The ultimate goal for each nation-state is to build a safer and more secure and prosperous environment and world for its people where they will live in peace and harmony with each other and with other nation-states. And this has not always been a happy story; throughout history, the road leading to this goal has been challenged by clashes, conflicts and sometimes wars, ignited by negative ideologies, intolerance and even hatred.
Often this is made the more difficult because of a lack of mutual understanding of each other’s culture, histories and traditions a lack of understanding that weakens all attempts to accommodate ideological differences and avertthe animosity and intolerance. Despite the unprecedented progress reached in the most recent history of the humankind, the same threats are still placing obstacles to the peaceful co-existence of nations and between people of different culture, religion or ethnicity.
It is for this reality that we need to know more about what builds better understanding in the world and the role of intercultural dialogue. In this context Azerbaijan is an example of a country very much committed to the promotion of intercultural dialogue both at home and all around the world and has already proved by concrete acts its intention to play an active role in building bridges and trust among civilizations and cultures using its multicultural experience and historical heritage.
Azerbaijan is a special and unique place where different cultures and civilizations meet at a crossroad between the East and West, North and South. With a foot in both Asia and Europe, and concurrent membership of both Islamic and European international organizations, Azerbaijan absorbs the values of the different civilizations, thus enabling it to assume a role as a genuine bridge. Azerbaijan- a miraculous country of centuries-old culture, history and ancient communities, whose lifestyle presents a distinctive and harmonious combination of the traditions and ceremonies of different cultures and civilizations. The peculiarities of the historical development of Azerbaijan, its geographical position and the national composition of the population created favourable conditions for the spread of different religions and cultures in the country. Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and other religious and beliefs managed to spread over the country in different periods of time, interacted with one another and established the specific religious and cultural life in the country. Through this experience, Azerbaijan has built a culture of acceptance, tolerance, trust and confidence where people of difference of faith, be they Muslims, Jews and Christians enjoy peaceful coexistence and live with mutual respect for each other; and they have done so for centuries.
Azerbaijan was home to one of the earliest Christian communities in the world, a Christian community that helped to shape Azerbaijan’s history through the ages. Today, this community remains an important and vibrant part of Azerbaijani culture and society.
Living along side the Christian and Muslim communities is a thriving Jewish community of about 30,000 which too has a long heritage in Azerbaijan dating back over two thousand years. When, over the centuries, Jews in the surrounding regions found themselves persecuted, they found Azerbaijan to be a haven. The Jewish community, though small, has been an integral part of Azerbaijan’s economic, cultural and political life, and today synagogues and Jewish schools flourish in the country. The three major religions have prospered because of the age-old respect and tolerance of the Azerbaijani people, who pride themselves on peaceful coexistence. But as the experience in different parts of the world shows, social tolerance is a necessary but not sufficient condition; communities can achieve even more with the active support of state actors; government that promotes tolerance and resists sectarianism. In this way we can begin to see a vision of shared security in which all sections of society, both state and non-state actors commit themselves to create positive relations within and between communities. Traditionally the notion of security has been dominated by the discourse of peace and war –where the military overshadows personal security. Here one nation’ s security is often at the expense of another. But we are interested in more than that –and our work has been focused on promoting dialogue, and as a result a stronger understanding of our common insecurities, our common vulnerabilities.
The Government of Azerbaijan has promoted this approach to shared security by creating an environment that nurtures and promotes the ancient traditions of tolerance, and rejects radicalism, extremism and hatred. Azerbaijan sees diversity as one of the country’s great strengths and virtues, and has worked to ensure that this diversity continues to blossom. The Government has built and rebuilt synagogues, mosques, and churches; created new cultural centres for different faiths; and financially supported all three religions without discrimination.
The government has repeatedly and proactively, over the course of the last decade, brought together political, cultural, religious leaders from the region and around the world to promote intercultural and interfaith dialogue — an example which is sorely needed in today’s world.
Azerbaijan’s historical, cultural and economic distinctiveness has developed the mentality of Azerbaijan people and the entirely population of the country has been forming during the centuries in the spirit of tolerance and respect to different cultures and nationalities. Azerbaijan mentality embodies Eurasian idea of intercultural and interreligious dialogue with eastern ideas of harmony and identity with and through diversity.
With this commitment and with Azerbaijan at the crossroads of different cultures and civilizations, Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan initiated the “Baku Process” for the promotion of intercultural dialogue in 2008. The Baku Process comprises an open and respectful exchange of views between individuals and groups with different ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds and heritage living on different continents, on the basis of mutual understanding and respect.
