercultural dialogue, we clearly understand that the impact of success of this dialogue can be seen in every area - political life, areas related to security, economic cooperation," the president said.
He went on to add that without predictable partnership and relations based on mutual respect, today it will be very difficult to achieve goals every country puts in front of itself.
"Therefore, these initiatives and I think, the success story of Azerbaijan as one of the international centers of multiculturalism, demonstrate that we are not only on the right track, but we're moving successfully," said Ilham Aliyev. "By the way, Azerbaijan has created the International Center of Multiculturalism."
"Today's forum, which embraces the whole world, is a clear demonstration of our intentions," he said.