Vol. 4, No. 8 (April 15, 2011)

Baku hosts "cultural Davos"

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

Azerbaijan, whose leaders and people have long been proud of its reputation as an example of ethnic and religious tolerance, organized a three-day World Forum on International Dialogue in Baku so that to use that reputation in order to help build bridges across the ethnic and religious divisions of the world and thereby to advance itself as an international leader in this often-neglected sector of international relations.  Indeed, in the words of one Azerbaijani analyst, this meeting, if it becomes a regular affair, will make Baku session “the cultural-political analogue to the Davos Economic Forum.”

Welcoming some 500 officials and experts from more than 20 countries, President Ilham Aliyev said that Azerbaijan, as a country at the crossroads of the world east and west and north and south in which “no national or religious confrontations have existed,” can serve as “an example to the world of tolerance and cultural cooperation.” [1] And First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, in her remarks to the delegates, made Azerbaijan’s intentions in this regard even more explicit when she noted that “inter-cultural dialogue has already passed the limits of a purely culturological problem and has become a problem of big politics.” [2] 

The April 7-9 meeting was organized by the Azerbaijani government with the backing of the Council of Europe, the North-South Center, the UN Alliance of Civilizaitons, UNESCO and ISESCO.  Cultural ministers and academic specialists at the forum’s sessions echoed the views of President and Mrs. Aliyeva, noting that Azerbaijan was an especially appropriate place to hold such a meeting and that such forums, even if they cannot solve every problem, can help build the kind of bridges between peoples that make solving other “more political” problems easier.  (For a fuller listing of these comments, see the Chronology in this issue of Azerbaijan in the World).

In a commentary on the Forum, Azerbaijani political scientist Asif Usubaliyev argues that the bringing together of so many people from so many countries means that for Azerbaijan, this meeting “without any doubt can be called the political event of the year.”  That is because, he argues, Azerbaijan is using its national characteristics to promote itself as an actor that can help promote reconciliation in conflicts around the world. [3]

By so doing, Usubaliyev continues, Azerbaijan is effectively inserting itself into international political life “far beyond the borders of [its own] region” even as it uses this initiative to gain additional support for “the peaceful regulation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” on the basis of international respect for the territorial integrity of states and for inter-cultural and inter-religious tolerance.

“The strengthening of the position of [Azerbaijan],” he writes, “in influential international organizations, the support for democratic principles of state-building, global propaganda of humanitarian values, an adequate understanding by the international community of the cultural values of the Azerbaijani people, international recognition of the potential of the country and much else taken together is in fact nothing other than indirect pressure or diplomatic influence on Armenia.”

But the Baku forum is more than that, he suggests, because by organizing it, Baku is in a position to present itself as “the capital of international dialogue” and to have the forum become “the cultural-political analogue to the Davos Economic Forum,” a place where peoples can come together, exchange ideas, and promote cooperation across divisions that many fear cannot be overcome.

“Considering the character of contemporary international relations and also the processes which are taking place in the world,” Usubaliyev continues, “one can assert that the importance of cultural policy and the significance of supporting the principles of inter-cultural dialogue is today for the world of equal importance to accord on the struggle of states with the global economic crisis, terrorism, and the drug trade.  [Indeed,] inter-cultural dialogue is becoming a political-ideological value of the contemporary world.”

That is a position with which Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov fully agrees.  In his remarks to the forum, he argued that it is important both to draw on the basis of inter-ethnic and inter-religious tolerance that Azerbaijan has achieved over the course of centuries and to use them to develop new forms of cooperation around the world.  And he said that recent events around the world show that “the role of culture in the improvement of understanding is one of the most important,” adding that he “truly believes that we in Azerbaijan have achieved cultural multiplicity and the peaceful coexistence of people of various confessions and nationalities.”  That is something needed in many other places, he suggested, and Azerbaijan looks forward to helping promote dialogue on these issues. [4]


[1] See http://news.day.az/politics/260885.html (last accessed 13 April 2011).

[2] See http://news.day.az/politics/261074.html (last accessed 13 April 2011).  

[3] See http://news.day.az/society/260328.html (last accessed 13 April 2011). 

[4] See http://news.day.az/politics/260939.html (last accessed 13 April 2011).