“Baku Process” was launched at the Conference of Ministers responsible for Culture which was held in Baku on December 2-3, 2008 on the theme of “Intercultural dialogue as a basis for peace and sustainable development in Europe and its neighbouring regions”. The Conference was organized in partnership with the Council of Europe and was was a very substantive initiative which placed emphasis on the importance of dialogue among cultures and civilizations as a reality of today’s world and one of its important aspects. This event was the first of its kind, brought together the ministers of culture of the Council of Europe and the ministers of culture of number of Muslim countries which makes this Conference another major step in the development of dialogue and mutual understanding in the globalized world.
The conference highlighted the vital role of cultural policy and action in promoting understanding among different regions and cultures and provided a great opportunity to launch a Baku process as a sustainable process that will sponsor future high-level and practice-oriented meetings between key policy makers and practictioners in Europe and its neighbouring regions on initiatives related with intercultural dialogue.
Representatives of the 49 member states of the European Cultural Convention and of the Council of Europe bodies, representatives from selected mainly Mediterranean ALECSO/ ISESCO member states, senior officials from the Council of Europe, the European Commission, UNESCO, GUAM, TURKSOY, IRSICA, ICOMOS, ICCROM and other international organisations and foundations, European NGOs took part in the events in Baku. They were joined by leading international experts in the area of cultural policy, intercultural dialogue, heritage, and prominent figures from the arts/ cultural community. As the result of the conference Baku Declaration for the Promotion of Intercultural Dialogue has been adopted and “Artists for dialogue” project was launched.
As a continuation of the “Baku Process”, Government of Azerbaijan invited more than 10 states from Europe to participate at the Sixth Conference of Ministers of Culture of Islamic countries held in Baku on 13-15 October, 2009. According to the initiative of the Government of Azerbaijan, a Ministerial Roundtable on “Fostering Dialogue and Cultural Diversity – Baku Process: New Challenge for Dialogue between Civilizations” was organized among the member states of ISESCO and invited states from Europe in the first day of this conference, 13 October, 2009. On the same occasion, the rest of speakers in this roundtable stressed the vital need to continue holding such meetings between the Islamic community and the European Community, to involve governments, peoples, states and cultures in this dialogue, to make the youth as the main target group of cooperation projects of the two blocs, and to focus the international efforts in this regard. At the end of this ministerial roundtable, a Communiqué was adopted in which the participants reiterated their support for the joint efforts aimed at spreading the culture of cooperation, fair dialogue and mutual respect.
After the Islamic and European conferences Government of Azerbaijan decided to organize World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue on 7-9 April, 2011 in Baku under patronage of H.E. Mr.Ilham Aliyev, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. This initiative was declared by the President Mr. Ilham Aliyev at the 65th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (23 September 2010, New-York).
The Forum supported by prestigious international organizations as UNESCO, UN Alliance of Civilizations, World Tourism Organization, Council of Europe, North-South Center of the Council of Europe, ISESCO was held in this format for the first time ever, was to advance the initiatives, realized by Azerbaijan in the sphere of intercultural dialogue, from regional context into the global level, and to establish a fully-functioning International Forum in the country. For the media, Euronews was an official media partner of the Forum.
Building on previous events held in the Azerbaijani capital on this theme and on the work developed by the stakeholder organisations in recent years, the Forum marked a strong recognition that intercultural dialogue is one of the most pressing challenges of our world and, indeed, one that increasingly manifests itself on a global scale. Baku, as a crossroads of religions, histories and civilizations and traditions where intercultural dialogue is a de facto aspect of everyday life, and where a relationship between Islam and modernity is in evidence, seemed a particularly appropriate place to ask difficult questions and look for promising answers. 500 representatives from 102 countries from all continents of the World – global public figures, heads of international organisations, heads of state or governments, ministers of culture and cultural ambassadors, parliamentarians and diplomats, mayors and other local-authority figures, representatives of non-governmental organisations and enterprises, media representatives and journalists, cultural experts and practitioners, prominent intellectuals and activists participated at the forum. This synergy between political leaders and officials, experts and practitioners was encouraged by informal networking around the event. Euronews as a media partner promoted the forum through its broadcasting networks.
The Forum examined the barriers to dialogue and tackled, as concretely as possible, the issue of how dialogue can best be pursued in diverse contexts under the motto – “United Through Common Values, Enriched by Cultural Diversity”. Plenary sessions and workshops on the topics of the role of culture and cultural diversity, education, faith and religious, journalism and social media, science, women, youth, heritage and cities were held in the framework of the Forum.
The now-named 5 A – Intercultural Cooperation Platform was established at the Forum. which attracted wide attention for its scope of discussion items. Bearing in mind the Azerbaijani language acronym of the first letters of the five continents, represented with large delegations at the event – “Avropa, Asiya, Amerika, Afrika, Avstraliya”, the new platform was symbolically named the “5 A’s”. After this successful first Forum , the Government of Azerbaijan decided to organize World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue once every two years according to the decree signed by Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan in May, 2011.
