Ilham Aliyev attended the opening of the Orthodox Religious-Cultural Centre of the Baku and Azerbaijan Diocese

15 november 2013, 15:00

The Orthodox Religious-Cultural Centre of the Baku and Azerbaijan Diocese, built on the site of the Cathedral of the Holy Myrrh-Bearers, has opened.

The ceremony was attended by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

Azerbaijan has always been a country where representatives of different religions and nationalities live in an atmosphere of brotherhood. In all periods of history, the Azerbaijani people showed the world an example of tolerance. At the time of the leadership of the great leader Heydar Aliyev in the country, all the necessary conditions were created in Azerbaijan for people belonging to different religions to freely perform their rituals and for representatives of all nations to have equal rights. The national leader did very important work to preserve the religious-spiritual and national values of the people. Like in other areas, President Ilham Aliyev successfully continues the policy of the great leader in this field. The equality of all citizens before the law regardless of their religion and language, enshrined in the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic, is also a strong indication of tolerance in the country.

Modern Azerbaijan demonstrates a model of religious tolerance and development of inter-ethnic relations to the world. Inter-religious dialogue is further increasing. Today the country is paying special attention to historical and religious monuments and is repairing and reconstructing mosques, churches and synagogues. The Heydar Aliyev Foundation also contributes to this cause.

President Ilham Aliyev was met by the Archbishop of Baku and Azerbaijan Father Alexander and the chairman of the Caucasus Muslims, Pashazada.

In honour of the President of Azerbaijan, the church bells began to ring.

The head of state was presented with bread and salt.

The Azerbaijani president met with representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate, Archbishop of Berlin and Germany Theophanes, Vicar of the Moscow Diocese Archbishop Yevgeniy of Verey, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the leaders of religious communities of Azerbaijan and other guests.

Initially, President Ilham Aliyev visited the Cathedral of the Holy Myrrh-Bearers.

Here, the church choir sang a prayer.

Archbishop Alexander of Baku and Azerbaijan spoke about the history of the church. It was noted that the Cathedral of the Holy Myrrh-Bearers was built in 1907. In 2001, the great leader Heydar Aliyev attended the opening of the religious temple after its reconstruction. Thus, all conditions were right in the cathedral for Orthodox people living in Azerbaijan to carry out their religious practices.

The head of state visited the Orthodox Religious-Cultural Centre of the Baku and Azerbaijan Diocese. The centre was built on the instructions of President Ilham Aliyev. The four-storey building, whose construction began in 2012, has premises for various activities, including conferences and seminars and the necessary conditions for the functioning of the Sunday school for the purpose of church education.

It was noted that there are separate rooms here for various religious committees of the Diocese, canonical rites, catechization, as well as for church media. The centre also operates a library and special rooms for guests.

On behalf of the Diocese of Baku and Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev was presented an icon of Saint Mary "Pride and Consolation" as a gift.

The head of state left a note in the guest book of the centre.

Then, President Ilham Aliyev spoke with the participants in the ceremony at the tea table.

President Ilham Aliyev said:

- I congratulate all of us on the opening of the Religious-Cultural Centre of the Azerbaijan and the Baku Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church. This is a significant event in the life of our country. We have been waiting for this, and, of course, the opening of the centre is an indicator of inter-religious relations in Azerbaijan.

The activities of the Russian Orthodox Church in Azerbaijan have a great history. But, unfortunately, like all other religious monuments, the Church of the Holy Myrrh-Bearers was also subjected to destruction.

Mosques, synagogues and Catholic churches had the same fate. Many were destroyed in the early period of Soviet power, but have now been restored. And, of course, the fact that it was visited by both heads of the Russian Orthodox Church lends particular importance to this religious monument. His Holiness Alexy II and His Holiness Kirill have both been here. And, perhaps, there are not so many churches in the world outside Russia, which were visited and consecrated by two patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Of course, there was a need to open at the church a cultural centre, a religious-cultural centre, which also serves as an office for the leadership of the diocese. There were some difficulties too, because in the early 1990s, in the period of confusion and chaos, a lot of things were done wrongly in Azerbaijan. And the area around the cathedral was essentially captured. But then we took effective measures. This territory was handed over to the diocese, and the Azerbaijani state built such a beautiful building here. This is also an indication of how inter-religious relations are carried out in Azerbaijan. It has its own deep history. The temple was built at the beginning of the last century with the active participation of an Azerbaijani philanthropist and was rebuilt in the period of independence at the expense of an Azerbaijani businessman. And the Religious- Cultural Centre was built at the expense of the Azerbaijani state. This practice is very positive. It exists and has deep roots. The same can be said about the restoration of mosques, which are mostly restored at the expense of the state. The same can be said of the synagogue, which was built at the expense of the state, and the Catholic church, in the restoration of which the state also took part.

