Ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome to Azerbaijan.
I am very glad that the 3rd World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue starts today in Baku. This is a good indicator and tradition. We are organizing this global forum for the third time already. This shows the growing importance of addressing the issues of intercultural dialogue.
Today in Baku we have representatives of more than hundred countries and this once again underlines the importance of such kind of discussions. I am sure that during the days of the forum valuable ideas will be presented in order to provide the positive dynamics in intercultural relations. Azerbaijan is playing its role in this area and by efforts which we always show, we try to bring peoples and countries, civilizations together.
Azerbaijan is situated on the crossroads of civilizations, cultures, religions. We are situated just between Europe and Asia. Of course, this geographical location played its role in cultural diversity of Azerbaijan. For centuries, representatives of all the cultures, religions, ethnicities have lived in Azerbaijan in peace, in dignity as one family. And we are very proud that during the years of independence these positive tendencies became even stronger. It is enough to look at our historical monuments to see the cultural diversity of Azerbaijan.
We are proud of our cultural and historical heritage. One of the oldest mosques in the world, which was built in 743, is situated in Azerbaijan in the ancient city of Shamakhi. One of the oldest churches in the world, the church of Caucasian Albania, is situated near another ancient city of Sheki. Orthodox and Catholic churches, synagogues, Zoroastrian temples - all that is part of our cultural heritage, and we are proud of that.
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.
Unfortunately what we see now in different parts of the world creates big concern. We see some tendencies in negative direction. Therefore we need open, frank discussion about what we must do together in order to bring countries, civilizations, religions closer to each other to reduce tensions, hatred. This is the issue, I think, one of the important issues on global agenda. Traditions of multiculturalism have always been very strong in our country. The creation of the international center on multiculturalism is another step made by our government in order to promote these values.
Multiculturalism has no alternatives. I think the responsibility of politicians, public figures, international institutions, NGOs, media is growing. I know that one of the topics of discussions of the forum will be precisely related to responsibility of public figures and politicians. Sometimes we see that religious hatred is deliberately cultivated. Sometimes we see in different parts of the world the acts of violence based on ethnic and religious grounds. And the responsibility of politicians and those people who can influence the public opinion is growing. Therefore, I think that by common efforts we need to promote the values of multiculturalism. I know that there are different ideas about that - sometimes, pessimistic ideas. But there are positive examples of multiculturalism. Azerbaijan is one of them. I think it is dangerous to consider that multiculturalism is not something which can have future. On the contrary, if we give up our efforts, the situation in the world will be even worse. Therefore, the example of countries like Azerbaijan, which is now considered to be one of the world centers of multiculturalism, I think, is a good indicator that multiculturalism is alive. We need to stimulate the positive tendencies. What are the alternatives for that? Alternatives are alienation, discrimination, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, dangerous factors which already many times in the history of mankind have led to tragedy of civilizations and peoples.
So, as a country, as a nation with deep roots of multiculturalism we are trying to play our role on global arena in order to promote these positive values. Azerbaijan is a country which is part of the Muslim world, and, at the same time, a country with strong connections with Europe. The first democratic republic in the Muslim world was created in Azerbaijan in 1918. And immediately after that women were granted the right to vote much earlier than in some of the European countries.
Therefore, our cultural and ethnic identity together with influence from Europe created an absolutely special atmosphere in our society. Throughout the centuries we have managed to protect our values, and we lived in different political, social and public environments. We were part of other countries and empires. Now we are independent, but this positive trend is still here. We are very committed to the course of promotion of these values.
One of the important elements in the promotion of values of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue, is, of course, education. And we pay very big attention to education and we are proud that Azerbaijan is a country with a hundred percent of literacy. Education is not only the way to develop, the way to the future. We see the examples of developed countries. They achieve success not because of the natural resources but because of education, development of science and technologies. At the same time, education is the best guarantee against extremism, radicalism, fundamentalism, terrorism, it is insurance against these dangerous elements of today’s life. Therefore, discussions around these topic, as far as I know, will be in the center of attention of the forum. I think the experience of Azerbaijan also could be of interest because we are also transforming now our system of education and bringing it to international standards. We are glad that young generation of Azerbaijanis wants to learn, improve their capabilities in order to find their proper place in the life and in order to strengthen the potential of Azerbaijan. At the same time, we are proud that our young generation is very patriotic. And patriotism means that people love their country. At the same time, in our opinion, patriotism is also the factor which strengthens the unity between countries and nations. We always think that respect to your own nation, your country, your own religion starts from respect to religion and values and traditions of your neighbors. Only this can lead to success.
Unfortunately, now we need to talk more about that because what we see now in different parts of the world is the divisions based on ethnic religious, sectarian ground. It is disastrous. We can see it in our neighborhood. We can see also very dangerous tendencies of neo-fascist movements. The international community and the leaders of the international community need to address this issue very seriously because we need to win the battle and only by common efforts we can do it. Therefore, the forums like what we are having today here, global forum on intercultural dialogue, are of great importance. We think that Baku is now a place where we address this kind of issues.