From May 29 to June 01, in 2013 Government of Azerbaijan in cooperation with UNESCO, UN Alliance of Civilizations, UN World Tourism Organization, Council of Europe, ISESCO, North-South Center of the Council of Europe organized 2nd World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue in Baku. 600 representatives from 115 countries from all continents, head of governments, former presidents, ministers, mayors, representative of many international organization, NGOs, media representatives, scholars, experts and etc. participated in the Forum
The 2nd World Forum has used its convening power to create space for effective and meaningful dialogue on cultural diversity and intercultural cooperation. By working within the existing global context, the Forum has positioned itself alongside its partners, each of whom is responding to the challenges and opportunities that cultural diversity brings to communities and for social cohesion.
The Forum brought together significant local/national and global stakeholders. It combined plenary discussions on the overarching theme of the Forum – Living together peacefully in a diverse world – with sector-specific workshops promoting agendas of the partner organisations. – “How to build the world future together?”, “How to build the popular support for cultural diversity?”, “The New Era of Globalization: Hybridity of cultures in changing world”, “Supporting Intercultural Actions” and side events prepared and led by partner organizations, including Intercultural Innovation Award ceremony for Central Asia, Black Sea and Mediterranean regions, conference of “Global intercultural cities learning community”, the workshop “Intercultural Dialogue through History Teaching: Best Practices and Challenges”, the sessions of “Tourism as a key driver of mutual understanding and tolerance among cultures”, intercultural dialogue through faith and science” etc.
Side events at the Forum included the first summit of the Alumni Network of the UNAOC Fellowship; the UNAOC “Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion” campaign; UNESCO “Writing Peace” exhibition and etc.
The “Living Together Peacefully in a Diverse World” competition prizes as a joint project of Azerbaijan and UN Alliance of Civilizations were also awarded during the Forum, to outstanding projects run by not-for-profit organisations in Arab and Central Asian countries that have proven positive results and are protecting and enhancing cultural diversity.
For the first time the Conference of Ministers responsible for both fields – culture and tourism was held in the framework of the 2nd World Forum.
International cultural events namely, “Presentation of films about world nations ethnic and traditional music” in the National Seaside Park (Baku Boulevard), “Multicultural music exchange” composition, “Colors of life” – exhibition by an outstanding German artist Inga Smith, “Dance in Yanardagh” – performance by best known Japan Butoh artists Ko Murobushi were held.
Ballet of “Gobustan shadows” has been developed on the occasion of the 2nd World Forum as a special open- air show on the backdrop of the Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape where was inscribed in the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage in 2007. This piece of art reflects the building-up of a human collective able not only to learn about nature and make better living conditions, but also to transcend the utilitarian needs for warmth and food through creativity and memory.
Under patronage of H.E. Mr.Ilham Aliyev, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan in cooperation with UN Alliance of Civilizations, UNESCO, UN World Tourism Organization, Council of Europe (including the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe) and ISESCO, the 3rd World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue was held on May 18-19, 2015 in Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan.
The 3rd World Forum under the motto of “Sharing Culture for Shared Security” focused on the theme: “Culture and sustainable development in the post-2015 development agenda”, with a view to mark the celebration of the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development (21st May). The role of culture, heritage, religions, faiths or beliefs, migration, sport, education, art, business, among others, will be addressed in this regard to address new trends and challenges for intercultural dialogue, using the timely framework offered by the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022), proclaimed by the United Nations.
In support of these celebrations, the three plenary sessions sponsored discussion on: “Sharing Culture for Shared Security: Cultural rights in the modern age”, “Countering Violent Extremism: the Role of Religious Leaders in Promoting Religious Pluralism and Advancing Shared Well-being” and “Shaping common global agenda: Role of International organizations in building trust and understanding between cultures”.
The theme of the 3rd World Forum reflects the significance of global security in 2015 and the global attention placed on the security of vulnerable people at a time of significant human insecurity.
The Forum also hosted the second Ministerial Conference on “Culture and sustainable development in the post-2015 development agenda”, the first meeting of the new Academic Forum of UNESCO Chairs on intercultural and interreligious dialogue and a book launch of the UNESCO-Tudor Rose publication entitled “Agree to Differ” were among the important side events.
The outcomes of the Baku Forum will feed back into UNESCO’s work on intercultural dialogue and support the development of future strategic and programmatic action lines, including in the context of the UN Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022)
The World Forums organized so far have created new opportunities for stakeholders to meet, exchange and share experience and to reinforce the ‘strong will’ called for in President of the Republic of Azerbaijan H.E. Ilham Aliyev’s opening remarks at the 2015 Forum.
