April 23, 2019

Azerbaijan: multiculturalism as a style of life

Azerbaijan, being faithful to the ideas of multiculturalism and seeing dialogue as a best tool for building peace and prosperity amid the crises and tensions in the world, has declared 2016 the Year of Multiculturalism.

Azerbaijan established the first secular democracy in the Muslim world in 1918 and offered women the right to vote in 1919. Tolerance and multiculturalism in secular Azerbaijan is a style of life for over 9.6 million people living at the crossroad of the East and West, combining traditions and cultures.

Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the population (about 96 percent) of the country is Muslim, representatives of other religions enjoy freedom here, and one can often witness Jewish synagogues and Orthodox and Christian churches as well as other religious centres functioning freely. The country acts as a model for peaceful coexistence of members of different nations and religions for many other countries as well.


Historical monuments of all religions are protected by the government of Azerbaijan which provides funds for the restoration of these monuments. Mosques, churches and synagogues are built and renovated in Azerbaijan. One of the oldest mosques in the world situated in Azerbaijan, in the city of Shamakhi, dating from 743, and also one of the oldest Christian churches, an Armenian church from the 12-13 century, is also located in the capital of the country – Baku. Orthodox and Catholic churches, synagogues, Zoroastrian temples, are bright examples of Azerbaijan’s multicultural heritage.

Azerbaijan is one of a handful of countries that are members of both the Council of Europe and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. In 2008, the Ministers of Culture of Islamic countries were invited to the Baku Forum of Ministers of Culture of Council of Europe member-states. For the first time in history, a link was established between these two institutions. In 2009, Azerbaijan invited ministers from the Council of Ministers to the meeting of Ministers of Culture of Muslim countries in Baku.

Thus, this process was called the “Baku process”. Today, Azerbaijan hosts numerous international events within the framework of the “Baku process”. These include the summit of religious leaders of the world. The Forum on Intercultural Dialogue is held in Azerbaijan every year. Baku International Humanitarian Forum is an annual platform for famous representatives of political, scientific and cultural elite of the world community including famous statesmen, Nobel Prize winners in various fields of science and leaders of influential international organizations for holding dialogues, discussions and exchange of views on a wide range of global issues in the interest of all humanity.

The fifth International Humanitarian Forum was held in Baku on September 29-30, 2016 and one of the main themes on its agenda was multiculturalism. Given Azerbaijani successful activities in this area, the UN decided to hold the Seventh Global Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations in Baku in 2016.

In addition, Azerbaijan has set up an international centre for multiculturalism in 2014, as a concrete effort to promote the values of multiculturalism. Thanks to domestic interfaith and multicultural harmony, Azerbaijan was able to protect itself from the triggers of extremism, one of the most dangerous threats of the modern world amid the clashing cultures and religions.

Azerbaijan makes important contributions to the traditions of tolerance, intercultural and inter-civilization dialogue. The country’s success in multiculturalism relies on the full-scale embrace of this openness and tolerance by both government and the society at large which has remained primarily stable for many decades.

On October 2, 2016 Pope Francis visited Azerbaijan. During the visit he celebrated mass on Sunday at the Salesian centre in Baku. Pope Francis visited the Alley of Martyrs to commemorate Azerbaijani heroes who gave their lives for the country`s independence and territorial integrity. Pope Francis laid a wreath at the Eternal Flame monument.

Furthermore, bilateral meeting between the president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Pope Francis was held. It was underlined that the relations between the Vatican and Azerbaijan have been developing successfully for 24 years. Reciprocal high-level visits were especially highlighted. In 2012, the Vatican museums hosted an Azerbaijani exhibition dedicated to the 20th anniversary of our diplomatic relations.

The Azerbaijani exhibition was the first exhibition of Muslim countries. Our ties are also supported by civil society organizations. In February last year, with support from the largest non-governmental organization of the South Caucasus, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the Saint Marcellino and Pietro’s catacombs of the Vatican were reopened after major overhaul and restoration. This great event showed again that our bilateral relations. At the same time, the strengthening of the interreligious and intercultural dialogue is a reality.

The Pontiff met with Chairman of the Clerical Office of Caucasus Muslims Sheikh-ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade and representatives of religious communities in Azerbaijan. After the bilateral meeting, both religious leaders addressed representatives of religious communities in Azerbaijan. Pope Francis` visit to Azerbaijan where 96 percent of population is Muslims once again demonstrates importance that the Holy See attaches to the multicultural traditions in this country. This visit is important for all of the mankind, as it shows once again that the dialogue between civilizations lives on, continues to expand, and we are trying to give a new impetus to this dialogue.


Photography by Azertac.


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