February 17, 2020

Reflections on Global Peace and the 7th Forum of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations

On the morning of April 25th, the opening ceremony of the 7th Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) took place in Baku, Azerbaijan. It began with a video appearance of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, shown in the Baku Congress Center, in the presence of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Over 3,000 delegates from over 140 countries came together for several days of discussion on education, peace and cultural engagement, to explore our shared dream for cooperation and acceptance in every society. In his remarks, President Aliyev pointed out how meaningful it is to host such a program in Azerbaijan, noting that “we are not only a geographic bridge between East and West, but also a cultural bridge. For centuries representatives of religions, cultures lived in peace and dignity in Azerbaijan.”

The delegates flew to Azerbaijan from every corner of the world, to discuss the power of inclusivity in a world overwhelmed by division and strife. Security experts, political scientists, heads of state, diplomats, organizational leaders, activists, students, and brave heroes, those who spend every day risking their lives at the frontlines of change – all came together for a meeting of their hearts and minds. Throughout the two days of intense programs and panels, the forum leaders gave particular attention to the role of religious leaders, women, youth, culture and education in perpetuating the message of building peace by actively and cooperatively coming together against hate and extremism. I saw many new faces, and also the familiar representatives of Azerbaijan’s own diverse religious communities: Muslim, Christian and Jewish friends, and important leaders in this effort.

There was something very powerful about this forum and its theme, as it relates to Azerbaijan in particular. The forum’s theme  “’Living Together in Inclusive Societies: A Challenge and A Goal” made me feel a sense of pride. There could be no better fit for such a program than Azerbaijan. Positive inclusion is central to our national character, and also our historical identity. We are a nation defined by our success with inclusivity, multicultural and multifaith respect – now and in times when there is so much division and hatred in various parts of the world.

The UNAOC program was nothing short of uplifting, after weeks of immense worry and stress especially, as our homeland Azerbaijan came under attack again. Before this, I wondered how to face the Passover holiday while so many of my fellow Azerbaijanis were mourning their loved ones lost to the renewed aggression by Armenia in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region.

The success and the celebrated values exhibited at UNAOC 2016 do not change the injustice that is happening to our people, or what is happening to all innocent communities in the world, to all victims of terror, extremism and ethnic cleansing.

But it addressed the deep questions we set out to explore at the Forum: the questions of cultures finding a way to live together, to treat faiths and communities equally.

Living my entire life here in Azerbaijan has given me many, many years of proof that all people really can live together in harmony, and this gives me hope for the rest of the world. Azerbaijan’s vibrant example of harmony can encourage the world of this simple but truly priceless blessing –  that people of every culture and cloth have something fundamentally in common. We share a dream of mutual respect, a belief in the right of every person to live in freedom, without shame and without violence, and by sharing that dream together, we truly strengthen it and bring it to life. The excited crowd of thousands of important public figures and grassroots activists here in Baku demonstrated how these values and dreams are more powerful than terrorism and hatred could ever be.