Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the opening ceremony of the conference on “2017- Year of Islamic Solidarity: Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue"
Dear religious figures,
Dear ladies and gentlemen!
As you know, year 2017 was declared a Year of Islamic Solidarity in Azerbaijan. During the year, Azerbaijan and many other countries hosted various international conferences and events. The last international conference has started in Baku today. I cordially greet all the guests who have come to our country to participate in this conference – you are welcome! I should note that up to 150 guests from almost 40 countries are participate in today’s conference. The participation of our distinguished guests once again shows the significance of the conference and this topic in general.
Azerbaijan is making a great contribution to the cause of Islamic solidarity. This issue is one of our priorities. Azerbaijan is a country with an ancient history. The people of Azerbaijan have preserved their national and spiritual values over the centuries. Islamic values are an integral part of our national and spiritual values. The tranquility and mutual understanding observed in the religious sphere in our country, the unity among Muslims, the regulation of interreligious relations at a high level – all these are factors strengthening our country today.
Our people have an ancient history. Our religious monuments of architecture are evidence of that. We are proud that one of the most ancient mosques in the Muslim world, the Shamakhi Juma Mosque built in 743 and completely restored several years ago, is our great asset. This mosque is evidence that Azerbaijan is an ancient Muslim region. Other historical and religious monuments are also our national treasure.
Azerbaijan has managed to establish very close relations with Muslim countries in the international arena. We have been an independent state for only 26 years. Over these years, our relations with Muslim countries have been developing in bilateral and trilateral formats, within the framework of international organizations, and have been strengthening with each passing day. We support each other in the UN and other international organizations. Last year, the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation adopted a very important resolution related to Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan. A Contact Group was set up. I should also note that Azerbaijan is a very active member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Our country has hosted numerous conferences and events. A Youth Forum, a Labor Center and a Journalists Association of the OIC have been established on Azerbaijan’s initiative. At the same time, Azerbaijan is an active member of ISESCO. ISESCO is an organization for education, science and culture of the Islamic world, and Azerbaijan has been very successful in this organization. ISESCO and the entire Muslim world always pay attention to and support Azerbaijan. Several years ago, ISESCO declared the city of Baku as the Capital of Islamic Culture, and Baku hosted numerous events throughout the year. I should also note that another ancient city of Azerbaijan, Nakhchivan, has been awarded the title of the Capital of Islamic Culture next year.
There is complete Islamic solidarity in our country. We are striving and should continue to strive towards unity and solidarity in the entire Muslim world. Azerbaijan is making a contribution and taking important steps in this direction. Our relationships within the framework of international organizations and in addressing the issues on the global agenda once again show that Islamic solidarity is not just a slogan for us – it is one of the main directions for us.
Along with this, representatives of all religions enjoy equal rights in Azerbaijan. Representatives of all the peoples and religions live in Azerbaijan like one family. There have never been and can never be any discrimination in Azerbaijan. This is our great asset.
Our country has hosted numerous representative international events on interreligious and intercultural dialogue. Among them, I can mention the 7th Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. The Forum on Intercultural Dialogue and the Baku Humanitarian Forum, which have been held several times and have already become traditional, also dedicate their work primarily to the interreligious and intercultural dialogue. The fact that such international events are held in our country is only natural. First of all, Azerbaijan has always played a positive role among civilizations, is a bridge between Asia and Europe from geographical and cultural standpoints, and also from a political point of view now. On the other hand, Azerbaijan is one of a handful of countries where there are no problems on religious or ethnic grounds. There are no misunderstandings at all. On the contrary, representatives of all the ethnicities and religions living in Azerbaijan are our valuable citizens. They are making a contribution to the overall development of our country. Therefore, Azerbaijan’s activities in the sphere of interreligious dialogue are natural.
