Azerbaijan is the land of tolerance
“Multiculturalism has no alternative. Of course, we all know that there are different ideas. Some say that multiculturalism failed or didn`t work. But there are positive examples. For us multiculturalism is a state policy and is our lifestyle.”
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan
The problem of intercultural and interreligious dialogue, as well as issues related to multiculturalism hold a special place in the globalizing world. Hosting of the 7th Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations in which more than 140 countries of the world were represented, by Baku is not accidental in such an historical period. As independent Azerbaijan, which is the land of tolerance and loyal to multicultural values, has extensive experience in the field of realizing important projects and organizing prestigious forums which are addressed to promotion of intercultural dialogue, preservation of cultural diversity and regulation of mutual relationship between civilizations.
Decision on holding of 7th Global Forum of Alliance of Civilizations in Baku, in 2016 was adopted in the 69th session of the UN General Assembly on September 26, 2014. President Ilham Aliyev signed a Decree on creation of the Organizing Committee related to holding of the Forum in Baku, in June of last year.
The forum which was held under the motto of “Living Together in Inclusive Societies” A Challenge and A Goal” was attended by a number of guests including heads of state and government, ministers of foreign affairs of the UN Member States, political leaders, partner agencies, representatives of international and regional organizations, representatives of private sector, art, media and academia, donor organizations and funds.
Multiculturalism is peaceful and coexistence principle which is commonly recognized and based on tolerant attitude towards different cultures. Characteristic features of multiculturalism are tolerance and endurance. Our country is the land of tolerance. Heydar Aliyev who said “Azerbaijani people themselves, by their nature and by their character, possess a high sense of tolerance”, gave the most genuine and clear explanation of our attitude towards universal values, as a society, and called Azerbaijan as the homeland of representatives of various nations irrespective of their nationality and religion. Of course, it is natural for Azerbaijan to demonstrate tolerant position towards different views, traditions and customs, because Azerbaijan located on historical Silk Route, as a conjunction point of different civilizations, is known as a land where the atmosphere of national and cultural diversity was formed throughout the centuries and representatives of different nationalities and confessions are living in a condition of peace, tranquility, mutual understanding and dialogue and tolerant attitude towards peculiarities of different nations, nationalities, religions is the main feature of Azerbaijani mentality. High level relation of tolerance among ethnic and religious communities in Azerbaijani territory was formalized in all periods of history, no fact of discrimination on national, religious and racial grounds was recorded.
As seen from historical facts, in spite of existence of this notion for a long historical period, the term “multiculturalism” was brought to the political lexicon at the end of 60s and in the beginning of 70s of last century. This term is used to describe unified cultural place and multiculturalism offers integration of cultures without assimilation.
Truth is that through the past century assimilation, as a strategy used by some European countries in regard to immigrant cultures, hasn’t proved itself in number of cases and such obstacles exist even nowadays. For example, prohibitions on construction of minarets, various clothing styles, religious symbols, periodical persecutions upon ethnic features and etc. Such a point appears that some European countries have rejected multiculturalism principles and today they even accept and declare the failure of multiculturalism. The forces aiming to ensure domination of their culture both in regional and global range with different alluring titles and perceiving the members of other cultures as an object of assimilation points complicated cultural situation as a reason.
In such a period the President Ilham Aliyev’s phrase of “In our country multiculturalism has become a lifestyle with no alternative” sheds a light on all matters in terms of understanding global importance of this notion and perceiving the multiculturalism conceptually as the only way of future development of mankind and Azerbaijan. Steps taken by President Ilham Aliyev towards development of multicultural relations in Azerbaijan are in sustainable character. Announcement of the year 2016 as “Year of multiculturalism” according to the Order signed by Mr. President once more proves that our state is ruled according to principle of tolerance.
It is an honor that in Azerbaijan national solidarity and friendship between nations exist whilst modern world faces religious and national clashes, sectarian conflicts and interstate distrust. Independent Azerbaijan being loyal to multicultural traditions always continues to support development of dialogue of cultures, protection of cultural diversity and regulation of reciprocal relations among civilizations.
Next 8th high level dialogue dedicated to “Understanding and addressing root causes of displacement” organized in Geneva by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, created favorable opportunities for expansion of multilateral cooperation.
Nowadays truth is that migration crisis is on top of the agenda. People suffering from foreign intervention, especially people from Eastern Europe became refugee and displaced person in order to save lives of their families and themselves. They head to Europe enduring these troubles and facing big threats just for the sake of staying alive. Unfortunately the attitude towards those people doesn’t fit to the principles that Europe declares. Sometimes they face misconduct and humiliation there. In world media negative opinion is already being molded about them.
As it is known Azerbaijan also faced humanitarian disaster in the beginning of 1990s. One million people were displaced from their residences as a result of Armenian occupation. Azerbaijan overcame that crisis almost alone. Even today a lot of work is done for improving living conditions and employment of displaced people. Approximately ninety towns were settled, about 250 thousand displaced persons were relocated in new apartments and houses.