We are restoring all religious monuments, and Azerbaijan is a country where religions and peoples, who have always lived in peace, harmony and cooperation, intersect. We are proud of the fact that the oldest church in the Caucasus is in Azerbaijan, in a small village near the town of Sheki. One of the oldest mosques, built in 743, is also in Azerbaijan, in Shamakhi, and it was restored this year. In Baku, also as a monument of our historical past, there is the Zoroastrian temple of fire worshippers. The Catholic church, which was destroyed, has also been restored, and synagogues are being built.

This is an indicator of the development of our society, and first of all, of the state of society, as well as an indicator of government policy. It is pleasing that the state of society and public policy in these matters are going, as they say, hand in hand.

Multiculturalism is the state policy of Azerbaijan, and it's also a way of life. And at the Baku International Humanitarian Forum recently held for the third time, the topic of multiculturalism was the most discussed issue. Today Azerbaijan is already one of the recognized world centres of multiculturalism. And we focus on these issues, because there are different approaches to the subject. Unfortunately, there is a view that, in some countries, multiculturalism suffered a fiasco and did not work, and it is a very alarming statement and trend. If this is the case, then it is a topic for serious discussion. In Azerbaijan, we, I believe, prove with our policy and the state of society that multiculturalism is alive. It lives, gets stronger, has deep roots and is the only way for the development of mankind in the future, because in the age of globalization when the exchange of information, and in general, processes of integration are actively taking place, self-isolation is simply disastrous. Most countries of the world are multicultural countries, countries where representatives of different nations and different religions have been living for many centuries, and friendly and fraternal relations between people of different religions are the basis for the future development of all countries. Therefore, today's event has, perhaps, a more important meaning than just the creation of conditions for the normal functioning of the Russian Orthodox Church in Azerbaijan. It has a great symbolic meaning. This day is based on the history of our country, our people, and is the result of the policy we are conducting. And at all events on all holidays - Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic, and Jewish - the leaders of all denominations are always together at one table. This is also, I think, one of the precious treasures of our country.

Once again, I heartily congratulate you. I am very glad that we are together and are celebrating this great event with the participation of guests. I am sure that there will be all conditions for work here. The topics we are discussing and are constantly focused on will constantly yield very good results. Once again, my congratulations and I am saying to the guests once again - "Welcome".

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Archbishop of Baku and Azerbaijan Alexander said:

- Your Excellency, Mr President!

Let me sincerely thank you for your presence at this wonderful event. You emphasized that this is not just an event that will be a new impulse in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church in Azerbaijan, but also an event that will be a manifestation of a process that is called multiculturalism. And, of course, I always remember the words of Heydar Aliyev - he pronounced a remarkable phrase that I always cite in my speeches: multinationalism is our wealth. This is the meaning of the internal policy of the Azerbaijan Republic. This is very important. The Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, who has visited Azerbaijan three times - once as the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations and then as the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, at your invitation and at the invitation of our esteemed Sheikh, devoted a whole paragraph to the situation of religious life in Azerbaijan in his report to the Episcopal Council in February, where he separately noted your special contribution to the development of inter-religious relations. We are not talking about tolerance, that is to say tolerance for each other, we are talking about constructive inter-religious dialogue when we work together to try to solve the various problems that life and society set to religious leaders.

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill has sent his greetings on the occasion of this remarkable event.