“Today, representatives of all the religions, ethnic groups live in Azerbaijan and contribute to the successful development of our country. I think this is one of our biggest assets. And we are proud of that. Therefore we organize numerous international events to promote the values of multiculturalism, values of peaceful cooperation, mutual understanding. I think the world needs this kind of events, needs open discussions, exchange of views in order to strengthen the positive tendencies.”
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, the World Forums have 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.
Therefore the Baku Process has made a noteworthy contribution to contemporary challenges of living together peacefully by stressing the importance of intercultural dialogue. The Baku Process creates opportunity for global conversations between state and non-state actors and stresses the importance, above all, of practical actions and collaborations.
7th Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) hosted by the Republic of Azerbaijan was held under the theme “Living Together in Inclusive Societies, A Challenge and A Goal” in Baku on April 25-27, 2016.
In line with the objectives of the UN Alliance of Civilizations and the noble goals to promote cultural and interreligious dialogue, respect and mutual understanding among civilizations, the aim of the 7th Global Forum was to discuss and find solutions for the models on living together in inclusive societies based on the UN’s fundamental principles of peace and security, human rights and development.
More than 4,000 delegates from 147 countries took part in the 7th Baku Global Forum. Heads of States and Governments, Foreign Ministers and other senior government officials from the Group of Friends of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, delegations of international organizations, religious leaders and experts in various fields, non-governmental and civil society, as well as business circles and mass media were represented in the Forum. The event was widely covered by 117 foreign and local media representatives.
Taking into account the special role of youth in the establishment and development of inclusive societies, UN Alliance of Civilizations Youth Event was held on April 25 on the sidelines with the participation of more than 150 youngsters, who were chosen amongst 6000 youth from various countries around the world by competition held by UN Alliance of Civilizations.
The President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, the UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo delivered an opening speech. On his video address the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon wished success to the Forum and expressed his gratitude to Azerbaijan, as the host country.
Speaking at the official opening ceremony, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said: “It is not accidental that Baku hosts the 7th Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Because as the land of tolerance and commitment to multicultural values, independent Azerbaijan has extensive experience for development of the dialogue of cultures, realization of important projects aimed at preservation of cultural diversity and to regulate the mutual relations between civilizations and in hosting prestigious forums”.
Actual problems and issues that prevent co-existence and undermine the foundations of inclusive communities and societies were part of the agenda of the Forum. The Forum continued its work with Plenaries on Platforms and Partnerships for the Prevention of Violent Extremism, Good Practices in Social Inclusion and breakout sessions on peace and terrorism, migration, participation of youth in inclusive societies, global intercultural dialogue and Baku process, educating media for prevention of violent extremism, women and peace-building in conflict zones, religious leaders and violent extremism, civil society and business, cyber extremism and others.
Speaking at the Plenary Session on Good Practices in Social Inclusion the First Lady of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mrs.Mehriban Aliyeva stressed that tolerance and multiculturalism is a lifestyle in Azerbaijan. She also informed the participants about the severe humanitarian consequences of Armenia’s aggression against Azerbaijan and gave detailed information about the projects implemented by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in the country and abroad on the basis of public-private and civil society partnership.
Baku Declaration was adopted at the high-level ministerial meeting of the 7th Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. In the Declaration Azerbaijan’s role as the host country of the 7th Global Forum of the Alliance under the name “Living Together in Inclusive Societies: A Challenge and A Goal”, as a way to harness the multiple perspectives of various sectors to meet the challenge of, and progress towards, inclusive living in today’s increasingly diverse societies, and taking note of national initiatives in this regards, including the declaration of 2016 as the Year of Multiculturalism in Azerbaijan was praised. The Declaration also highlighted the tangible contribution of the Forum’s theme to all Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, including to the four pillars of the activity of UN Alliance of Civilizations, mainly, youth, education, media and migration and extended gratitude to the Government and people of Azerbaijan, in particular to the city of Baku, for hosting the Seventh Global Forum, 25-27 April 2016.
As it was also stressed in the Declaration the 7th Baku Global Forum has achieved its main objective of highlighting UNAOC’s role as a global platform for sharing best practices for living together in inclusive societies, as well as solutions, in this context, to challenges, such as the spread of violent extremism which could be conducive to terrorism, in order to promote peace, universal human rights and sustainable development.
By hosting the 7th Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations the Republic of Azerbaijan once again reaffirmed that one of the main directions of its foreign policy is to promote intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, mutual understanding and respect between cultures and civilizations on international level, to share its centuries-old experience in this field as well as to support the efforts of the international community on this account.
In accordance with the Decree of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan dated 11 January 2016, declaring the year 2016 as “the Year of Multiculturalism” in Azerbaijan with the aim of further developing and promoting multiculturalism, successful holding the Baku 7th Global Forum was a milestone event in terms of contributing to the strengthening of dialogue and understanding among cultures and civilizations and within civilizations in national, regional and global levels.