This can be surely stated that Azerbaijan opened new stage in world sport history with successfully organizing first European Games in 2015. Guests and sportsmen visiting Azerbaijan admired hospitality, beauties of Baku, rich history, modern development and success achieved in short period of time in our country. Baku is going to host Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017. This is a reflection of a unique mission carried by Azerbaijan in the world. Azerbaijan is already known as a cooperation venue for different cultures, religions and geopolitical poles.
In the essence of multiculturalism policy as one of the bases for development of universe stands the acceptance of cultural pluralism by state which considered the most important character of civil society, and there is no need for a proof that this principle is at higher level in our republic. Azerbaijan state created great opportunities for socialization of cultural groups, along with supporting revival and development of different cultures. Numbers of different cultural communities are acting only in Baku. There are communities of Russians, Ukrainians, Lacs, Lezgins, Slavians, Tats, Tatars, Georgians, Ingiloys, Talishians, Avars, Meskhetian turks, European and mountain Jews, Germans and Hellenes. In general, such communities exist in all regions where ethnic minorities are compactly residing. This allows to say that in the period when the cases like xenophobia increases in different regions of the world, in Azerbaijan a unique model of interreligious dialogue and tolerance which can be an example for international community and many countries was set. It is undeniable that both material and non-material heritage is needed for developing multiculturalism.
Establishment of large scale energy, transport and information corridors, long-term foreign investments to Azerbaijan have been realized owing to internal stability and policy of national and religious tolerance. Modern Azerbaijan as a multiculturalism venue turned to a unique country preserving and evolving cultural and religious diversity. Here cultural and religious difference of every nation and ethnicity serves to harmony – nationwide solidarity. This model being a sample for majority of countries already became a lifestyle of Azerbaijani citizens owning different belief and cultures. Patriarch of Moscow and the whole Russia Alex II while presenting The Order of Holy Prince Daniel of Moscow to Heydar Aliyev in Baku stated: “tolerance and religious endurance is a sample for other countries”. The visit of Pope Saint John Paul II to Azerbaijan, where only 0.5 percent population are catholic, in spite of insistent invitations of countries practicing catholic sect of Christianity is a sign of persistent respect and pleasant attitude to minor nations and their religious practices. Another important point to be mentioned here is that Azerbaijan is the first Islamic country demonstrating its cultural heritage in Vatican. Director General of ISESCO Dr. Abdulaziz Othman expressing his admiration to religious tolerance in Azerbaijan stated following regarding the declaration of Baku as a capital of Islamic Culture: “ISESCO has to reveal to the whole world how ancient and rich culture you have. We will accomplish all requirements from our side in terms of implementing documents signed in the field of cooperation with your country and this cooperation will be a sample for other member states.”
Despite the 96 percent of Azerbaijani population are Muslims alongside with mosques both churches and synagogues exist, as well. Therefore nowadays single idea shared by everyone is “Azerbaijani model on state vs. religion relations can be exported to other countries. Religious tolerance and patience are richness belonging to Azerbaijan.”
Under the leadership of Great Leader Heydar Aliyev the government of the republic organized the visit of Pope Saint John Paul II to Azerbaijan on May 23 2002 as an initiative of interreligious dialogue. The Pope’s visit had a great resonance.
Another example for high religious tolerance of Azerbaijanis is the statement of Rome Patriarch Bartholomew I while visiting our country in 2003. He stated: “I got satisfied from the level of religious tolerance. In Azerbaijan everyone can practice religion and carry out rites on his/her own will.”
Proclamation of Azerbaijan’s tolerance model as a sample to the world by Ilham Aliyev from the UN tribune and its approval by heads of states, religious figures, politicians, scientists increased our countries reputation in international sphere. Western Europe which was advising us on tolerance and endurance in the first years of state independence nowadays faces ethnic catastrophe, religious and ethnic clash. Modern Western politicians admit that multiculturalism has failed there. They discuss and study Azerbaijani model of tolerance as a way of solution. Because there is almost not a second practice that can be compared with the works done by Azerbaijan in terms of promoting intercultural and interreligious dialogue. This was proven with words expressed on Azerbaijani model at the international conference took place in 2012 in London on “Perspectives of European multiculturalism: Azerbaijani model of interreligious dialogue and religious tolerance”.
At all times tolerance and ethnic diversity was an indicator of historic and cultural development of our country which was inclined to Western world. It is not occasional that Azerbaijan is named as a country located in the crossroads of West and East and a country carrying great role in formation of inter civilization relations.
Multiculturalism policy in Azerbaijan is based on principles of mutual respect and traditional coexistence between different ethnic cultures. This model is a successful mission and input of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the dialogue process among civilizations and cultures.
The President Ilham Aliyev in his speech at the meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers dedicated to the results of socioeconomic development of 2015 and objectives for the future has stated: “Azerbaijan has done a lot in the area of multiculturalism. The example of Azerbaijan shows that multiculturalism is alive although some politicians argue that it has failed. It may have failed somewhere else, but it still lives in Azerbaijan. These trends and ideas are amplified and receive growing public support. We will go down this path.” In this regard, multiculturalism in the Republic of Azerbaijan being an effective device focused not to assimilation but integration of national minorities within the dominant nation and culture, simultaneously serves for enhancing civil unity, tolerance, principles of coexistence of diverse ethnic and religious groups, fosters internal cultural dynamic, mobilizes society in resistance against foreign threats.