Azerbaijan is relatively young as an independent country. Only 24 years. But these were years of reforms, transformation, development. We got a chance to build a state. We are a country of people of traditions, culture. You can see the monuments of Baku and if you have a time to travel to other places of Azerbaijan you will see architectural, historical, religious monuments of our nation, and this is part of our heritage. But as an independent country we are very young. So we had to build a state and we had to transform our political system. I think that the experience of our country in a relatively short period of time shows that if you are committed to the cause of development, progress and if you have support of society in transformation, then you will achieve success.
Today Azerbaijan is a respected member of the international community, we play a very positive role on the regional scale. Our initiatives are aimed at strengthening regional cooperation. Political, economic issues related to energy security, of course, are in the center of attention. Our initiatives and projects, which we initiated, go far beyond our region to connect countries and continents. If you look at issues related to energy security, Azerbaijan is already playing an important role for the energy security of Europe. If you look at the transportation infrastructure, we actually are restoring the historical Silk Road. Building a new railroad connection between Europe and Asia, actually we invest in not only economic development and in better transportation facilities, but also in people-to-people contacts. Historical Silk Road was crossing Azerbaijan. So we are now restoring it with the modern technologies, and with participation of our neighbors. So all our projects related to economic and social development strengthen regional cooperation, strengthen mutual understanding between the countries and the peoples.
At the same time, the role which we play on the international arena is also appreciated by the international community. We are proud that in a very short period of independence Azerbaijan managed to be elected to the United Nations Security Council – the highest international body - with the support of 155 countries. That means that absolute majority of the international community supported us. And frankly speaking not with all of these 155 countries we had very active relations. But I think that our behavior - in the short period of independence - as a reliable partner, as an independent country, which had its independent policy based on common values and national interests created a positive attitude to our country.
We invested a lot in economic and political transformation because when we became independent we had to build a state, we had to transform political system. Therefore political and economic reforms we implemented in parallel. We clearly realize that energy resources will not be sufficient to transform the country and provide sustainable development of Azerbaijan. Therefore, political reforms, issues related to democratic process and freedoms were in the center of our attention. Today, all the fundamental freedoms are provided in Azerbaijan - political freedoms, freedoms of media, free Internet, freedom of religion. This is the basis, the foundation for development.
Plus, very accurate economic policy based on natural resources of Azerbaijan and based on our potential allowed us to achieve what we planned in the very beginning of our independence, that is economic independence. We have very low foreign debt - only around 10 percent of GDP. Therefore, we do not depend on donors, sponsors, even donations and financial assistance from international financial institutions, though we work very actively with them. We managed to achieve, to the maximum degree, energy security of our country. Now we provide energy security of others.
Also social issues, issues related to unemployment, poverty are solved. We see a very positive dynamics. Today Azerbaijan is a country with one of the lowest rates of poverty and unemployment in the world. It is around 5 percent. And, of course, this creates positive dynamics in the society. Combination of these factors today plays the role in increasing the international importance of Azerbaijan. Of course, we mainly concentrate on domestic issues.
We still need to do a lot in order to achieve our goal and become developed country though already today our economy, according to Davos Economic Forum, is number 38 with respect to global competitiveness. This was achieved not because of energy resources, but because of reforms. We also initiate different projects which bring nations together - as I already said - in energy sector, in economic sector, in the sector of political relations, and also in humanitarian area. Every year we have the international humanitarian forum in Baku. We held the world religious summit. We organize today`s forum already for the 3rd time.
In a three weeks’ time, in less than one month, Azerbaijan will host the first ever European Games. The decision which was made in the end of 2012 was a very wise decision. Though it is a big challenge to organize the Games, scalable with the summer Olympic Games, in only two and a half years, the decision by the European Olympic Committees to organize the European Games for the first time in the world in Azerbaijan, in a country with Muslim population, was one of the wisest decisions of the recent past. We will bring together European athletes, more than 6000. We are already in the process of finalization of all the preparations. That will be really not only a big sport event, but an event of friendship, partnership and, of course, an opportunity for us to demonstrate our country and hospitality of our people. And in a two years’ time, in 2017, we will have Islamic Solidarity Games. So in two years in one country, in one city European and Islamic Games will be held. Probably, that will be the only case in the history of European sport, when you have these games in two years, both in one country.
In 2008 we initiated the Baku Process. That was our initiative to invite the ministers of culture of members of the Islamic Cooperation Organization to the meeting of ministries of culture of the members of the Council of Europe for the first time. Azerbaijan is one of the few, very few countries that are members of both organizations. And then in 2009 it was a meeting of the ministers of culture of the Islamic Cooperation Organization where we invited the ministers of culture of the Council of Europe. So this was our initiative and now this initiative is named the Baku Process.
All what is happening now with respect to intercultural dialogue, dialogue of civilizations, issues related to multiculturalism, is framed by the Baku Process. We will continue our efforts and the very fact that representatives of more than hundred countries came to Baku to address these important issues creates more optimism that we will achieve our goal. We will try to contribute to the course of peace, friendship, partnership, and cultural diversity.
Once again, dear friends, welcome to Azerbaijan. Thank you.