On 8 September 2015, a conference on the topic of "Religious tolerance: the culture of coexistence in Azerbaijan" took place within the framework of a project entitled "Azerbaijan in the heart of Paris", with the organizational support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.
Azerbaijan’s First Lady, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, head of the working group for Azerbaijan-France Interparliamentary Relations Mehriban Aliyeva addressed the conference.
- Dear Participants of the Conference.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
I welcome everyone of you to the conference “Religious tolerance: the culture of coexistence in Azerbaijan”. I would like to thank mayor of the 1st Arrondissement of Paris Mister Jean Francois Legaret and all employees of the town hall that have supported us in preparing the conference.
For centuries, Azerbaijan has been situated at the crossroads of civilizations, cultures, and religions. Our country has been a natural bridge between Asia and Europe. Of course, this geographical location has played its significant role in formation of cultural diversity dominating in our country. Representatives of various religions, cultures, nations and ethnic groups have centuries-long lived in this ancient land in a peaceful environment, like in a single family.
We have preserved the traditions of tolerance formed in our society for millennia after we regained our independence, and are trying to strengthen them further.
Azerbaijan is one of the rare countries that are members of the Islamic Cooperation Organization and the European Council at a time. Islam is our holy religion, and we have been approaching our religion, our traditions and roots with great respect. We take pride in our culture, religion and history. One of the oldest mosques of the world, constructed in 743, is located in Azerbaijani town of Shamakhy. One of the oldest churches of the world, a Caucasian Albanian church is located near Sheki city of Azerbaijan, which has a centuries-long history. Orthodox and catholic churches, synagogues, a temple of fire worshipers – all these are building blocks of the Azerbaijani cultural heritage. We have been approaching our traditions, our roots and our history with great respect. At the same time, we are open to the world and ready to build cooperation with all countries.
Today, as with other freedoms, religious freedoms too are secured in full in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is a multinational and multiconfessional country. Representatives of all nations, religions and ethnic groups in our country have equal rights. Of course, this has been provided by the country’s Constitution, but the reality is such.
The tolerance inherent in the people of Azerbaijan, the environment formed for centuries have become the lifestyle for us. There has never been any conflict or misunderstanding on religious or national grounds, and is not. Regardless of the public and political structure, people in Azerbaijan have lived, in all periods, in the environment of mutual respect and understanding.
The well-thought state policy, the tolerance formed in the society, the traditions of tolerance and, of course, the rapid economic development seen in our country recent years have been the main factors preventing the tendencies of radicalism and religious extremism spread throughout the world. Today, representatives of all religions, nations and ethnic groups have been making their contribution to the development of our country. Azerbaijan’s population is formed from 94 percent Muslims, 4 percent Christians, Jews and representatives of other nations. There are 597 religious communities in our republic, 21 out of them being non-Muslim communities. For example, the only settlement in the whole world where mountain Jews are living compactly is Gyrmyzy Gasaba (Red Settlement) in Guba town of Azerbaijan.
The state-religion relations in Azerbaijan have their special place. Preserving the traditions of tolerance has been one of the priority issues in the state policy. In our country, the state has taken on the responsibility of repairing and construction of mosques, Catholic and Orthodox churches, and synagogues, and there is no discrimination in this sphere. I am sure every human being’s respect for another one stems from his religion, and every society’s might lies in its religious and national diversity.
It is by no coincidence that recent years, a number of international events devoted to such topics as multiculturalism and dialogue of civilizations and cultures have been held in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
I think there is a great need for such meetings, open discussions and exchange of opinions in the world in order for positive trends to strengthen. Unfortunately, in a number of cases we see the opposite of this. Wars, conflicts and bloody clashes occur in the Middle East, Europe and other places. In some cases, religious hatred is created artificially. We are witnessing violence on ethnic and religious grounds in different places of the world. We all very well remember the tragic event that occurred early this year in Paris. Of course, we all are concerned of these trends and processes going on around the world. But being concerned only is not enough. In my opinion, politicians, public persons, international organizations and, especially, the mass media should act more responsibly in such matters.
By decisively saying no to extremism and terrorism, we have to pay much attention to extensive propagation of the values such as tolerance and peacefulness. There is no alternative to multiculturalism. Different thoughts, sometimes pessimistic ideas have been lately said in this connection. But what is its alternative? Such dangerous factors as discrimination, xenophobia, islamophobia and anti-Semitism have led to tragedies of civilizations and peoples in the history of mankind.
As a country with deep roots of multiculturalism, Azerbaijan is ready to play its important part on the global arena for the propagation of these values. Our country has been making its contribution also to preservation of different religious, cultural and historical monuments. In 2012, the Islamic Culture section was opened in the Louvre Museum – the biggest museum in the world – in Paris. Azerbaijan has made its contribution to the opening of this section. This is, in fact, the contribution we have made to the Islamic culture.
Holy catacombs in Rome are being restored with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. This is for the first time in Vatican’s history that an organization operating in a Muslim country provides support for the restoration of holy Christian monuments in Rome. The “Khabad-Or-Avner” Education Centre has been constructed in capital Baku with the support of the Foundation. The Foundation has also been contributing to the restoration of Catholic and Orthodox churches, and synagogues.
I would, with pleasure, mention that the Heydar Aliyev Foundation has implemented a number of projects in France. In 2005, the Foundation provided financial support to the restoration of the Strasbourg Cathedral Church. The Foundation has been participating in restoration of old churches in different regions of France. The Foundation has provided its support to the restoration of about 20 Catholic churches in Lower Normandy region. All these serve to the propagation and promotion of peace, tolerance and humanistic values, and strengthening of relations between peoples and religions.
Unfortunately, our country and people have faced ethnic cleansing and genocide in the modern history. Azerbaijan was subjected to aggression by neighbouring Armenia; 20 percent of our lands are under occupation, one million of our fellow citizens have become refugees and IDPs. 613 civilians – women, elderly and children - have been savagely killed in a matter of one night in Khojaly town. 876 historical, cultural and religious monuments had existed on the occupied lands of Azerbaijan, and almost all of them have been raised to the ground.
Regardless of all of these, we have been trying to get the conflict solved in a peaceful way. We want cooperation in the region to improve, relations between nations become better, and dialogue between religions extend. Azerbaijan is ready to make its contribution to preservation of these universal values, along with other countries, in future too.
Dear friends, I’m hopeful our today’s meeting will run fruitfully and all discussions would give their contribution to the strengthening of the friendly relations between our countries, peoples, and religions.