The President of the Republic Ilham Aliyev in his speech at the opening of the 3rd World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue took place in Baku on May 18th of last year stated referring to our state’s multiculturalism policy, its role played in social, political and cultural life, as well as importance in maintaining peace and security: “Traditions of multiculturalism have always been very strong in our country… Multiculturalism has no alternatives… I think it is dangerous to consider that multiculturalism is not something which can have a future. On the contrary, if we give up our efforts, the situation in the world will be even worse”.
As a whole, referring to the expertise of the Republic of Azerbaijan related with its national security interests we can say that today foreign rival forces particularly targeted dissolution of national unity maintained among our nations throughout the history and provocation of religious confrontation. Application and enlargement of Azerbaijani model of multiculturalism is the most rational and efficient response to these threats and a system of preventive measures.
Today Azerbaijan represents its own multiculturalism model to the world as a result of purposeful policy of the head of state. On the February 28, 2014 a new position - State Adviser on Multinational, Multicultural and Religious Affairs was founded and Baku International Multiculturalism Center which is unique of its kind in the world for now was established with the Order of President Ilham Aliyev on May 15, 2014. Azerbaijan is strengthening cooperation with a number of prestigious international institutions – UN, OSCE, OIC and European Union in order to preserve multiculturalism environment in the country.
Website of the Service (www.migration.gov.az) was put into operation on November 3, 2008 in order to inform foreigners and stateless persons, as well as public of the country. This year official website of the Service has been fully renewed and modernized from functional and design point of view and adapted to today’s requirements. Migration Information Center of State Migration Service which is operating in three languages – Azerbaijani, English and Russian, was established on December 1, 2008. The activity of this Center was also renewed, service quality was increased by expanding technical capabilities. 99 439 phone calls was received by Call Center of the Service only last year.
The first publication of State Migration Service – Migration Journal which is published in Azerbaijani, English and Russian was publicized in 2010 and publication of the journal is organized regularly. Azerbaijan’s migration history, migration policy, topics on regulation of migration processes, procedural rules of migration are widely covered in the Journal.
In accordance with “Regulation on Unified Migration Information System of State Migration Service” which is approved with the Decree of the President of Azerbaijan dated June 4, 2010, unified information system in the migration field - Unified Migration Information System (UMIS) was established and its integration with "Entry-Exit and Registration" Interagency Automated Information and Search System and State Registry of Population of the Republic of Azerbaijan was provided in order to maintain record of foreigners and stateless persons residing and temporarily staying in the Republic of Azerbaijan, to provide government agencies involved in migration management with the necessary information, to automate migration-related documentation, request and analysis, to improve electronic services. UMIS has created favorable conditions for taking appropriate measures in fighting against illegal migration and ensuring security by enabling to have notion about the dynamics of migration processes occurring in the country.
Another issue is worth to mention. Conference of culture ministers of Europe and its neighboring regions was held in Baku, in December of 2008. This prestigious event was attended by the representatives of 48 countries of the world, including 10 Islamic states, 8 international organizations, and a number of international non-governmental organizations. Baku Declaration for the Promotion of Intercultural Dialogue was adopted with the initiative of Azerbaijani side for the first time, foundation of Baku Process which is directed to achieve and improve dialogue among civilizations was laid. Presentation ceremony of Baku Process and the 3rd World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue was held in the Headquarters of the UN, New-York, on January 30, 2015. The significant mission of Baku Process and the forum - preserving peace and cooperation in the world, and its future contribution to the principles of establishing mutual effective dialogue were emphasized, Azerbaijan’s global initiative and its experience in creating dialogue were highly appreciated at the ceremony which is called as an “historical event”.
President Ilham Aliyev explaining once more the mission and objectives of the Azerbaijani model of multiculturalism at the national festival dedicated to Novruz Holiday said: “We are demonstrating that all nations and members of all religions are living and will live as a family. Azerbaijan state protects them, their interests, national feelings and dignity. They are our brothers. Our strength is our unity. Azerbaijan is multiethnic and multi-confessional country. It is our wealth.”
Today promotion of multiculturalism which is declared as state policy by the head of state and born from the centuries-old cultural life of our people and awareness raising measures thereon are adequate answer to the challenges of the state on the one side, on the other side it is protection of moral and cultural treasure and wealth of our people which was formed within centuries-long period and its transfers to future generations, because Azerbaijan possesses strong national ideology which contains elements strengthened at the state level such as tolerance and multiculturalism which are state ideology of all ethnoses.
As a logical ending of the abovementioned Azerbaijan has become a prestigious member of international community with the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev. Social and economic development, stability and safety of our country have increased foreign interest to Azerbaijan. Its evidence is creation of positive net migration rate in the number of persons arriving in our republic and intending to reside and become a citizen of Azerbaijan.
Chief of State Migration Service
II rank state migration service counselor