I want to note again that these issues have been addressed at the highest level within the country. We want interreligious dialogue to strengthen in the Muslim world, in Europe and throughout the world in general. Unfortunately, we have observed a completely opposite picture of late: intolerance, Islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-Semitism have been on the increase. This poses a great threat and represents a great evil to humanity. Of course, the opinions and positions of religious and public figures, politicians and the general public on this issue are of great importance to the world community. A call to the world was repeatedly been voiced from Baku and other authoritative platforms that interreligious relations are very important for any country. Most countries in the world are multiethnic and multi-confessional. Under such circumstances, this topic is particularly important for civil peace and civil accord in every country. For our part, we are addressing all issues within the country at the highest level. At the same time, I am sure that Azerbaijan’s experience is being studied in the region and the world.
The last year was declared a Year of Multiculturalism in Azerbaijan. Multiculturalism is our state policy. At the same time, it is a way of life for us. Representatives of all religions and ethnicities living in Azerbaijan can confirm this. There is no alternative to multiculturalism. The alternatives are very dangerous tendencies that are shaking up the world – Islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. On the example of Azerbaijan, the world can see that multiculturalism is very much alive. However, very pessimistic opinions are sometimes expressed regarding multiculturalism at a very high level. Despite this, we should all strive to preserve and strengthen these high values. Multiculturalism should become commonplace for every country.
As I have already mentioned, Azerbaijan has special relations with Muslim countries within the framework of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Azerbaijan also plays an active role and enjoys great support within this organization. At the same time, we have close ties with European countries. Nine member-countries of the European Union have signed a document on strategic partnership with Azerbaijan. In other words, it is a third of all members of the European Union. We have very close ties with the European Union. Very serious work is carried out on a number of issues, and began on a future agreement between the European Union and Azerbaijan started at the beginning of this year. This is further evidence of our country’s attitude to the issues on the international agenda and of our own policy. The people of Azerbaijan are very attached to their national and spiritual roots. The independent state of Azerbaijan rests precisely on a foundation of these national values. Our national values are an integral part of universal human values. Our geographical location, our history and past, and the role of civilizations on the territory of Azerbaijan have certainly turned Azerbaijan into an indispensable country in the interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
I should also point to another issue: of course, state policy is and will continue to be conducted in this direction. However, our policy in this direction is based on public opinion. The Azerbaijani society, the people of Azerbaijan live with these feelings and thoughts. Our successful development suggests that when interreligious and interethnic relations are at the proper level, there is development and stability, and all citizens of Azerbaijan are optimistic about the future.
We have held the Games of Islamic Solidarity at a high level this year. The Fourth Games of Islamic Solidarity were held in Baku. Over 3,000 athletes from more than 50 countries, as well as thousands of guests, came to Azerbaijan. This was both a great sporting event and a celebration of friendship and brotherhood. Leading sportsmen from all Muslim countries were in Baku. Of course, we are proud of the fact that the national team of Azerbaijan became the winner of these competitions and finished first. But this is not the main issue. The main issue is that these Games have once again demonstrated that there is Islamic solidarity and that the younger generation should always be aware of these wonderful values and strengthen them in the future. Two years ago, Baku had also hosted European Games for the first time in history. Unlike other continental games, the European games had never been held before 2015. The inaugural European games were held in Azerbaijan. More than 5,000 athletes from Europe were there to compete with each other. Thousands of visitors came to Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani team finished in second place at these Games.
So these two events are an indicator in themselves. Of course, those were magnificent sporting events but, at the same time, the fact that both European and Islamic Games were held in one and the same city and country over the course of two years demonstrates the attitude of both Europe and the Islamic world to us. Also, let me go back to what I said earlier, Azerbaijan plays a unique role among civilizations, religions and continents.
