Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends!
Let me salute you all and welcome to Azerbaijan!
A very significant forum will be held in Baku today and tomorrow. All the guests attending the forum are dear to us. I am sure that the exchange of opinions and the suggestions to be made at the forum in the next two days will contribute to further deepening humanitarian cooperation.
I can say that the First Baky International Humanitarian Forum was conducted at the initiative of Russian and Azerbaijani intellectuals. And the leadership of Azerbaijan and Russia supported that initiative. Our country has regularly hosted international events on humanitarian cooperation in recent years. TheBakuprocess was launched in 2008. The foundations of the Baku process were laid in 2008 when we invited representatives and ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to a meeting of Council of Europe culture ministers in Baku, and a joint international event was held for the first time. In 2009, ministers from Council of Europe countries were invited to a meeting of ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Baky. So the foundations for this tradition were laid. In 2010,Baku hosted a world summit of religious leaders, and I remember that event very well. The discussions and decisions passed at that summit contributed a lot to strengthening the dialogue between civilizations. Last year Baku hosted other international events. Finally, the Forum on Intercultural Dialogue held in Baky in April this year also went down in history as a momentous event. So this is already a wonderful tradition.
I hope that today’s event and subsequent meetings, the forthcoming international forums to be held in Azerbaijan will turn our dreams into reality. And our dream is to enable all countries and peoples of the world to have warm relations with each other, deepen mutual understanding and create favorable conditions for international cooperation.
It is no coincidence that all these activities, humanitarian reforms are associated with Azerbaijan. People belonging to different cultures have lived in Azerbaijan like one family for centuries. Irrespective of the sociopolitical system, peoples have always lived like one family in Azerbaijan. There have never been any confrontations and misunderstandings on ethnic or religious grounds in Azerbaijan, discrimination has never been tolerated. And today, independent Azerbaijanis committed to these traditions.
I believe that our experience demonstrates that people belonging to different cultures and religions can live in peace, friendship and cooperation. So it is quite natural that such events are traditionally conducted in our country, and I am very glad that prominent public figures who have accepted our invitation to participate in the forum are our guests today. I am sure that the discussions and contacts to be established during the forum will bring us even closer together. At the present stage and in this globalizing world, such events are highly important.
Azerbaijan’s geographical location has certainly had an impact on the country’s development.Azerbaijanis a country where cultures and civilizations meet and blend. Our strength is in unity. National and religious diversity multiplies our strength. Azerbaijan is a multiethnic and multi-confessional country. Representatives of all religions have equal rights. All religious monuments are protected, restored and built by the government. The stability and the atmosphere of friendship observed in our country in the years of independence certainly further reinforce Azerbaijan as a regional country.
All the reforms carried out in our country, both political and economic, pursue one the same goal: to enable Azerbaijani citizens to live even better and Azerbaijan to build up its capacity. To do that, economic reforms alone are not enough. This requires a sound climate in society. To do this, of course, all the people of Azerbaijan, as ever, must live in an atmosphere of friendship and cooperation.
The history of Azerbaijan, our past shows that this is possible. Today, Azerbaijan, as an independent state, is a member of the Council of Europe and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Azerbaijan is one of a handful of countries that are members of both organizations, and an active member. I think that our country is doing a lot to unite civilizations, religions, and to deepen cooperation. Most importantly, these efforts are yielding fruits. Otherwise, Azerbaijan’s experience in this sphere would not cause interest.
The Baky process has been successfully developing since 2008. I am sure that further activities within this process framework due in the coming years will be of great support for our cause.
In general, our country has always paid great attention to the humanitarian sphere. This area is still a priority for our government. The development of science and education, the development of healthcare, culture and sports in Azerbaijan contributes to the development of the entire humanitarian sector. The country has specific programs on these areas, and they are being implemented. This area will continue to be a priority, and we will strive to fulfill all our tasks.
Humanitarian issues are very important for any country. Of course, to devote more attention to the humanitarian sphere, the country should also have financial resources. In the early years of independence we experienced great difficulties. Azerbaijan was in both economic and political crisis. Perhaps this area did not receive proper attention in the early 1990s. Not because it was neglected but because we did not have financial capabilities. Today, Azerbaijan is the most rapidly developing country in the world in economic terms. Humanitarian development is our top priority. We have the capacity to develop this area. It is no secret and we all know that the successful development of any country is ensured not by natural resources but by humanitarian factors. Therefore, the investment made in education and science in Azerbaijan is and will be giving results. The thesis of “transforming black gold into human capital” we put forward a few years ago is already a reality. Thousands of Azerbaijani boys and girls are receiving education in leading universities around the world. I am sure that the educational reforms under way in Azerbaijan will soon produce good results. At the same time, we are implementing specific programs to develop science and attract young people to this field. This is the objective of the recently adopted State Program “Azerbaijani Youth in 2011-2015”.