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Archbishop Yevgeniy of Verey said:

- Your Excellency, dear Mr President,

Your Eminence, dear Sheikh,

Your Reverence,

Dear representatives of the diplomatic corps,

Representatives of religious denominations,

Dear brothers and sisters,

Dear friends,

Today is a very significant event not only for the Russian Orthodox Church and the Diocese of Baku, but also for the Azerbaijan Republic. And the fact that the head of state, the President of the republic, is present here lends special importance to today's event.

You, Dear Mr President, have already spoken about the event as particularly important and significant. The Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill always pays special attention to this kind of activities, and he has sent his greetings, which I have the honour to announce.

Archbishop Yevgeniy of Verey read out the message of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill:

"To His Eminence, Eminent Alexander, Archbishop of Baku and Azerbaijan, participants in the opening ceremony of the Orthodox Religious-Cultural Centre in Baku, Your Eminence, dear brothers and sisters.

I sincerely congratulate all those present at the opening of the Orthodox Religious-Cultural Centre in the Azerbaijani capital. It is significant that this important event coincided with the 10th anniversary of the restoration of the Cathedral of the Holy Myrrh-Bearers.

I am glad to testify that the state leadership of the Azerbaijan Republic pays attention to the needs of the Orthodox community in the country and actively supports many projects of the Baku Diocese. I would especially like to acknowledge the achievements of President Ilham Heydar oglu Aliyev, who took a fundamental decision to allocate a land plot for the construction of the Orthodox Religious-Cultural Centre and assisted in the implementation of this important initiative.

I wish Your Eminence and all participants in the celebration strength and God’s help in good deeds and undertakings. I call upon God to bless you all.

Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia."

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President Ilham Aliyev:

- Thank you. Please convey my gratitude to His Holiness and thank him on my behalf for this message. I recall our meetings in Baku, which left an indelible mark on my memory. We discussed many important issues that require attention, including within the framework of the development of bilateral relations between our two countries, and we have a full mutual understanding and convergence of views.

I must say that I feel a sense of pride that I have church awards - two church awards. I was decorated by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II with the Order of St. Sergius of Radonezh in the first degree and by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill with the Order of Honour and Glory in the first degree. So I have two church awards of the Russian Orthodox Church, which probably reflect what is being done in Azerbaijan within the framework of inter-religious dialogue and within the framework of strengthening relations between peoples and representatives of all religions living in our country.

As the distinguished Archbishop Alexander said, the leader of the Azerbaijani people Heydar Aliyev said that multinationalism is our wealth. It is really true. We are happy that in the period of independence, we have maintained the positive trends of the development of society. What we have today in building a multicultural society is entirely the merit of all religions and peoples living in our country.

As I said, Azerbaijan is carrying out a very serious public policy in this direction, but without public order, so to speak, that public policy would have no effect. I think the uniqueness of the situation is that society, representatives of all nations and religions of Azerbaijan and the government set themselves the goal of convergence and consolidation in society based on brotherhood, friendship and mutual respect.

Representatives of the Orthodox community in Azerbaijan are great patriots of the Azerbaijani state. They make a huge contribution to the development of our country, the development of culture, arts, education and the economy. We very much appreciate it, and it is our wealth. Because, I want to say once again, society is healthy when there is a public consensus on important and global development issues of the country and on inter-ethnic, inter-religious dialogue. In this case, I think that this factor also plays a very important role in the development of bilateral relations between Russia and Azerbaijan, which are also developing very effectively, rapidly and positively. We all serve the same purpose, the noble purpose of creation, development and strengthening of friendship, mutual understanding, tolerance and harmony.

Once again, please pass my best wishes and thanks for the message.

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The chairman of the Department of Muslims of the Caucasian Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazada:

Today, of course, we are very pleased that we are meeting here. I can say that today is a day of tolerance. At the same time, Mr President, you have come here today and are at the same table as us, which has become a tradition. The basis of this tradition was laid by my friend and brother, the great leader Heydar Aliyev. On this day, he always gathered us, talked with us and gave recommendations. Today we see the fruits of it, and you are continuing his cause.

Of course, we are very pleased that in recent years the Azerbaijani state has made great strides. I am proud that we have such a President. The current presidential election coincided with the period of the Hajj and the eve of Gurban Bayram. Our faithful who made pilgrimages voted for our President and prayed for him in holy Mecca. I want to say that Azerbaijan is the focus of the whole world. The states of the world can study its experience.