Azerbaijan put forward another important initiative in 2008. As you know, Azerbaijan is also a member of the Council of Europe. We decided to invite the Ministers of Culture of the member-countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to the meeting of the Ministers of Culture of the Council of Europe. Ministers representing countries of the two organizations met in Baku for the first time in history. A very effective meeting was held and a very sincere exchange of opinions took place. We felt that this initiative had to be continued, i.e. it should not be just a one-off meeting. With this aim, we held an event of the Ministers of Culture of member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation the following year and invited ministers from Europe to it. So this became a tradition, and this initiative was subsequently branded as the "Baku process". The "Baku process" lives and develops today. We will mark the 10th anniversary of the "Baku process" next year. The "Baku process" is highly valued by all the authoritative international organizations, the UN in particular. It is a globally unique platform for the development of relations between the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Council of Europe. And this was also done on the initiative of Azerbaijan.
I am sure that by putting forward such initiatives we contribute to our common cause. Our common goal is to build peace, mutual respect and mutual understanding on the planet, so that countries do not interfere in each other's affairs. If this is the case, there will be no wars. There will be peace on the whole planet.
Azerbaijan is a young independent state. Our independence is only 26 years old. The first years of independence were very difficult. Our country experienced very tragic events. Until 1993, Azerbaijan was practically in an uncontrollable state. There were chaos, anarchy and economic crisis in the country. Inflation amounted to thousands of per cent. Practically all our industrial enterprises were inactive and the overall development prospects of the country were quite gloomy. To make things even worse, the then government launched a civil war in Azerbaijan, shedding brotherly blood. Taking advantage of this, the callous neighbor Armenia occupied a part of our lands. In other words, one can say that Azerbaijan was on the brink of a precipice. By demonstrating inherent wisdom in this situation, the people of Azerbaijan invited great leader Heydar Aliyev to take power. And from 1993 to the present day, Azerbaijan has been on a path of progress and development. The political and economic reforms initiated in 1993, our enhanced role in the international arena, the disarmament of all illegal formations in the country, the cessation of the civil war, the adoption of a new Constitution and very prudent decisions related to the strategic development of our country took our people out of the difficult situation. Azerbaijan is developing successfully today. At the same time, inter-religious and interethnic relations were also undermined in Azerbaijan in the early years of independence. To put it mildly, grave mistakes were committed in this sphere. Speaking more precisely, crimes were committed. Only after Heydar Aliyev returned to power was a turnaround achieved. The relations between the state and religion were built at the proper level. Today, Azerbaijan can serve as an example for many countries in terms of the level and nature of relations between the state and religion.
Azerbaijan, which has lived as an independent state for 26 years, stands firmly on its feet. Of course, our main problem is the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As you know, Armenia has occupied 20 per cent of our lands recognized by the international community for more than 20 years. More than one million of our citizens were expelled from these lands and became refugees and internally displaced persons. A policy of ethnic cleansing was carried out against our people. The Armenians have committed a bloody crime – the Khojaly genocide. More than 600 innocent civilians were killed by Armenian bandits, including more than 100 women and over 60 children. More than 10 countries have already recognized the Khojaly tragedy as an act of genocide.
The UN has adopted four resolutions in connection with the conflict. These resolutions explicitly state that the Armenian armed forces must immediately and unconditionally vacate the occupied lands. However, these resolutions remain on paper. Those who adopted these resolutions are indifferent to this issue. Taking advantage of that, Armenia continues its policy of occupation. All buildings have been destroyed on our occupied lands. Our historical and religious monuments and mosques have been destroyed by the Armenians. There are sufficient photos of these destroyed mosques and everyone can see them on the Internet. The entire infrastructure has been destroyed. The OSCE has sent two fact-finding missions to the occupied lands. These missions observed the picture I have outlined and reflected this in their reports.
The position of the Azerbaijani state on the conflict is fully based on international law. First of all, Nagorno-Karabakh is native and historical land of Azerbaijan. On the other hand, from the point of view of international law, it is an integral part of Azerbaijan. The whole world recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan. This being the case, the conflict must be resolved only and only on the basis of norms and principles of international law. The resolutions of the UN Security Council – there are no documents superior to these in the world – must be fully implemented and the territorial integrity of our country must be restored. The Azerbaijani state and the people of Azerbaijan will never tolerate the creation of a second Armenian state on our lands.