The successful development of countries is and will be determined by scientific and technical progress. Our advantage is that Azerbaijan is rich in natural resources, and we use them rationally. Over the past seven years the number of people living in poverty in Azerbaijan has fallen five times, i.e. 500 per cent. This is the result of the fact that, as I said, we are converting material resources into human capital. Very serious steps will be taken in the humanitarian sphere in the future too. But along with all the positive trends in the humanitarian field, there are also difficulties. Our biggest difficulty is that Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory has been under occupation for many years. This is a major humanitarian disaster. One million Azerbaijani citizens are living in their own homeland as refugees and IDPs. Azerbaijan has been exposed to a policy of ethnic cleansing. Armenian aggression has dealt a severe blow to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has suffered both material and moral damage.
We hope that the conflict will be resolved and Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity recognized by the international community will be restored in the near future. There is a strong legal basis for that. There are four UN Security Council resolutions which explicitly state that the Armenian armed forces should unconditionally withdraw from the occupied Azerbaijani lands. The UN General Assembly has passed a resolution. The European Parliament, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Council of Europe, the OSCE – that is all the international organizations which have passed very important decisions and resolutions on the conflict, thereby strengthening our cause. Unfortunately, however, these decisions have yet to be fulfilled. Let me repeat that along with all the difficulties, this was a major humanitarian disaster because, unfortunately, for the number of refugees per capital Azerbaijan is in the first place in the world.
An end must be put to this conflict soon and our citizens must return to their native lands. This is their right, a basic right. Justice must finally be restored. The development experienced in all areas of life in Azerbaijan in recent years certainly inspires us, but at the same time it increases our responsibility. Today, Azerbaijan’s initiatives in regional affairs are of great importance not only for our country, but also for the region. Our economic and political initiatives pursue one goal: first of all, to enable the people of Azerbaijan to live even better. On the other hand, we want to be in constant communication with neighboring nations. The purpose of our regional initiatives is to further strengthen our ties with neighboring countries. Today this is the case. Azerbaijan has very sincere and constructive relations with its neighbors. Our relations with all countries are based on a very sound footing. These are relations of friendship and partnership, equal relationships. This year we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of our independence. In 20 years our country has come a long way. And the forum we are gathered for today is further confirmation of my words. The forum has been joined by well-known and respected public figures from all over the world.
Each of us, public figures, politicians, people enjoying public respect, must strive to further strengthen ties between nations in the future. There is a great need for that. This is not just a slogan or trendy words. This is a necessity. We see that in our country. If Azerbaijan had experienced an unpleasant incident on ethnic or religious grounds, it would be a great disaster for our country. Our public policies and, at the same time, the existing atmosphere in society and the political order of society require that we must pay constant attention to these issues and confidently and successfully carry out our policies. There is an extensive debate about multiculturalism in the world today. Multiculturalism is on the agenda of this forum. This is natural because there have been various discussions on this issue in recent years. I can say that multiculturalism is a relatively new concept. But we in Azerbaijan have lived in an atmosphere of multiculturalism for centuries. Our lives, in particular our experience of the last 20 years as an independent country, show that multiculturalism has a future. We are saying this with full confidence. Multiculturalism has great traditions not only in Azerbaijan but also in many countries, neighboring states. So I think it is inappropriate and harmful to question multiculturalism or talk about its failure now because there is no alternative to multiculturalism.
The alternative to multiculturalism is self-isolation. I don’t believe there is a political force in the 21st century, in a globalizing world that would try to pursue the policy of self-isolation. This is a road to nowhere. The values, the foundations of multiculturalism must be reinforced. Multiculturalism means respect for representatives of another nation, respect for another religion. Respect for one’s own religion begins with respect for another religion. Multiculturalism does not tolerate discrimination. In fact, it unites all the peoples. At the same time, each country has its own rules and traditions. Everyone, both citizens of a country and visitors, must certainly respect these rules and traditions. I am sure that as a result of a synthesis of these factors the pessimistic thoughts about multiculturalism being expressed in various circles today will be eliminated. Today’s forum is proof of multiculturalism, its triumph.
Dear friends, very valuable ideas will certainly be expressed during the discussions today and tomorrow. I am sure these ideas will contribute to our common cause. Once again, let me salute you all in Azerbaijan. I am very pleased that the First Baky International Forum is starting today. I am sure that the forum will produce serious results and excellent decisions. At the same time, you will have a good opportunity to see Baku and Azerbaijan. Those of you who have come to Azerbaijan for the first time will get acquainted with our city. You will probably have your own impressions about our country and its development.
I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the organization of this forum, put forward and supported this initiative.
I wish the forum every success.