Of course, our relations, religion-state relations, have reached a high level of development.

Were it not for attention and care by the head of our state, we, believers, would probably not be able to do this work. Therefore, we express our gratitude to you, Mr President. You have always shown kindness to all believers regardless of religion and language. Your presence here today is clear proof of this.

As for our fraternal relations with Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church, they continue today, Inshallah, and will continue in the future. I recently received a letter from His Holiness Patriarch. The letter proposed holding a joint summit in the future. It is not yet agreed upon, perhaps, this summit will be held in 2014 in Russia or Azerbaijan.

We want to express our gratitude to you. On behalf of all believers and everyone here, I once again want to congratulate you on your election as President for the third time. May the Almighty bestow health upon you and your family! If God loves people, he sends them a wise state leader so that these people take the right path. God sent us Heydar Aliyev and you as wise persons and leaders to show us the right path. May Allah rest Heydar Aliyev’s soul! I wish you happiness in the future. Inshallah, you will do a lot. God bless you. Thank you.

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Then the chairman of the Religious Community of Mountain Jews of Baku, Milikh Yevdayev, took the floor:

In May, as members of a delegation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we were in Israel. At a meeting with the chairman of the Knesset, I said that we, Jews, recently received a wonderful synagogue as a gift from the President.

On 14-17 October, Kiev hosted the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, to which I was invited. I said that in Azerbaijan all people live in peace, prosperity and joy. In Azerbaijan there are no disputes on inter-religious and inter-ethnic grounds, strife, and other unpleasant incidents. This does not exist. Why? Because, as the great leader said, tolerance is the result of high culture. This was, is and will be the case in Azerbaijan for centuries.

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Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said:

- The Holy Patriarchs of Moscow and All Russia - the late Patriarch Alexy and the present Patriarch Kirill assessed the state of church-state and inter-religious relations in Azerbaijan. Today the bishop recalled the last report of Holy Patriarch Kirill to the Episcopal Council. But the Episcopal Councils are held at certain intervals. I must say that with some complexities that exist in church-state relations in a number of countries in Eurasia, the late Patriarch a few years ago and the present Patriarch always spoke only positively about the experience, which exists in Azerbaijan both in the position of our church and in the field of inter-religious dialogue. We are not only discussing issues of church life, but together with His Holiness Sheikh and other religious communities of the country we are discussing prospects of inter-religious dialogue in Eurasia and in the world. There are some new initiatives. We will meet in Russia and in Baku in order for this positive experience we have, the experience of joint activities and the experience of communication, to influence to a greater extent what is happening in the world in the sphere of relations between Christians and Muslims, in the sphere of relations between religion and the state and in the field of inter-religious peaceful dialogue.

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President Ilham Aliyev:

- You are absolutely right. There is a great need for that. According to the results of the 3rd Baku International Humanitarian Forum, such a framework of international cooperation has already taken shape. Previously, we held a summit of leaders of world religions. The two formats have something in common as there is a great need for serious discussions and for developing common approaches to the future development of inter-religious relations, because the processes that are taking place in different parts of the world – both in the Middle East and in Europe – give food for thought and cause concern. Instead of a process of convergence, there is sometimes a process of separation. Sometimes certain statements or actions lead not to agreement, but on the contrary - to distrust. Therefore, in this case, you need to concentrate, I think, on the experience of the countries that have a history of positive cooperation among all nations – the experience of multinational countries.

In this case, Russia and Azerbaijan, I think, can be a unifying factor of inter-religious and intercultural dialogue on a global scale, because there are a lot of similarities and a lot of connections. And we are two neighbours and are united by the Caucasus, Russia and Azerbaijan are two Caucasian countries. Therefore, the word of a religious leader, a respected man has always had a lot of weight. In this case, the policy of the state and religion are fully realized in the same vein. The objectives are the same - development, well-being and values so that at the time of globalization traditional values are not lost, the younger generation does not separate from its roots, both ethnic and religious, so that identity is not lost and the moral foundations of society, without which no country and no nation can exist, are not blurred under the guise of globalization.