As far as the issue of the self-determination of peoples is concerned, this issue can be resolved within the territorial integrity of countries. As I have already noted, most countries of the world are multiethnic and multi-confessional. The Armenian people have already self-determined – they already have a state of their own. Azerbaijan will never allow for the creation of a second Armenian state on historically Azerbaijani lands. In fact, it is a very harmful, dangerous and sick logic. The Armenians live in many countries around the world. If they want to determine themselves in other countries of their residence, as they have done in Azerbaijan, and resort to aggressive separatism, I wonder what policies these countries will pursue in relation to them.
The processes taking place in the world today support and strengthen our position. As I have noted, our position is quite strong from the point of view of international law, history and potential. However, Europe is also faced with separatism today. Look at the steps European countries are taking in relation to separatism. Our problem is aggressive separatism. Armed Armenian gangs have committed an act of genocide, forcibly occupied our lands, expelled innocent people from these lands and today are engaged in illegal activities on these lands. I am absolutely sure that Azerbaijan will restore its territorial integrity. There are all the possibilities for that, and the latest events, the events of last year, once again show that. The territorial integrity of our country is as valuable as the territorial integrity of all other countries.
Despite this major and complex problem, our country is developing successfully. We have become a very reliable partner in the international arena. Several years ago, we were elected a member of the UN Security Council by the votes of 155 countries. It was a great political victory for us because Azerbaijan had existed as an independent country only for 20 years at that time but still managed to win the sympathy of the international community over these years. Very serious economic reforms are under way in the country. From the point of view of economic development, Azerbaijan has been the fastest growing country in the world over the past 14 years. Our economy and gross domestic product have grown more than threefold.
At the same time, we are pursuing a very serious social policy. As a result, unemployment and poverty in Azerbaijan are at the level of 5 per cent. Major investment is being made in human capital. Over the past 14 years, more than 3,000 schools, more than 600 medical institutions, 12,000 kilometers of roads have been built or repaired in our country. New social infrastructure has been created. International financial institutions are giving a high assessment to the reforms under way in Azerbaijan. It would be enough to provide only one figure to have an idea about it: the Davos Economic Forum ranks Azerbaijan in 35th place globally in terms of economic competitiveness. In other words, it is a very high indicator, and we have achieved this figure not at the expense of energy resources. Of course, Azerbaijan is rich in energy resources and we use them effectively. However, the competitiveness of countries is calculated on the basis of other parameters, and this indicator puts us among 35 most competitive economies on a global scale.
Both myself and, as far as I know, our society are very optimistic about the further development of our country. The giant energy projects being implemented today, the $40 billion Southern Gas Corridor and other projects will contribute to the long-term successful and sustainable development of our country.
Azerbaijan is turning into a very important transport center in the region. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway put into operation two months ago links the continents of Asia and Europe by the shortest possible route. We are currently working on the North-South transport corridor. There are also very important results in this direction. By the end of the year, we expect further results, so that put can this road into operation together with neighboring countries in a short time, perhaps within two to three years. Thus, railways from east to west and in the opposite direction, and from north to south and in the opposite direction will pass through the territory of Azerbaijan. This will bring us additional economic profits and, of course, political dividends. This will also have a serious positive impact on regional cooperation. At the same time, I am sure that this will have a positive effect on the topic of our today's conference. I think that talk is not enough for interethnic, interreligious and intercultural dialogue. There should be specific projects, specific interests, alignment, a balance of interests and interdependence. The projects we are implementing in the region address these mutual interests.
Of course, we have achieved all this together with our neighbors. Any country interested in becoming a transit country should establish close relations with its neighbors. It is the case in Azerbaijan. We have established very close ties with our neighbors. Of course, this has a positive impact on regional security and stability.
In short, dear friends, I believe that in the years of independence Azerbaijan has played a role in the development of intercultural dialogue and the strengthening of Islamic solidarity. We will continue to follow this path.
I want to take this opportunity to once again express my gratitude to you, to all the guests for coming to Baku. I wish the conference success. Thank you.